Friday, April 30, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-B (2): How the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility Debate Undergirds the Doctrine of Eternal Security

“What rest of faith is ours if we know that we are not only saved but SAFE! Alas, there are a good many who are so fearful because they feel that although they were saved at some time or another, they are not yet secure! They seem to think that although saved one day they may be lost the next. Thus, they must strive and struggle to keep their salvation. But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12)” (“All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

In my last post, I brought up a debate that I have also studied, one that ties directly into the Eternal Security debate: and that is, the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate. Divine sovereignty is, by definition, referring to the power of God and God’s rule over His world (including humanity). The concept of human responsibility is that humans are responsible to their Creator for what they do with what they have been given. After all, in the end, we will be judged for every deed we have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).

How then, do these two concepts fit together? Let’s take the issue of salvation, for example. God gives grace and faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and these are “the gift of God.” So then, what do we do with the Scriptures that tell man he must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? We can reconcile grace and faith as gifts (on one hand) and the responsibility of human repentance (on the other) by saying that God gives salvation (Eph. 2), but we must receive it by faith (Romans 10:9, John 3:16). In this manner, both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are preserved.

What about in the issue of temptation? Does God cause a person to sin? Does He predetermine that I sin (and then I freely choose it)? No. Read 1 Corinthians:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; BUT GOD IS FAITHFUL, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation WILL ALSO MAKE THE WAY OF ESCAPE, THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BEAR IT” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV).

So in every temptation, God’s preservation power is there; but that power ENABLES me to resist temptation, not FORCES me to resist it.

Two more passages show us that God’s power in our lives is “enabling,” not “determining”:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling; FOR IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV).

Since God is at work in the believers (His preservation power is there), then we are given grace-enabled responsibility to “work out our own salvation.” Notice that “work out” is an imperative here, a command, meaning that the believer is the one that’s supposed to work out their salvation (God is not responsible for working out our salvation).

Hebrews 13:20-21 states (use the Apologetics Study Bible---HCSB),

“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus----the great Shepherd of the sheep----WITH THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT, EQUIP YOU WITH ALL THAT IS GOOD TO DO HIS WILL, WORKING IN US what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21, HCSB).

With Hebrews 13, we see that God “equips” the believer “with all that is good to do His will.” This tells us that God gives us the resources to please Him. He does not leave us to find them for ourselves (since we are totally unable to please Him without His help). In the Christian life, the Lord has equipped the believers with what they need to do His will, to please Him. But the question remains: “Why does He give me the resources to do His will?” If the Lord desired to force us to please Him, then why give me the resources? This is the equivalent situation of a math teacher who tells me that I need a calculator, ruler, notebook, paper, pencil, and compass...but then turns around and supplies all the needed tools. If the teacher plans to give me all the tools, why would she require me to bring them myself? So the fact that God gives me what I need to please Him indicates that the Lord EXPECTS me to use what He has given me in order to please Him. If I don’t do what He requires, then, the fault is all mine and none of God’s.

Well, then, how does this apply to the issue of eternal security? I’ll reprint Lockeyer’s words here:

“But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12).”

First, let’s deal with Lockeyer’s verse reference (John 17:12). What Lockeyer does is take the verse out of its context. Even though Jesus has said, “those whom You gave Me I have kept,” Jesus goes on a few verses down and says,

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, BUT THAT YOU SHOULD KEEP THEM FROM THE EVIL ONE” (John 17:15, NKJV).

Why is Jesus praying for the disciples, if the fact that He kept them GUARANTEES them in Heaven?

There is another piece of evidence against Lockeyer’s view, which comes from John 18, the chapter right after Jesus’ prayer:

“Then He [Jesus] asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, LET THESE GO THEIR WAY,’ THAT THE SAYING MIGHT BE FULFILLED WHICH HE SPOKE, ‘OF THOSE WHOM YOU GAVE ME I HAVE LOST NONE’” (John 18:7-9).

John says that the reference of John 17:12(“Those whom you gave me I have lost none”) refers to physical preservation from physical death. The context of John 18 concerns Jesus’ death. In John 18:4, it says that Jesus “knew all things that would come upon Him.” What are these “things that would come upon Him?” His arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion!

Next, look at the fact that Jesus responds negatively to Peter’s action of cutting off the servant’s ear:

“Put your sword into the sheath. SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP WHICH MY FAHER HAS GIVEN ME?” (Jn. 18:11)

What “cup” must Jesus drink? The cup of His suffering---arrest, trial, conviction, and crucifixion!!!

So the preservation going on in John 17 and John 18 is physical, not spiritual. This is why John wrote (after Jesus asked the men to let the disciples go away), “THAT THE SAYING MIGHT BE FULFILLED WHICH HE SPOKE...” The saying of preservation was FULFILLED, completed, when Jesus asked the guards to let His disciples go free and not suffer the same fate as Himself.

However, when Jesus prays that His own be preserved from the evil one (John 17:15), He is praying here for their spiritual preservation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that in every temptation the Lord “will also make the way of escape, THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BEAR IT” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Lord desires to preserve us, but is it His fault if He supplies the persevering grace and yet, we refuse to grab ahold of it?

The final question to be answered is, “So how does the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate undergird the Doctrine of Eternal Security? Well, as I said earlier, it depends on where you stand regarding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man: if you uphold both concepts, then you will argue that God’s grace does not cancel out man’s faith and perseverance required for final salvation.

Regarding the other view, let’s read part of Lockeyer’s statement once more:


Lockeyer says that the preservation is “HIS RESPONSIBILITY.” Doesn’t that seem a bit unnerving? 1 Corinthians 10:13 told us that in every temptation the Lord gives us a way of escape. This, then, is His preservation power; but what about the other commands (imperatives) of Scripture that we’ve been studying, such as “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21)? If it is God’s responsibility to keep us, then we don’t need to “keep ourselves in the love of God”; instead, it is all Christ’s responsibility. But if we make this statement, then the speech-act theory (in which commands require human action in Scripture) means nothing: Jude was making a statement, then(“keep yourselves in the love of God”), that served no purpose---because the believers were not to keep themselves or have any responsibility (only God)! That’s a shocking thought all together...

Ask yourselves this: If it’s God’s responsibility to keep us, then how can we say this and still hold to the BIBLICAL (key word here) concepts of “divine sovereignty and HUMAN responsibility”? To argue Lockeyer’s position is to argue a position that goes against Scripture (and is contradictory). The word “contradiction” itself means “contra” (against) “diction” (speaking). Lockeyer’s position goes “against that which is spoken,” meaning in this case, “that which is spoken in the Bible.”
I will show how the Doctrine of Eternal Security impacts one’s theological system in my next post.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-B: Romans 8:38-39 and the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility Debate

I’m back today to continue our meditation upon Romans 8:38-39, what is known today as one of the foremost key passages in the eternal security/conditional security debate as well as the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate.

Both the security and sovereignty-responsibility debates run along the same lines. Depending upon one’s position on one of the debates, the person will hold the same stance in the other debate as well. As I demonstrated in the last post, Romans 8:38-39 holds problems with its so-called “eternal security” message since Jude 20 exhorts the genuine believers (those who he labels as “called, sanctified, and preserved in Christ”) to “keep themselves in the love of God.” This implies, then, that there are conditions by which one is kept in the love of God: if he or she also keeps himself/herself in the love of God. Jude shows us that there is a responsibility on the part of the believer.

I received a free book not too long ago, and the book is titled “All The Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Browsing through Lockeyer’s table of contents, I found the “Doctrine of Eternal Security” and just had to turn to it. Upon arriving at the right page, I noticed these words:

“What rest of faith is ours if we know that we are not only saved but SAFE! Alas, there are a good many who are so fearful because they feel that although they were saved at some time or another, they are not yet secure! They seem to think that although saved one day they may be lost the next. Thus, they must strive and struggle to keep their salvation. But because salvation is not something but SOMEONE and that One, Christ Himself, IT IS LUDICROUS FOR SHEEP TO TRY AND KEEP THE SHEPHERD. DID HE NOT SAY THAT THE KEEPING IS HIS RESPONSIBILITY? ‘Those whom Thou hast given Me, I have kept’ (John 17:12)” (“All the Doctrines of the Bible: A Study and Analysis of Major Biblical Doctrines” by Herbert Lockeyer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, page 223).

Now, Lockeyer’s statement above is pretty puzzling. First off, Arminians do not believe that salvation can be accepted and rejected in a matter of a day, or even a few days. Apostasy, or “falling away,” is something that occurs over time. After all, the “rocky soil” of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower “believed for a time” (Luke 8:13). Whatever amount of time it may have been, it surely wasn’t a day or a few hours. So Lockeyer demonstrates here that he has a very faulty view of the doctrine of apostasy altogether. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising to find that most of our eternal security friends (and Calvinistic theologians) misunderstand the doctrine of apostasy.

Secondly, notice that he said that “salvation is not something but SOMEONE...?” But the Scriptures tell us that salvation is what God has promised us (1 John 2:25). Christ was the promised seed (Galatians), but Christ was not all that was promised to the believer. Never are “eternal life” and “Christ” made synonyms in the Scriptures.

Next, Lockeyer does something that is a major blunder of eternal securitists: “Did He not say that the keeping is HIS RESPONSIBILITY?...John 17:12.”
There are two problems with Lockeyer’s statement regarding divine responsibility. First, let’s deal with the Scripture passage. Lockeyer references John 17:12, but he forgets that a few chapters prior to this, Jesus tells the disciples,

“Abide in Me, and I in you...I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5, NKJV). So yes, Jesus does preserve His sheep...but Jesus tells them to “abide in Him,” similar to John’s language in 1 John of “remain in Him.”

In addition, notice that in John 6, Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67) How does Peter respond? “Lord, to whom shall we go? YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE” (v.68). Peter states that eternal life is found only in Christ. But then he says something revealing:


As we see, then, the disciples came to “believe and know” that Jesus was the Christ. In other words, they refused to walk away because they believed He was who He said He was. However, there were disciples of Christ’s who heard His teaching and walked away (vv. 66). So what binds a person to walking with the Lord is continued faith in Him.

Lockeyer writes this in the same section:

“John Calvin taught that this doctrine stands proven, not only by its association with other doctrines like those of election, atonement, the intercession and mediatorial dominion of Christ, imputed righteousness and regeneration, but from those Scriptures declaring that ETERNAL LIFE IS ALWAYS CONNECTED WITH BELIEVING” (223).

If eternal life is connected with believing, then what about this statement is different from Arminius’s statement? Nothing at all! In fact, this statement sounds Arminian to the core.

Now, what about Romans 8:38-39 and Jude? We saw in my last post that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and yet, we are commanded to “keep ourselves” in God’s love. How does this all work together?

And this is where we arrive at the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate. This debate asks the question, “How does the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man reconcile?” Calvinist theologians call the two concepts a theological “tension” (Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance,” page 259). However, how can these two concepts be a real tension if they are in Scripture, and Scripture does not contradict itself? If Scripture itself must be reconciled, and Scripture contains these two concepts, then there is a way for the two to be reconciled. I will reveal how they can be reconciled, and how Lockeyer’s statement fits into all this, in my next post.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Exploring the Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part II-A: 8:38-39 and Jude

It’s that time of the semester again, when students go crazy: the time of year when massive reading is required and papers are due. This week (Thursday, April 29) I have two ten-page research papers due, one for Christian Apologetics and the other for Old Testament Theology. So, needless to say, I’m ALWAYS writing and thinking on theology. But, I must confess: it kinda makes me happy (I’m smiling)...

I’m back today to deal with the Doctrine of Eternal Security once more. As I’ve stated in posts as of late, ESers (our eternal security friends) have major problems when it comes to matching their verses up against the rest of Scripture. If security in Christ is guaranteed, I keep asking myself, then why are verses like Hebrews 6:4-6 and 2 Peter 2:20-22 (for example) in the Bible? Why are they even in the biblical canon? And if they are in the canon, and “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for DOCTRINE, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16)then doesn’t that indicate that apostasy should be a doctrine that the church is made aware of?? I think that, with the Scriptures being what they are, there are TOO MANY verses in Scripture that seem to indicate that believers can lose faith and “fall away.” Because of that, we need to formulate better doctrine of the issue of security in Christ. If there are verses that indicate I can fall away, then the verses that affirm security cannot affirm unconditional eternal security; for, if they do, then Scripture has contradicted itself (unconditional + conditional security), since both of these types of security are contradictions when taken together.

Now, on to the subject for this post: Romans 8:38-39, one of the most famous proof texts regarding eternal security:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39, NKJV).

I heard this passage today cited as a passage that provides eternal security regarding our salvation. The preacher (who I shall call David) said, “Nothing shall be able to separate us...NOT EVEN YOU can take yourself out of His hand.” After this statement he said, “You are saved by grace, not by your faithfulness or your commitment.”

Why is it that these two verses are so often quoted by proponents of eternal security? Because so many ESers believe that these verses “seal the deal” when it comes to the debate over whether or not someone can lose their salvation.
However, what are we to do with this verse?

“But you, beloved, BUILDING YOURSELVES UP ON YOUR MOST HOLY FAITH, praying in the Holy Spirit, KEEP YOURSELVES IN THE LOVE OF GOD, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude v.20).

What is so unique about this passage is that Jude’s instructions to the believers involve the issue of “faith,” and building themselves up in the faith. The Greek verb for “building up” is “epoikodomountes,” which can also mean “building upon.” Perhaps Jude’s reference here in verse 20 echoes the message of 2 Peter 1:5-11??? I will return to this later, but I’ll let you search the Scriptures and compare the two passages...

So the believers are to “build themselves up in the faith”; but, beyond this, they are to “keep themselves in the love of God” (v.21). The verb with the issue of faith in verse 20 is a participle, which is translated as “building.” So, Jude is saying, “continually building yourselves up” (since the verb is a present participle implying continuous action), “keep yourselves in the love of God.” While building up their faith, they are to continue to remain in God’s love.

But, wait a minute!!! Doesn’t this pose problems for the passage of Romans 8:38-39? “I thought that “nothing” would be able to separate me from God’s love!” The ESers would say. The question becomes then, what do we do with one passage that says that nothing would separate us from God’s love, while the other commands us to “keep ourselves” in God’s love?

What do we do also with the fact that Jude distinguishes between the ungodly men and the congregation in terms of the Spirit? Jude writes regarding the mockers,

“These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, NOT HAVING THE SPIRIT” (Jude 19).
But what does he say about the congregation?
“BUT YOU, BELOVED...praying in the HOLY SPIRIT...” (Jude 20)

So we see that the congregation is to “pray in the Holy Spirit” and “build upon their faith” because they are genuinely saved!!! Jude has distinguished, as did John in 1 John 2, between the saved and unsaved. So Calvinist theologians can stop throwing up the “they-were-never-saved” rule in the faces of Arminians. Scripture clearly delineates who the saved and unsaved are!! The question is not about the false teachers and ungodly men...but about the congregations, whom the writers consider to have genuine salvation.

So what about the genuinely saved congregation? They are “beloved,” (v.20) and are told to “build upon” (v.20) their faith, and “pray in the Holy Spirit” (v.20). And then, they are told to “keep themselves in the love of God.” So we see that, while the congregation is genuinely saved, there is a fear that these ungodly men can cause the genuine believers in the letter to go astray.

What other evidence do we have of the genuine salvation of the congregants? Return to the beginning of Jude’s letter. In verse 1, Jude calls the church “called,” “sanctified,” and “preserved in Jesus Christ.” Did you notice that Jude called them “preserved.” But the question then becomes, “How are the believers PRESERVED in Jesus Christ?” The answer? “By faith” (1 Peter 1:5). So this is why Jude first tells them in his exhortation to “build up their faith”---because we are preserved in Christ by faith. Not only are the believers “called, sanctified, and preserved,” but they are also considered by Jude as having salvation: “I was very diligent to write to you concerning OUR COMMON SALVATION...” (Jude 3) The congregation then, consists of genuine believers.

Still, though, they are told to “keep themselves in the love of God” while “building upon their faith.” The question is, why do they need to keep themselves in the love of God if they cannot take themselves out of the love of God?” To answer this question, Jeremy Evans comes to the rescue with speech-act theory:

“Generally speaking, discourse between persons involves MORE THAN WORDS BUT INCLUDES ACTIONS (or proposed actions) BUILT INTO THE CONTENTS OF THE WORDS...pertinent to this discussion on biblical imperatives is REALIZING WHAT GOD COMMANDS MUST HAVE A LOGICAL CONNECTION WITH WHAT HE INTENDS TO ACCOMPLISH through His act of commanding...” (Jeremy A. Evans, “Reflections on Determinism and Human Freedom,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 270).

The speech-act theory, according to Jeremy Evans, God gives commands because He has “intention” with those commands. So if God is saying in Jude, “keep yourselves in the love of God,” then He intends to preserve us---however, He will not preserve us if we decide not to heed His commands. The Lord desires to work IN us, but He will not work WITHOUT us (Philippians 2:12).

Schreiner and Caneday make a good point about Jude’s epistle:

"Some understand falling to refer to A FAILURE TO LIVE A PRODUCTIVE CHRISTIAN LIFE INSTEAD OF APOSTASY. They offer in defense of this the fact that Jude speaks of being presented before God ‘without fault.’ Such an interpretation veers away from the context of the letter of Jude. THE CONCERN OF JUDE THROUGHOUT THE LETTER IS APOSTASY. HE OMINOUSLY REMINDS THE READERS THAT EVEN THOUGH ISRAEL WAS LIBERATED FROM EGYPT THOSE WHO SINNED FAILED TO REACH THE LAND OF PROMISE (Jude 5). Angels who sinned have no second chance (Jude 6), and Sodom and Gomorrah serve, ‘as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire’ (Jude 7 NIV). Jude does not introduce Sodom and Gomorrah to titillate his readers. HE IS CONCERNED THAT THEY DO NOT PRESUME UPON GRACE AND THINK THAT THEY WILL BE SPARED FROM THE JUDGMENT THAT LEVELED THOSE CITIES...” (Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday, “ ‘The Race Set Before Us’: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 258).

Notice that Schreiner and Caneday state what Jude means in the letter: the concern of Jude throughout the letter is apostasy.” Jude is concerned that the congregation, as genuine believers, could apostatize and depart from the faith. Why is this the best interpretation? Because of Jude’s examples. In Jude 5, Jude discusses that, although Israel (as a nation) was delivered from Egypt, the wilderness generation did not make it to the promise land because they “did not believe.” So we find that God’s own people did not inherit the promise.

In verse 6, the angels who “left their own abode” are imprisoned, awaiting their day of judgment. These are the 1/3 of the angels that forsook God in Revelation.
In verse 7, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh” are done away with due to God’s righteous judgment.

What is the purpose of the examples? To show us that, although Israel, the angels, and the cities started off good, they end up in a worse state than their first---and God deals them eternal punishment for departing from their right (good) positions.

So, if the believers were told to “keep themselves in the love of God,” then how can “nothing separate us from the love of God?” The only way this is possible is if we are “continually believing” and trusting in the Lord. No one can separate us from the love of God but us...

In my next post, I will deal with Romans 8:38-39 and how the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate plays into the hermeneutical dilemma concerning the Doctrine of Eternal Security.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Other Side, Part V-B: Calvin's Commentary on 2 Peter 2

I started this series, titled “The Other Side,” about two weeks or so ago, having been spurred on to do this by a sermon on “Losing Salvation” that I heard one Sunday morning past. The preacher, “Dr. John” (as I will call him), got up and shoved prooftext after prooftext before the congregation that he believed confirmed his view of unconditional eternal security. I’ve spent the last week or two trying to show that John’s view of unconditional security in Christ has problems, especially when his “proof” verses are compared with other verses in the Bible, like Hebrews 6:4-6, for example, which indicate that someone who is “a companion of the Holy Spirit” can “fall away.” The fact that the words “fall away” are used indicates that something serious is at stake here, like the soil that “falls away” in Luke 8:13 due to temptation. These verses cannot be overlooked in the name of “I-wanna-stick-with-what-I’ve-always-believed.” Rather, these verses have to have explanations OTHER than what they “appear” to reveal---namely, that believers can lose faith and fall away from salvation (or, as Hebrews 2 says it, they can “neglect so great a salvation”).

Today I’m back to provide Calvin’s words regarding the text of 2 Peter 2. I’ve printed the text before, but I’ll place it here again so we can all get an idea of what Calvin will discuss in his commentary:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1, NKJV).

Regarding 2 Peter 2:1, Calvin writes:

“Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, WHO THROW OFF THE BRIDLE, and GIVE THEMSELVES UP TO ALL KINDS OF LICENTIOUSNESS, are not unjustly said to DENY CHRIST BY WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN REDEEMED” (John Calvin, “Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXII: Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 John, James, II Peter, Jude.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, page 393).

What does it mean to “throw off the bridle”? If a “bridle” is a “restraint” or “curb” on something (as Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary states; then in the case of the Christian, the Christian life is a “restraint” or “curb” on licentiousness. There are things that a believer can do, and things that a believer cannot do. The believer must pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). If a person throws off the “bridle” of holiness, then that person gives up their life in Christ, “denies Christ BY WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN REDEEMED,” and returns to the world. In other words, they take their redemption Christ purchased for them with His blood and they trample on it (Heb. 10:29). Keep in mind that this is CALVIN’S commentary---NOT Arminius’s, Molina’s, or anyone else’s. These words quoted above are the words of John Calvin himself. So if Calvinists say that such people “were never saved to begin with,” they surely have never read Calvin’s commentaries!!

2 Peter 2:2 reads as follows:

“And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

Calvin writes:

“It is, indeed, no slight offence to the weak...that a large number of men are led astray, SO THAT FEW CONTINUE IN TRUE OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST...for hardly one in ten of those who have once made a profession of Christ, retains the purity of faith to the end...lest this should make our faith to falter, Peter comes to our help, and in due time foretells that this very thing would be, that is, that false teachers WOULD DRAW MANY TO PERDITION” (393ff).

Notice that Calvin writes the words “few continue in true obedience to Christ.” These words tell us that many “start” in true obedience...but do not “continue.” It seems as if Calvin knew what Luke 8:13 stated about the soil that “believed for a time” and then fell away due to temptation. Secondly, the false teachers come and “draw many to perdition,” which means that many who have “once made a profession” will go on to “perdition” (which is another word for “destruction,” “hell,” or “everlasting damnation”). And yet, we know that Revelation 22 tells us that only “unbelievers” will go on to perdition. Yet, Calvin’s own words mimic the words of Hebrews 10:39---“But we are not of THOSE WHO DRAW BACK TO PERDITION, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (NKJV). There will be those who “draw back to perdition,” and Calvin notes this in his own words.

Now, let’s look at verses 20 and 21 of the same chapter. The reason I skip to these verses is so that we can see the clear references to apostasy as well as weigh Calvin’s words regarding these verses of Scripture.

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are AGAIN ENTANGLED IN THEM AND OVERCOME, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than HAVING KNOWN IT, TO TURN FROM THE HOLY COMMANDMENT DELIVERED TO THEM” (2 Peter 2:20-21, NKJV).

Regarding verse 20, Calvin writes:

“He again shews how pernicious was THE SECT WHICH LED MEN CONSECRATED TO GOD back again to their old filth and the corruptions of the world. And he exhibits the heinousness of the evil by a comparison; for IT WAS NO COMMON SIN TO DEPART FROM THE HOLY DOCTRINE OF GOD” (410).

Notice that those who go back to “the corruptions of the world” are “men consecrated to God.” This language implies that these weak Christians might be weak, but are still genuine Christians nonetheless. Calvin then talks about the rank of the sin of apostasy: it is such a horrible sin that he calls it “no common sin” and says that these “depart from the holy doctrine of God.” The apostates depart from the Word altogether, the teaching of God, His Scriptures. This is departing from “the way of righteousness” to which Peter refers above. Calvin states that “by the knowledge of Christ’ he [Peter] no doubt understands the gospel.” So in Calvin’s mind, those who depart from the way of righteousness depart from the gospel. And apart from the gospel, there is no salvation. Therefore, I ask you, the readership, was Calvin here implying that such persons of 2 Peter 2:20-22 walked away from the gospel, and, therefore, neglected such a great salvation (Hebrews 2) and forfeited their inheritance in Christ (Heb. 12, example of Esau)?

Maybe this will help. Here are Calvin’s thoughts regarding verse 21:

“By saying that ‘having forsaken the commandment delivered unto them,’ they returned to their own pollutions...he declares that they who MAKE THEMSELVES SLAVES AGAIN to the pollutions of the world FALL AWAY FROM THE GOSPEL.”

First, he says that the persons of 2 Peter 2 “make themselves slaves AGAIN” to the world; this means that, in Calvin’s mind, these people had once given up their slavery to sin and the world and had come to be “servants of righteousness,” to use Paul’s label in Romans 6. However, these people had now turned again and enslaved themselves back in sin once more. Secondly, such persons “fall away from the gospel,” which means that these people fell away from salvation.

These are some of Calvin’s comments regarding 2 Peter 2. What we’ve seen in Calvin’s argument is that Calvin has been inconsistent. When he interprets these passages by merely reading them, he sounds Arminian because he argues that these people “fall away from the gospel.” However, when he starts to write in his “Institutes” on eternal election and the divine decree of God, he imports his own theological system and hermeneutic onto the material (which skews his thoughts regarding the apostasy passages). The question is, “Why did Calvin write one way in his commentaries regarding these verses, and another way regarding his views of election, irresistible grace, and perseverance?” And this is a question Calvinists themselves have to answer if they seek to understand the man whose theology they follow as well as his theology itself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Exploring The Hermeneutical Dilemma, Part I: John 10:27-29 and Hebrews 6:4-6

I am back today to explore the hermeneutical problems posed by the doctrine of eternal security. The passage from John (Jn. 10:27-29) that I will deal with in great detail today is the first passage that our preacher “John” brought up in his sermon.

I will print the text here for all to read:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, NKJV).

Now we must size this up with a passage like the following:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NKJV).

In the commentary work on Calvin from Hebrews 6, I’ve shown that Calvin himself believed that the person wouldn’t even desire to come back to repentance, not so much that God wouldn’t forgive that person. The reason? For the person who fell away, God would “give them over” to their own sin (reminiscent of Romans 1). So what we find in Hebrews 6 is that there are those who can fall away; 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us that in the last days “many will depart from the faith,” and we are told this by the Spirit Himself. Falling away, then, is not just a possibility---according to Scripture, falling away is as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow!!

If falling away is a possibility, then many eternal securitists would ask the question, “Can there be any security?” Many who hold to the Doctrine of Eternal Security (hereafter called “ES”) are those who feel that, should they accept the passages like Hebrews 6 that talk about “falling away,” they would be forced to abandon the notion of any security in Christ whatsoever. This train of thought, however, is false indeed. There is security in Christ, and even Classical Arminians hold to that. However, Classical Arminians believe that security in Christ is CONDITIONAL upon one’s faith in Christ. As long as someone believes, he or she is secure in Christ. Should they “lose faith” and “stop believing,” then and only then does that person lose their security in Christ. For this, there are two main passages that I will reference here:

“But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these, have no root, WHO BELIEVE FOR A WHILE and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13, NKJV).

“Because of unbelief they [Jews] were broken off, and YOU STAND BY FAITH...therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on THOSE WHO FELL, severity; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. Otherwise YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Romans 11:20, 22).

Now the question becomes, “How do all these passages line up with John 10:27-29? How do we reconcile these passages together?” And this is a good question to ask. The problem with eternal securitists in this debate is that they refuse to engage the Arminian camp. They refuse to look at the claims of Classical Arminianism and ask themselves, “What about if the other side is right?” Classical Arminians have strong evidence for their view; we have done our research and examined passages of Scripture as well to come to our view. The problem is, most eternal securitists do what “Preacher John” did---they bypass the Scriptures that go against eternal security and only hold up the ones they think confirm their view. If eternal securitists have nothing to hide, then why don’t they engage the other side? That has been the question I’ve been asking and asking, over and over again, in the past year.

In any case, we must decide what to do with John 10:27-29. The passage itself seems to imply eternal security (“they will never perish”). When advocates of ES argue for eternal security, they do so, forgetting the rest of the verse material regarding this passage. The sheep are not just given eternal life because they believe (verse 26); they also “hear” His voice and “follow” Him (verse 27). So these sheep don’t just have faith---but their faith is, to use a James phrase, “justified by works” (James 2:21).

Most ESers assume that believers will automatically do these things; in fact, most Calvinists and Calvinistic sympathizers will tell you that works NECESSARILY follow from faith. But if this were true, then why did James have to write the church and tell them, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26, NKJV)? If it were so clear to the church that grace should stir us to good works and not give us a “blanket security” to go sin and get away with it, why did Paul have to tell the Romans that “what then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? CERTAINLY NOT! (Rom. 6:15)”? Most modern-day believers just assume things that the Bible states BECAUSE they are NOT assumed!!! So these things are emphasized in Scripture to daily remind us that we have genuine responsibility before God for our actions, what we do with the lives we have been given (2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, the sheep of Christ who hear Him, obey Him, and follow His voice are the ones granted eternal security.

Now, having said that, the next question would be, “Okay, so how does John 10:27-29 reconcile with the passages of Luke 8:13, Hebrews 6:4-6, and Romans 11:20,22?” In Luke 8:13, the problem with the rocky soil is that it “stops believing” (“believes for a time...and then fell away”). In Hebrews 6:4-6, the believer “falls away.” In Romans 11, Paul warns the Gentile believers not to be haughty, but to “continue in His kindness,” that being the kindness of God. How could they continue? By remaining in the faith (“you stand by your faith,” Rom. 11:20). So the sheep of John 10 who “never perish” are those who “continually believe.” How do we know that ES involves “continued faith”? Because those who fall away in Hebrews 6 are never again “renewed to repentance” (Heb. 6:6). And what does repentance involve? Confession and belief (Rom. 10:9). To believe is to have faith. The Greek shows us this as well, since the verb “believe” is “pisteuo,” and the word “faith” or “belief” is “pistis.” Notice that both “believe” (verb) and “belief” (noun) have the same word root in common (“pist-").

For the ESers who focus on “never perish,” I would say to them, look at what the sheep are doing in this passage. There is no divine sovereignty in John 10:27-29 that ELIMINATES human responsibility. Rather, both are upheld in John 10. And for those who don’t believe in human responsibility, take a look at Jesus’ requirements of followers: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, and TAKE UP HIS CROSS DAILY, and FOLLOW ME” (Luke 9:23, NKJV).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eternal Security: The Hermeneutical Dilemma

Every teaching or doctrine in the church comes down to one issue: hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). And with the issue of eternal security, the same issue (hermeneutics) is just as vitally important as the other numerous issues the church discusses. In today’s post, I’d like to start examining the problems with the doctrine of eternal security, specifically from a hermeneutical standpoint.

I’ve been thinking upon the sermon I heard from the preacher “John” two weeks ago (I posted on that sermon here at CTS), and how it is that John could place a bunch of prooftexts before the congregation while denying that the Bible has anything to say about “losing salvation” or “losing faith.” And what shocks me most is that believers are to approach the text of the Word of God with fairness and honesty, “understanding” (or “standing under”) the Word and letting it preach, instruct, guide, and rebuke us as those who will inherit its promises. But the problem I’m finding is that many people don’t desire to even discuss or entertain the idea of apostasy and falling away. No believer desires to think that the Bible affirms the possibility of falling away; and yet, there are quite a few troublesome passages that clearly state the possibility. Let’s look at one of them:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6, NKJV).

Now these are verses that Calvinistic theologians (and Calvinist theologians alike, not to mention ordinary believers) interpret to refer to those who were “never saved to begin with,” people who only “pretended” to be saved, but were never genuinely converted. And Calvinists, therefore, are the ones who argue for eternal security: to them, it seems that if a person is truly saved, he or she will persevere to the end and be saved.

However, eternal securitists have never read Calvin’s “Institutes” if they presuppose this idea. Calvin, in his work, links the “falling away” of Hebrews 6 with “the unforgivable sin” mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels:

“First, the apostle OF NECESSITY must agree with the Master, who declares, that ‘all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men,’ ‘neither in this world, NEITHER IN THE WORLD TO COME’ (Matt. 12:31, Luke 12:10). We must hold that this was the only exception which the apostle recognized, UNLESS WE WOULD SET HIM IN OPPOSITION TO THE GRACE OF GOD. Hence it follows, that to no sin is pardon denied save to one, which proceeding from desperate fury cannot be ascribed to infirmity, and plainly shows that the man guilty of it is possessed by the devil” (3.3.21).

Henry A. Virkler notes in his work Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation that

“ ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’ was a favorite phrase of Calvin, which alluded to the importance Calvin placed on studying the context, grammar, words, and PARALLEL PASSAGES rather than importing one’s own meaning onto the text. In a famous sentence he stated that ‘it is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say’” (Henry A. Virkler, “Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation," Fifth Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 67).

Calvin, therefore, believed that two passages of Scripture could not contradict each other (which is why he says in the quote regarding Hebrews 6 that we should not “set him [apostle Paul] in opposition to the grace of God.” Calvin believed that the Apostle Paul’s words in Hebrews 6 would match the words of Christ in the Gospels (and not go against them). Therefore, to discuss the impossibility of repentance in Hebrews 6 is to discuss blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, found in Matthew 12 and Luke 12.

In terms of Calvin’s interpretation, he is dead-on with making this connection; for Hebrews gives us further insight into those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”:

“Anyone who has REJECTED Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has TRAMPLED THE SON OF GOD UNDERFOOT, counted the blood of the covenant BY WHICH HE WAS SANCTIFIED a common thing, and INSULTED THE SPIRIT OF GRACE?” (Heb. 10: 28-29, NKJV)

The person who “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit” is the same person who “insults the Spirit of Grace,” or “grieves the Spirit, whereby he is sealed” (Ephesians 4:30). Following Hebrews 10:28-29, verse 30 quotes from Deuteronomy 32:26 and states, “The Lord will judge HIS PEOPLE.” If the Lord’s people are the ones mentioned here, then Hebrews 10, as well as Hebrews 6, are not referring to those who “appear” to be saved...but, rather, to those who are saved...

I mentioned in a post on Hebrews 6 I put out a few days ago that Calvin writes that those who fall away (Heb. 6) are “voluntary apostates” (“Institutes,” 3.3.21) who “alienated themselves from the sanctification of the Spirit” (“Institutes,” 3.3.23). If this is the case, then even within Calvin’s own words we have clues that security in Christ can be breached. If this is true, then all eternal securitists need to reexamine what it means to have security in Christ.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Miseducation of the Masses

Having studied the Calvinism-Arminianism debate over the last year, as well as the issue of unconditional (eternal)/conditional security in Christ, I’ve come to see that there is much confusion about the issues within the church itself. And although I know the confusion exists, I am still nonetheless shocked when I hear someone say something that reveals the confusion of most believers regarding theology.

I found myself in this “rut” once more with a friend of mine yesterday who walked into the local coffee shop. He sat down and began sharing with me his good news: that he was soon to be interviewed by a church board for the position of Pastor at a church on the East Coast.

And then, he decided to bring up theology: “I heard that someone was asked about their stance in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. If they ask me, I’m gonna tell them that I am a Molinist. If God is all-sovereign, then man has no responsibility; but if man has all power, then God has no sovereignty. Therefore, if I have to choose one, then I choose Molinism.”

Fortunately for him, I had been sleeping at the coffee shop (prior to his arrival) and thus, didn’t feel like engaging theologically right after I just awoke. But I would like to point out two things wrong with his statement:

(1) First, it reveals that this brother has a very ill-informed idea of
Molinism. Molinism is more than just the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Molinism has a particular way of showing how these two things work together. It is the process behind these two concepts that makes Molinism the system it is (not just the theological concepts of sovereignty and responsibility). So those who “water down” Molinism to just these two bare components do a disgrace to Molina and his system.

(2) He demonstrated by word of mouth that he knows VERY LITTLE about Classical Arminianism. He assumed that all Arminianism does is rely on the free will of man. He made it clear in his conversation that if everything is left up to man’s free will, then there is no room for the sovereignty of God. The problem with this claim is that Arminius held to both theological concepts in his theology. He did not deny either of them their proper place. Not only does Arminius reveal this in his theology, but Roger Olson confirms it in his “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.”

By this dear friend’s own confession, he revealed that he knew little about a theology he wouldn’t embrace (Classical Arminianism) as well as a theology he claimed he would embrace (Molinism). But how can a person disagree with a theological system they know little about, and embrace a theological system they know little about?

What troubles me most is that this friend may very well be on his way to becoming a pastor...which means that the church he serves may very well have questions about these systems. And when the church members question him, what will he say? What will he tell them? Just what he told me? If the future of strong, evangelical churches consist of men as pastors who know little about theology, what will our church members be like? How much about theology will our church members know?

Some may say that it’s “just theology,” but there can be no ecclesiology WITHOUT theology. If this is true, then a strong theology is the key to a strong church. Why then, are seminarians and college students so ill-informed as to theology? And if these persons are ill-informed, what are our churches coming to? I shudder to think of the outcome.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Other Side, Part V-A: Calvin's Commentary on Hebrews 6:4-6

I am back at this point to discuss Hebrews 6:4-6 and give Calvin’s commentary on the passage. Someone might ask, “Why even bother with going through these passages?” My answer to this would be, that passages like Hebrews 6:4-6, the passages of 2 Peter and Hebrews, as well as others in the New Testament (and the Old Testament) matter when it comes to the issue of apostasy. Calvin certainly had to face these passages, as does every Calvinist theologian. Fortunately, unlike most Calvinist theologians today, John Calvin was able to see many of these passages with some clarity and acknowledge the content within. That is my desire for all of us, no matter what theological system we hold to--- that we all would be able to see Scripture and acknowledge its truth.

Hebrews 6:4-6 reads thus:

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6, NKJV).

Calvin writes a response for the reprobate:

“The apostle, also intending to exclude apostates from the hope of salvation, states, as the reason, that it is impossible to renew them to repentance (Heb. 6:6); that is, God by renewing THOSE WHOM HE WILLS NOT TO PERISH, GIVES THEM A SIGN OF PATERNAL FAVOR, and in a manner attracts them to himself, by the beams of a calm and reconciled countenance; on the other hand, BY HARDENING THE REPROBATE, WHOSE IMPIETY IS NOT TO BE FORGIVEN, HE THUNDERS AGAINST THEM” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” 3.3.21).

Notice that God “hardens the reprobate, whose impiety is not to be forgiven...” Calvin clearly had a doctrine of reprobation and believed that there are those that God “wills not to perish” and those that He does. So those God desires to bring back to the faith, those God desires to be elect, He receives again...but the reprobate are rejected and God doesn’t attempt to receive them again.

Calvin, however, has more to say:

“This kind of vengeance the apostle denounces against VOLUNTARY APOSTATES (Heb. 10:29), who, in falling away from the faith of the Gospel, mock God, insultingly reject his favor, profane and trample under foot the blood of Christ, no, as far as in them lies, crucify him afresh. Still, he does not, as some austere persons preposterously insist, leave no hope of pardon to voluntary sins, but shows that apostasy being altogether without excuse, it is not strange that God is inexorably rigorous in punishing sacrilegious contempt thus shown to himself” (3.3.21).

Notice that this group of “voluntary apostates” seem to be from within the ranks of the Christian faith itself: “falling away from the faith of the Gospel...insultingly reject his favor...sacrilegious contempt...”

Of the small phrases above, one stands out the most...and that is that the apostates fall away “from the FAITH of the Gospel.” Evidently, Calvin had read Luke 8, where the rocky soil “believed for a time” and then fell away due to temptation.

In his quote above, Calvin also makes the point that apostasy is not like the other list of “voluntary sins” that the Lord forgives. Apostasy is “altogether without excuse,” meaning that there is no reason sufficient to explain why a person would walk away from Christ and abandon their hope in Him for the world. Because of this “sacrilegious contempt shown to himself,” God does not receive that person again. By “sacrilegious contempt,” Calvin means that the apostate has shown utter hatred and disrespect for his or her master, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has, as Hebrews 6 said, “trampled underfoot the blood of the Son of God.” The apostate has taken the Lord’s precious blood, worth so much, and “treated it as a common thing,” as something to spit upon without a second thought.

In section 23 of the same book, Calvin explains the type of person the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote Hebrews 6:4-6---

“The directing his discourse against those who imagined that they could return to the Christian religion though they had once revolted from it. To divest them of this false and pernicious opinion, he says, as is most true, that those who had once KNOWINGLY AND WILLINGLY CAST OFF FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST, had no means of returning to it. It is not, however, so cast off by those who merely, by the dissoluteness of their lives, transgress the word of the Lord, but by those who avowedly reject his whole doctrine...when he speaks of those falling away...we must understand him as referring to those who, WITH DELIBERATE IMPIETY, HAVE QUENCHED THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT, TASTED OF THE HEAVENLY WORD AND SPURNED IT, ALIENATED THEMSELVES FROM THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT, AND TRAMPLED UNDER FOOT THE WORD OF GOD AND THE POWERS OF A WORLD TO COME. THE BETTER TO SHOW THAT THIS WAS THE SPECIES OF IMPIETY INTENDED, he afterward expressly adds the term ‘willfully’” (“Institutes,” 3.3.23).

Calvin makes it clear that the persons of Hebrews 6:4-6 are those who “knowingly and willingly cast off fellowship.” Such persons are not ignorant of what they are doing. Rather, as Romans 1 says, they are “haters of God” and “knowing the righteous judgment of God...those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:30, 32).

And then, Calvin becomes more detailed about the apostates: they “have quenched the light of the Spirit.” This is in direct violation of 1 Thessalonians 5:19. Next, they “tasted of the heavenly word and spurned it.” What does it mean to “taste of the heavenly word”? We can get a glimpse of this from 1 Peter 2:2-3---“as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, IF INDEED YOU HAVE TASTED THAT THE LORD IS GRACIOUS” (NKJV). Peter told the scattered Jews in the Dispersion (Diaspora) that they should desire to grow in the Lord, since their prior experience of God in the faith revealed to them the goodness of the Lord. They had memories with the Lord in the faith that should move them to keep going forward in Christ. The voluntary apostates of Heb. 6:4-6, however, have tasted the word of God (called “good”), and have rejected it, like the baby who rejects eating carrots.
Next, such apostates have “alienated themselves from the sanctification of the Spirit.” This is one of the most interesting statements made by Calvin regarding the type of person that fulfills Hebrews 6:4-6. What does it mean to say that the apostates have “alienated themselves”?

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary provides the following definition:

1 : to make unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent especially where attachment formerly existed

See the words “especially where attachment formerly existed”? such words demonstrate a connection between two people or things, or a combination thereof. But in order for a person to become hostile or unfriendly TO someone or something, that person must have had an attachment to that person or thing that they are now (currently) disconnecting themselves from.

When Calvin says, then, that the voluntary apostates have “alienated themselves from the sanctification of the Spirit,” he is saying that, whereas there was a time when the apostates “walked in the Spirit,” that time is past; whereas the apostates were once sensitive to the Spirit and His leading, they no longer listen to Him at all.
Instead, they grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and spend more time fulfilling the lusts of the flesh (which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing).

Let me ask a question at this point: How can a person “alienate themselves from the sanctification of the Spirit” if “they were never saved to begin with”? I ask this question because so many Calvinists and ordinary believers give this answer as the reason why individuals walk away from Christ. However, if the person is never saved, then 1) the Spirit doesn’t reside in them, and 2)they cannot be sanctified because they first need to be saved. In this case, the apostates would just be unbelievers. Apostates, however, according to the Bible, are a different group of unbelievers than just those who continue in their unbelief. Apostates are those who abandon the faith (1 Tim. 4:1), not those who never came to it.

Many respond to Hebrews 6:4-6 with sadness of heart, thinking the worst of God for not allowing apostates to return to the faith. Calvin responds to this feeling:

“To some it seems harsh, and at variance with the divine mercy, utterly to deny forgiveness to any who retake themselves to it. This is easily disposed of. It is not said that pardon will be refused if they turn to the Lord, but IT IS ALTOGETHER DENIED THAT THEY CAN TURN TO REPENTANCE, inasmuch as for their ingratitude THEY ARE STRUCK BY THE JUST JUDGMENT OF GOD WITH ETERNAL BLINDNESS” (“Institutes,” 3.3.24).

The issue then, is not about them turning to the Lord---it’s about them NOT WANTING TO TURN TO THE LORD! Because they have been ungrateful and shown contempt to the grace of God, “they are struck by the just judgment of God with eternal blindness.” God gives them over to their desires, just like those of Romans 1:

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened...they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles...therefore GOD GAVE THEM UP in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves...for this reason GOD GAVE THEM UP to dishonorable passions...and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, GOD GAVE THEM UP to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done...” (Rom. 1:21, 23, 23, 26,28 ESV)

Three times in the text it says that “God gave them up” (1:24, 26, 28) to their own evil desires, because they chose not to worship and serve Him. Since humanity made it clear that they did not care to worship God despite knowing the truth, God decided to assent to their decision and let them be as debased and depraved as they desired to be. What a sad state of affairs to think about!

For whatever reason, eternal securitists today seem to think that God will not give a professed believer over to their sin should they persist in it...but if God did it in Romans 1, why does the modern-day child of God become an exception if he will not receive the Lord’s chastening (Hebrews 12:7-10)?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Other Side, Part IV: Arminius On The Issue of Losing Faith

I’m back to deliver what I promised: to cover Arminius’s thought regarding losing faith. Before I get into it, though, I’d just like to remind the readership that I’ve spent the last two days or so dealing with the idea of “losing faith.”

This renewed passion for the issue of eternal security came about because of a sermon I heard this past Sunday on eternal security and the loss of salvation. After that sermon, I was driven back into the Scriptures to examine them once more. And I’m thankful for the time I’ve had to study this debate. Every moment spent in the Word has been a moment used to glorify God, to seek to bring out (exegeomai, “to draw out,” from which we get our word “exegete”) the truths of God’s Word.

I’ve gone through passages that reveal that a person can come to Christ, lose faith, and then turn away from Him. In this post, I am gonna deal with the issues of losing faith and losing salvation.

Now, most people have an idea of losing salvation that is quite distorted, indeed. Most people think of losing salvation as the consequence of committing a sin. In fact, our dear old preacher “John” who preached the sermon on eternal security asked this question in the course of his sermon: “How many sins can be committed before a person loses salvation? One or two sins, or four sins? What number of sins causes a person to lose their salvation?” As I said, the problem with apostasy is not the issue of works, but the issue of faith. A person loses their standing in Christ by losing or giving up their faith. As Hebrews 10 tells us, they throw away “their confidence,” or assurance in Christ. However, “losing faith” shows itself in a person’s actions. When a person begins to lose faith in Christ, they begin to engage
in all sorts of sinful deeds and actions; and those deeds and actions multiply rapidly because they’ve started to become so numb to their sin (and so numb to God) that they actually feel as if sinning is “liberating,” more liberating perhaps than even the Word of God, which James calls “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).

Having said this, I wanna go into Arminius’s theology regarding losing faith. Two posts of this series were spent on passages that either outright describe apostasy or suggest it in order that you, the readership, would see that apostasy is a doctrine of Scripture, not just something that the modern-day church has made up. Paul even said that THE SPIRIT HIMSELF tells us that people will depart (apostatize) from the faith in the last days (1 Timothy 4:1). So apostasy is a scriptural teaching that tells us that, while all believers COULD fall away, only some will do so. It is for this reason, therefore, that we cannot overlook it and treat it as if it does not exist.

It is because of this that I will venture forth now and detail Arminius’s discussion of apostasy, or what we call “losing faith.” The biblical word for losing faith is “apostasy,” translated as “apostesontai” (apostatizing, or apostasizing) in 1 Timothy 4:1. The same word is used in Matthew 19:7 in the Greek phrase “biblion apostasiou,” translated in various Bible editions as “writ of divorce.” The “writ of apostasy,” therefore, was used in Deuteronomy 24 because of the injustices against wives and to protect husbands if the wife was unfaithful. It makes sense, then, that apostasy as a biblical doctrine concerns a “divorce,” a “cutting off” or “severing” of the spiritual relationship between God and man...since the Bible also discusses in the same passage the issue of marriage between man and woman (Matt. 19), which is to symbolize the marriage of Christ to His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:24ff).

Arminius writes in his “Apology”:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the faith;’ and (2) ‘it is possible for believers to decline from salvation.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted;-- it being IMPOSSIBLE FOR BELIEVERS, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, TO DECLINE FROM SALVATION. Because, were this possible, THAT POWER OF GOD WOULD BE CONQUERED WHICH HE HAS DETERMINED TO EMPLOY IN SAVING BELIEVERS. ON THE OTHER HAND, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, provided they still continue unbelievers...for this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: ‘It is POSSIBLE for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;’ or rather, ‘Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith.’ This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred,---‘therefore they also actually decline from salvation’” (James Arminius, “Works,” 1:742).

Notice that Arminius says that losing faith begins the process that leads to losing salvation: “if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation...”
First off, Arminius argues that believers can fall away from the faith; this is proven true by 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 6:4-6, and Luke 8: 13. As a result, these once-believers become unbelievers, and they thus decline from salvation itself.
If you read my posts on this series, the first post (“The Other Side, Part I”) deals with Romans 11 and how we are secure in Christ BY FAITH. As Paul told the Gentiles, if they did not continue in His kindness, they would be cut off. At the moment of his letter, though, they stood in Christ BY FAITH (Rom. 11:19-22). The Jews, while currently in unbelief at the time of the Romans letter, were able to return to faith again and be engrafted into the Vine once more, since God is able to graft them in again (v. 23). Romans 11 tells us that the security in Christ can be “cut off” if not continued in. The security in Christ, therefore, is not, to use the words of the eternal securitist, “guaranteed.”

But there’s one thing that I think is extremely noteworthy regarding Arminius’s view of losing salvation: that is, that he actually provides ASSURANCE AND SECURITY IN CHRIST FOR THE BELIEVER! Notice what he says:


As long as a person continues to believe, they cannot decline from salvation. After all, the Scriptures show us the importance of “remaining” in Him (especially 1 John), and that the one who “continually believes” in Him will have eternal life (compare John 3:16 with Luke 8:13). Therefore, for the believer who stands by faith (Rom. 11), their faith is secure in Christ. This security, however, as Arminius notes above, is “conditional” instead of “unconditional”: “AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS...” Contrary to what most people think about Arminianism and the doctrine of conditional security (or conditional perseverance), the doctrine itself provides assurance for those who are believing in Christ. Only those who depart from Christ have reason to be uneasy and conflicted within about their salvation. They are, to use a phrase from Hebrews 10, ones who have “cast away their confidence,” or thrown away their assurance.

Arminius’s belief about losing faith and losing salvation no longer seem unbiblical, huh? After my research this past year, I discovered that Arminius’s theology regarding salvation and faith is more biblical than the others that are out there.

However, Arminius also had the support of Molina regarding losing faith:

“...let us take as our example an action that is supernatural and extremely difficult, namely, a confession of faith under torture all the way up to the end of one’s life, a confession that makes the person in question a martyr; and let us assume that this confession is elicited from an unbeliever, who is justified through it.
Clearly, for an action of this sort [supernatural and extremely difficult] it is not only necessary that there should exist all the divine predeterminations spoken of above with reference to the aforementioned indifferent or morally good action, but it is also required that there be a predetermination to call, assist, and comfort the man at the time in question by means of the extraordinary aids of prevenient and cooperating grace, without which the man’s faculty of choice would be unable to persevere. Still, THESE AND THE AFOREMENTIONED PREDETERMINATIONS AND AIDS LEAVE HIM ABLE, AT THE INSTANT AT WHICH HE IS CONVERTED, NOT ONLY NOT TO BE CONVERTED BUT EVEN TO DISSENT FROM THE FAITH AND TO REPUDIATE IT; AND THEY LEAVE HIM ABLE AFTERWARD, AS LONG AS HIS TORMENTS LAST, ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF HIS LIFE, TO SUCCUMB AND TO REPUDIATE THE FAITH. Nor, in accord with what was we doubt that this opinion is de fide [‘of faith’]; otherwise, such a conversion to the faith and such perseverance in confessing it would not be meritorious---indeed, they would not even constitute a morally good act, since THERE CAN BE NEITHER MERIT NOR MORAL GOODNESS IN ANY ACT UNLESS THERE IS FREEDOM, WHETHER OR CONTRARIETY OR OF CONTRADICTION, WITH RESPECT TO THE OPPOSITE”
(Luis de Molina, “Concordia, Pt. IV,” Disputation 53, Sec. 8).

Molina held the same conviction: that grace was resistible, even for the martyr who was soon to die. Why could the martyr resist AFTER confessing Christ? Because, such is the nature of choice.

I’ve covered Arminius and Molina here with regard to losing faith and apostasy; but what about John Calvin? I’ve covered his Doctrine of Temporary Faith before, but in coming posts, I’d like to examine Calvin’s comments on various passages of Scripture that clearly explicate apostasy (like Hebrews 6:4-6, among others). Calvin had to encounter these passages; how did he, and what did he say in response to his encounter with them? That is the exciting question I will cover in the coming days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Other Side, Part III: Other Passages Regarding Losing Faith

In my last post, I tackled the question, “Can a person lose faith?”, and found the answer to be “yes.” I looked at Luke 8 and demonstrated that, in the explanation of His Parable of the Sower, Jesus made it clear that certain soil did not receive the word so that they could “believe and be saved.” Jesus linked belief to salvation in Luke 8, and I think we would be wise to follow suit. So even the rocky soil experienced some of the blessings of salvation in Christ...only to turn around and walk away because of temptation.

There are a number of other passages that deal with this as well. Among them, a good one is the sticky passage of Hebrews 10:

“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
‘For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. NOW THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; BUT IF ANYONE DRAWS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.’

The Greek word for “draw back” is “huposteiletai,” which comes from the word “hupostello.” This word means “to draw back,” “to shrink from declaring, to conceal, to dissemble,” “to withdraw oneself, to be timid, to cover, to shrink,” etc.

My question would be, “How does one “withdraw” from something they were never a part of to begin with? Within its context, Hebrews is written to Jewish converts who are scattered throughout the world. So to tell them to not shrink back was to tell them to endure persecution, even if it involved being refugees in the world.

In verse 39, the writer contrasts “withdrawing to perdition” to “believing to the saving of the soul.” The word for “perdition” here is “apoleia,” which is “destruction.” So to withdraw is to go back to “destruction,” to go back to the first state---a life without Christ, bound for Hell. But the person that goes on to salvation (“the saving of the soul”) is the one that continues believing, that doesn’t withdraw from Christ and their faith in Him.

Peter talks about those who come to Christ but then return to the world:

“They [false teachers] have forsaken the right way and gone astray...” (2 Peter 2:15, NKJV)

The Greek word here for “forsaken” is “kataleipontes,” which is a verb plus the letters “ing.” The verb comes from “kataleipo,” which means “to leave behind, TO DEPART FROM, to abandon, to NEGLECT.” The definition of “kataleipontes” as “neglect” makes for an interesting connection between 2 Peter 2 and Hebrews 2:

“how shall we escape if we NEGLECT SO GREAT A SALVATION, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Heb. 2:3, NKJV).

The word for “neglect” here is “amelesantes,” which is a passive verb, translated as “having neglected.” The verb here comes from the word “ameleo,” meaning “to disregard, to neglect.” Both 2 Peter 2 and Hebrews 2 show that salvation can be tossed away, disregarded, thrown away. I don’t advocate believers doing this; but I must affirm what Scripture says when it says that there are some who could do this---and that they cannot escape God’s wrath if they do so.

There is another passage from 2 Peter that clearly shows us the person who leaves the world for Christ and then goes back to the world:

“For if, after THEY HAVE ESCAPED THE POLLUTIONS OF THE WORLD THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, they are AGAIN ENTANGLED IN THEM AND OVERCOME, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than HAVING KNOWN IT, TO TURN FROM THE HOLY COMMANDMENT delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21, NKJV).

We see in this passage that there are those who “escaped the pollutions of the world,” meaning that they had come out of the world. But then, we see them “again entangled in them and overcome,” which means that, not only do they go back to the world, but they get caught up in the immorality and sinfulness of the world. How can anyone read this passage and deny that such persons once experienced blessings of salvation?

These are just a few of the passages that pertain to attacks on the so-called Doctrine of Eternal Security. In my next post, I will deal with Arminius’s response to the issue of falling away, as well as Calvin’s Doctrine of Temporary Faith.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Other Side, Part II: "Losing Faith"

“Well, I’ve shown us that our security comes through faith in the atoning work of Christ. Now the question to ask is, “If a person stands by their faith, can they fall by their unbelief?” or, the following: “If a person has professed faith in Christ, can they lose faith and commit apostasy (walk away from Christ)?” I will answer this question in my next post.”

These words ended my last post on “The Other Side” (Part I). And the question I will tackle today is, “Can a person who has professed faith walk away from the faith, lose faith in God?” This is the governing question in today’s post.

Before I get started, though, let me comment on something I stated in the last post. The last verses I used came from 1 Peter 1:3,5, where I stated that faith was God’s divine preservation for the believer. Paul echoes this teaching when he discusses the armor of God in Ephesians 6:

“ABOVE ALL, taking the SHIELD OF FAITH with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:16, NKJV).

The shield of faith keeps the believer from being destroyed by the “fiery darts” of Satan. The shield of faith preserves us from destruction, in the same way that a knight’s shield keeps him from being fatally wounded. No wonder Paul said before these words, “Above all”!!

Along with instructions, Paul gives a command: “PUT ON the whole armor of God...” (Eph. 6:1) Paul’s words here, an imperative, tell us that putting on the armor is something WE must do, not God! God will not put the armor on us; we must take the armor He has given and put it on ourselves everyday as we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).

The question then becomes, if I must “put on” the shield of faith everyday as I fight sin, the world, and Satan, can I “lose faith”? In other words, “Can I put down the shield of faith?” Can I start retreating in the battle against sin and Satan?
First, Romans 11 (we looked at in the last post) tells us that the Gentiles stood in Christ “by faith,” but if they did not “continue in His kindness,” they would be “cut off” (Rom. 11:22). Evidently, faith is not something that a person is “guaranteed” to possess eternally, which is why Paul gives the Gentiles such a stern warning. And then, in verse 23, Paul writes that the Lord could graft the Jews in again---provided they came out of their unbelief.

Romans 11 by itself, then, poses problems for the Doctrine of Eternal Security, as we see that Jews and Gentiles alike can become “engrafted” to Christ by faith but then “cut off” due to unbelief.

But are there any other passages? What about Luke 8?

“But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, RECEIVE THE WORD WITH JOY; and these have no root, WHO BELIEVE FOR A WHILE and in time of temptation FALL AWAY” (Luke 8:13, NKJV).

Jesus is explaining to the disciples the Parable of the Sower He just told, and He is describing each of the four soils He discussed previously in the early verses of Luke 8. In verse 13 He tells them who the seeds on the “rocky” soil represent. These are those who have “no root.” What does this mean? Those who have “no root” means that they are not firmly planted, not firmly secure in their faith; and when temptation comes, they immediately fall away.

Notice though, that Jesus says those of this soil “Believe for a while.” This is the most important phrase of the Parable and its explanation. Theologians and commentary writers alike have spilled so much ink over whether or not those of the rocky soil are saved. However, “they believe.” In addition, look at verse 12:

“Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest THEY SHOULD BELIEVE AND BE SAVED” (Luke 8:12).

“Believe and be saved” shows us that believers are counted as saved in Jesus’ parable. The rocky soil, therefore, counts as those who are saved when they receive the word with joy. However, trials and tribulations come their way, and they “fall away,” becoming those persons of whom Hebrews 6:4-6 discusses. This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote the Jewish congregation: because he feared that, like this rocky soil, they too, would believe for a while and then flee during intense persecution and temptation.

Luke 8, then, explains why John 3:16, in its statement of “whoever believes,” really refers to a CONTINUOUS STATE OF BELIEF (as confirmed by Romans 11:19-22). Finally, there are the words of Paul as he neared the end of his life:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH” (2 Timothy 4:7, NKJV).

Why is there a mention here of “keeping the faith”? Keeping faith is part of Paul’s evaluation for himself, and becomes the confidence by which he knows that he is soon to receive everlasting life (2 Tim. 4:8). Through this we understand that faith really is a shield to protect and preserve us from Satan’s blows. Keeping our faith is really important in order to wage war victoriously and look forward with confidence to life with Christ.

Last but not least, there is the reference to the wilderness generation in Hebrews:

“Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed THE GOSPEL WAS PREACHED TO US AS WELL AS TO THEM; but the word which they heard did not profit them, NOT BEING MIXED WITH FAITH in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:1-2, NKJV).

Who were those who heard the gospel? “all who came out of Egypt” (Heb. 3:16). Why did they not enter “His rest” (Heb. 3:18)? “because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). We see here, then, that the rest of which the Old Testament discussed was not just the physical territory of Canaan, but also the spiritual territory, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

So we see that even the wilderness generation, considered by God to be His People, died in the wilderness because of their own unbelief (Exodus 32:31-35, emphasis on v. 34).

So, back to “John” (the preacher) and his sermon. He asked the question about works “unsaving” a person. The issue, however, is not works, but faith. John has missed the issue altogether. From this post, though, I’ve tackled the question “Can a person lose faith?” The answer is “yes.” Luke 8 shows us that not everyone believes and is saved forever; some only “believe and are saved” for a short time. How unfortunate...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Other Side, Part I: The Right Question

I am so thankful for a little thing we call “podcasts.” To churches and pastors who use them and encourage them, let me just say “thank you so much.” I think podcasts are marvelous little tools invented that will bring glory to God. For those like me who get sick from time to time and can’t get out the door to go to church---we find ways of “going to church” inside our own homes and apartments.

And that is what I did this past Sunday. I sat down to listen to a sermon on a church podcast. There was a sermon selection that most appealed to me, so I listened to it. The sermon was on the issue of “losing salvation,” and the sermon was preached by a man I shall refer to as “John.” The importance of this discussion is not the name of the man, but of the doctrine that he espoused and the manner in which he espoused it.

John used a number of proof-texts in his discussion of the doctrine of eternal security, such as 1 John 5:13, Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 5:21, John 10:27-29, Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:29ff, etc. When he talked about people who walk away, he ended up using the famous proof text of 1 John 2, which I’ve already exegeted in detail (search for material surrounding “1 John 2,” especially in my section under “The Race Set Before Us”). I’ve already shown that 1 John 2:19, specifically, refers to the false teachers, NOT the congregants themselves. As for the congregants, John was sure of their anointing and salvation (1 Jn. 2:27), but still warned them to remain in Christ (v. 28). Why did they need the warning to “remain” if they could not fall away? This is something that John (the current preacher) did not tell the congregation in his sermon.

All the above passages I referenced (as well as other proof passages he said that I didn’t note) point to his arguing for “unconditional eternal security,” which states that a person is secure in Christ and that he or she cannot fall away. What John failed to do, however, is show that there are passages that affirm the idea of falling away. What about Hebrews 6, for example, which states that a person can become “enlightened” (in contrast to being darkened without Christ, Eph. 5:8), as well as “a companion of the Holy Spirit,” and still “fall away” (Heb. 6:4-6)? What about James’ statement that a man’s faith without works cannot save him (James 2:14-26)? How about Peter warning the congregation of scattered believers with the words “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, BEING LED AWAY WITH THE ERROR OF THE WICKED” (2 Peter 3:17, NKJV)? If Peter is writing to a group of genuine believers, those he addresses as “those who have obtained like precious faith with us” (2 Pet. 1:1), how can he then turn around and warn them about falling from their own stability in Christ? What about 2 Peter 3:14-15, where Peter tells the believers to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless,” and count the Lord’s delay as “salvation” (2 Pet. 3:14-15)? John didn’t approach these texts, and, consequently, didn’t give place to answering these questions.

But he spent time trying to argue the truth of Scripture from human logic, however. Some of his statements were the following:

(1) “If we cannot save ourselves, then we cannot unsave ourselves.”
(2) “If my good works cannot save me, then how can my bad works unsave me?”
(3) “To be unsecure in that [salvation] means that WE ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN GOD.”
(4) “If we say that we can lose our salvation, we’re saying that GOD CAN’T HOLD ONTO HIS OWN.”

I’ve stated many times here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS) that God is not responsible for individuals who walk away (so we can eliminate #4). Number one is a response that I will deal with in another post. Number three is a response that was dealt with in Genesis, when Adam and Eve tried to “become gods” (by the way, they failed miserably!). So we can eliminate number 3. Adam and Eve sinned against God and turned against Him, but this did not make them more powerful than God or make God impotent or weak in any way. The response I desire to tackle in this post, however, is response #2: “If my good works cannot SAVE me, then how can my bad works UNSAVE me?”

The problem with the above question asked by John (about good and bad works) is that the question is not really disagreed about amongst Calvinists and Arminians. As a Classical Arminian, I do not disagree; my works, my merit, COULD NOT and DID NOT save me. Only faith in the work of Christ on the Cross saved me. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “and the life I now live in the flesh I LIVE BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (NKJV). Any new life that we have has been given to us by the grace of God through faith, the gift of God, in the work of the Son of God on the cross. So I wouldn’t disagree.

However...the issue is not one of works that determines salvation, as the Scriptures make clear (Eph. 2:8-9). The issue instead involves not WORKS, but FAITH itself. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God...” Confession and belief are conditions for salvation (Rom. 10:9).

So the question is not about good works and bad works; but instead, to have faith or to lose faith: “if my faith saves me, then can my losing faith, my neglecting salvation, later condemn me?”

And then comes the age-old question, “What do the Scriptures have to say about it?”

The first passage would be that of Romans 11, where Paul is warning the Gentiles not to boast of their privileged status in the Gospel, while discounting the Jews in salvation:

“You will say then, ‘branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF they were broken off, AND YOU STAND BY FAITH. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:19-21, NKJV).

The Jews were once connected to the vine, that supports the branches. However, because of unbelief, they were cut off from the vine. Why are the Gentiles engrafted? Because of faith: “You stand by faith.” The only security the Gentiles have in their connection to the vine is their faith. Faith is “the tie that binds” the Gentiles to the vine. Paul then tells the Gentiles, “do not be haughty.” In other words, they cannot boast and brag because their faith is the only connection they have. Should they turn to unbelief and lose faith, they will face what the Jews are experiencing (“God did not spare the natural branches”).

Notice Paul’s words to the Gentiles are more intense in verse 22:

“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: ON THOSE WHO FELL, SEVERITY; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Rom. 11:22, NKJV).

What do we do these words in Romans 11:22? Do we just ignore them or do we accept them? If we’re gonna accept them, then Paul himself told us the nature of our security: In Christ, BY FAITH. Our faith is how we stand or fall before the eyes of the Lord.

The next key passage would be 1 Peter 1:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...who ARE KEPT BY THE POWER OF GOD THROUGH FAITH FOR SALVATION ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3,5 NKJV).

Peter states here that the power of God, the divine preservation of the saints is faith. This is why faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). God gives us faith in order to keep those who believe. So for those passages that talk about the Lord keeping His sheep, I can agree: the Lord keeps the believers through faith. The believer's God-given faith is there to preserve him or her from destruction. So eternal securitists can stop saying that Arminians do not believe in any form of spiritual security. We just don't believe that the security is eternal for every believer...and we have biblical reasons for so thinking!!!

Well, I’ve shown us that our security comes through faith in the atoning work of Christ. Now the question to ask is, “If a person stands by their faith, can they fall by their unbelief?” or, the following: “If a person has professed faith in Christ, can they lose faith and commit apostasy (walk away from Christ)?” I will answer this question in my next post.

Granting Repentance

“Fourth, he [Lloyd-Jones] is concerned that the public invitation implies that sinners have an inherent power to come to Christ, which they do not. He argues against ‘self-conversion,’ noting that those dead in trespasses and sins are unable to respond to the invitation (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1).

‘If anyone feels that he cannot give an invitation for a sinner to come to Christ, because of man’s inability, let him remember that Jesus invited a man whose hand was paralyzed to do what he could not do! “...Stretch out your hand...” Jesus commanded (Matthew 12:13), and the man obeyed the command and did what he would not do! Let him remember also that Jesus told a dead man to do something he could not do---to live! “...Lazarus, come forth,” He commanded (John 11:43), and Lazarus obeyed the voice of Jesus and did what he could not do”
(R. Alan Streett, “The Public Invitation and Calvinism,” from “Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.” Nashville: B&H, 2010, page 248).

In my last post, I attacked James White’s view of total depravity, where he says that God must regenerate a person before he or she professes faith in Christ. To make his case, he quoted John 6:43-44, where Jesus says that no one can come to faith unless the Spirit draws him. White used this to argue regeneration preceding faith; however, I made the case that John 6 argues the need of the Spirit in the process, that the Spirit must initiate the God-human relationship. However, this doesn’t eliminate man’s responsibility to come to Christ (as shown in Acts 7:51).

White’s argument of regeneration preceding faith actually makes God’s sovereignty trump human responsibility...or, something unthinkable is created--- God must change our nature before we can have “responsibility.” If this is the case, though, then why does Genesis show us God punishing humanity because of their unbelief with regard to Noah’s message of a worldwide flood??? White argues that human responsibility only comes through regeneration; but this can’t be true! If White is right, then Cain’s deeds are the result of his depravity...and God had no right to punish him, whatsoever! You cannot take away responsibility before regeneration and then make someone responsible for the deeds they do. If a person cannot come to faith until regeneration, then it’s God’s responsibility for the lost souls in the world. Those who never come to Christ have no responsibility for living their lives in unbelief. And all this craziness is based on the fact that for White, regeneration precedes faith.

Of the passages quoted by R. Alan Streett, I’m only gonna deal with one verse: Acts 11:18---

“When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has ALSO GRANTED to the Gentiles repentance to life’” (Acts 11:18, NKJV).

In the context of Acts 11, Peter is explaining to the Jews at Jerusalem why he was seen associating with the uncircumcised Gentiles. In verse 17, Peter asks,

“If therefore God GAVE THEM THE SAME GIFT as He gave us WHEN WE BELIEVED ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice that the gift being spoken of here is the Holy Spirit, mentioned in verses 15 and 16.

So we see that when they believed on the Lord, they then received the Spirit. They did not receive the Spirit BEFORE they believed; NO---they received the Spirit AFTER BELIEVING. The word in the Greek for “when we believed” is “pisteusasin.” The word “pisteusasin” is an aorist verb, and an aorist verb is one that shows past action. So, when a person is granted the Holy Spirit, that person has already believed: repentance and belief PRECEDE regeneration by the Spirit, not FOLLOW it.

And R. Alan Streett was trying to make the same point about Martin Lloyd-Jones in the above quote. Jones believes that man cannot even make one step in professing faith in Christ because he is “dead in trespasses and sins.” The problem with Lloyd-Jones’s analysis is that he forgets some seemingly little words that make all the difference in the world: “in trespasses and sins.” This is the LOCATION of the “deadness”: in our sins! We are dead in sins, but we are not physically dead---and, as a result, there are many things we are capable of doing! Calvinists also commit a serious blunder when they quote Ephesians 1:4---

“just as He chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world. That we should be holy and without blame before Him in love...” (Eph. 1:4, NKJV)

Calvinists often focus upon the words “He chose us”; but they overlook the words “in Him.” The words “in Him” are extremely important. If they never existed in the verse, then God would just choose those He wanted. And when Calvinists advocate unconditional election, they strip Ephesians 1:4 of its power and rob God’s people of proper understanding of the Scriptures. If God chose believers “in Him,” then that means that Christ is the “realm” or “sphere” in which God chooses people.

Therefore, God chooses BELIEVERS, those who confess and believe on the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:9; Jn. 3:16). Notice that the “in Him” language used in Ephesians 1:4 is the same language used in John 3:16. Those who believe IN CHRIST are the ones who are given eternal life. And believing in Christ is the condition for eternal life, as John 3:16 demonstrates. So there are conditions to be fulfilled in order for a person to receive eternal life (such exegesis, though, undermines the Calvinist advocacy of “unconditional election”).

God must grant repentance, for without it, man cannot and will not believe. However, the fact that God gives it explains why God can require man to exercise it. God gives repentance, and man exercises his God-given faith by believing on the name of the Lord Jesus. Such is the message of the Scriptures.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

False Dichotomy

“A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor.2:14).

There is a fundamental incapacity in the natural man. He DOES NOT ACCEPT the things of the Spirit of God (willful rejection), for they are foolishness to him. Why are they foolishness? Because he is not a spiritual man. He CANNOT (not ‘does not’ or ‘normally chooses not to’) understand them. This is another phrase of inability, just as in Romans 8:7. This is not to say that there are not unregenerate, unsaved men who understand the outlines of Christian theology, for example, or the claims of the Christian faith. What it does mean is that there is no unregenerate man who SPIRITUALLY accepts, understands, and knows the things of God. They exist on a level he cannot access, the spiritual level, and he is spiritually dead. But if true saving faith is focused upon the spiritually understood truths of Christ’s perfect and substitutionary sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead, how can the natural man have this kind of faith?”
(James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 69).

Some time ago, I did a series titled “Somewhere In the Middle,” where I show how Classical Arminianism is the “middle ground theology” between Calvinism and Pelagianism. I showed that both Calvinism and Pelagianism go too far: Calvinism throws all sovereignty and responsibility on God, while Pelagianism throws all sovereignty and responsibility upon man. Classical Arminianism, however, is truly the middle ground in that it shows how God, in His sovereignty, must grant man grace and faith to believe (Ephesians 2), since man’s will is so bound and bent to sin and evil. However, the responsibility to believe is not God’s; God is NOT responsible for whether or not a person comes to Himself. God gives the grace and faith needed to believe, and man must exercise the grace and faith bestowed upon himself by God.

And this is the problem with White’s quote above. Notice that he emphasizes that man is totally depraved in his nature. And to that, I agree. However, White fumbles when he discusses man having faith: “But if true saving faith is focused upon the spiritually understood truths of Christ’s perfect and substitutionary sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead, how can the natural man have this kind of faith?”

Is there a way for natural man to have this kind of faith? In his own power, NO!!! For, as White shows in his quote above, as well as Scripture (1 Cor. 2 included), man cannot come to faith on His own.

But this is where Scripture aids us. James White misses the point of Scripture when asking this question, and he makes us think that either man can believe on his own (mentions the word “autonomy”) or that God must regenerate that person before they believe. However, White quotes a verse on the very next page after 1 Corinthians 2 that can aid us in this discussion:

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.’ (John 6:43-44)” (White, 70)

The only way a person can come to the Father is if the Spirit initiates the God-man relationship and goes to him or her first. But what does this mean? Does this mean that God “makes” the person come to Himself? Does the Spirit automatically FORCE a person to come to faith in Christ? The answer to that would be a resounding “No!”.

Let’s see Stephen’s words to the Jews in Acts 7:

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! YOU ALWAYS RESIST THE HOLY SPIRIT; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51, NKJV).

In order for the Holy Spirit to be “resisted,” He had to have been working on the hearts of the Jews to which Stephen preached his sermon. The Jews could not have resisted a Spirit who was not pleading with them, beckoning them, wooing them to Himself.

So when Jesus talks about the Spirit “draws” people, He isn’t saying that the Spirit woos a person and they will ALWAYS accept Him and come to faith. There are those, like the audience to which Peter preached, that will reject the Spirit’s wooing and compelling, and continue to persist in their sin.

So if a person can resist the Spirit’s drawing, then, what about those who come to faith? How do they come to faith, while others persist in their unbelief? it is because they are drawn by the Spirit, and they repent of their sins and believe on His name (exercise the grace and faith God gives). This is why Jesus says,
“IF ANYONE WILLS TO DO HIS WILL, he shall know concerning this doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17, NKJV).

For those who have a genuine desire to believe in Christ, God grants them knowledge of the truth along with grace and faith so that they can believe in Him.

Paul labels “faith” in Romans 1 as “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, NKJV). Why does he do this? If we take James White’s stance, God must first “make me willing” before I obey. How can obedience be called “obedience” when God is the one who has “forced” me to do it? How can someone obey if I force them to? How can they submit to me if I force them to bow down, to follow my rules? I cannot. And that is the problem with Calvinist theology: God must force us to submit, and then we “willingly” submit. But if this be the case, then why do I need to hear the Gospel? Why is it that “hearing” and “believing” the Gospel are so central to the conversion of the unbeliever (Rom. 10:14-17)? If we listen to James White, we would easily believe that no unbeliever wanted to hear the Gospel...and yet, we find the exact opposite throughout the pages of Scripture itself (Acts 17:32; John 3:4ff).

James White’s attempts to portray Arminianism as Pelagianism shine through here. White puts up a false dichotomy, paints a picture of ONLY two theologies---either that of Calvinism or human autonomy. The problem with this is that he forgets there is a middle ground, which is completely biblical---and that is the belief that the Spirit of grace bestows grace and faith, and man must exercise them in order to be saved. This, my friends, is what we call “Classical Arminianism.”