Friday, October 16, 2009

How can God be sovereign and man be free?

Balanced views on Calvinism and Arminianism by various authors

[1] Spurgeon’s Theology: Embracing Biblical Paradox, by Randy Alcorn

[2] The Extent of the Atonement, by Ptr. Richard E. Powell, Fort Caroline Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, USA

[3] Calvinism, Arminianism, and The Word of God, by Ptr. Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel

[4] What Calvinism And Arminianism Have In Common, by Edward Fudge, from Apologetics Index

Spurgeon’s Theology: Embracing Biblical Paradox, by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200,,,,

Nineteenth century London pastor, preacher and writer Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a Calvinist. As such, he was opposed by anti-Calvinists and a variety of non-Calvinists. He recognized their salvation and sincerity, but believed their view of God was often too small, and hence their view of man too big.

Spurgeon’s big view of God motivated him to take seriously God's commands to reach out to the needy. He had a deep concern for caring for the poor and spreading the gospel. Spurgeon built seventeen homes to help care for elderly women, and a large school for hundreds of children. Spurgeon and his church built homes for orphans in London, rescuing them from starvation and vice on the streets. He tirelessly preached the gospel and encouraged his church to reach out to the lost, extending to them the gospel of Christ.

For these good deeds, Spurgeon was aggressively opposed by another theological group: the hyper-Calvinists, a fatalistic dogmatic Calvinist minority. Among other things, they disdained his practice of indiscriminately preaching the gospel to the unsaved, and inviting people in meetings to come forward or otherwise respond to the gospel. This struck them as putting salvation in man’s hands rather than recognizing it was in God’s. Spurgeon believed salvation was in God’s hands, but that men needed to embrace it, and that God wanted men to hear the gospel and wanted him to preach it. (See Iain Murray’s Spurgeon vs. Hyper Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching. I’m indebted to Murray for about half of these citations from Spurgeon.)

Concerning 1 Timothy 2:3-6, especially “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and “Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all,” Spurgeon said something dramatically different than the hyper-Calvinists:

What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. ‘All men,’ say they that is, ‘some men’: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said 'some men' If he had meant some men. ‘All men,‘ say they; ‘that is, some of all sorts of men’: as if the Lord could not have said ‘All sorts of men’ if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written ‘all men,’ and unquestionably he means all men. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. ... My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.(Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 26: 49-52)
Spurgeon didn’t try to reconcile every paradox or apparent contradiction in the Bible. He said:
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring. (New Park Street Pulpit, 4:337)
Spurgeon warned against theologies that attempt to reconcile, by means of shortsighted human logic, every apparent biblical inconsistency:
Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all. (“Faith,” Sword and Trowel, 1872)

Both Arminianism and Calvinism sometimes ignore or minimize one teaching of God’s Word because they can’t understand how it fits with another. So they choose between them, instead of believing both. Some embrace God’s sovereignty, then redefine human choice and responsibility in a way that makes it no longer meaningful choice or meaningful responsibility. Some embrace human free choice and redefine God’s sovereignty and election in light of it, reducing God’s “sovereignty” to merely seeing in advance that people will choose him, so then based on their foreseen decisions, he “chooses” them; or seeing what bad people will do but being unable to stop them, God is forced to try to make the best of it. (As opposed to “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good,” Genesis 50:20). More recently, with Open Theology, God is actually said to be unable to see in advance exactly what choices people will make! (What’s next? God is too tired of this big job of running the universe, and he needs us to take the throne to help keep things going?)

Scripture reveals that God’s will is effective and He is sovereign in all things and that man is free and responsible for all his actions. Spurgeon wrote, “Both are true; no two truths can be inconsistent with each other; and what you have to do is to believe them both.”(New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 4, 343.)

In an early sermon on “Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility” Spurgeon introduced his subject this way:

The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once...Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there is no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free to be responsible, I am driven at once to Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestinates, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is the fault of our weak is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. (New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 4, 337).

Years later, in another sermon, Spurgeon said,

I believe in predestination, yea, even in its very jots and tittles. I believe that the path of a single grain of dust in the March wind is ordained and settled by a decree which cannot be violated; that every word and thought of man, every flittering of a sparrow’s wing, every flight of a fly...that everything, in fact is foreknown and foreordained. But I do equally believe in the free agency of man, that man acts as he wills, especially in moral operations choosing the evil with a will that is unbiased by anything that comes from God, biased only by his own depravity of heart and the perverseness of his habits; choosing the right too, with perfect freedom, though sacredly guided and led by the Holy Spirit...I believe that man is as accountable as if there were no destiny whatever...Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 15, 458).

Spurgeon also said,

It is my firm belief that everything in heaven, and earth and hell, will be seen to be, in the long run, part of the divine plan; yet never is God the author or the accomplice of sin...sin rests with man, wholly with man, and yet by some strange overruling force, Godlike and mysterious, like the existence of God, his supreme will is deny this truth because we cannot understand it, were to shut ourselves out of a great deal of important knowledge. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 15, 458).

Spurgeon was first a Biblicist, and only second a Calvinist. (Though imperfect and capable of misinterpreting Scripture, for the most part he was led to his beliefs by Scripture, not Calvinism.) His Calvinism didn’t inhibit him, but inspired him to offer the gospel to all men. He believed that more sinners could be saved if the gospel was preached to them. He didn’t try to harmonize this with God’s election, since Scripture clearly teaches both. He believed his responsibility was to preach the gospel, and that God, in his sovereignty, would use both preaching and prayer to produce a greater harvest of souls. He had prayer meetings Monday nights, and before preaching services. His classic book The Soul Winner is still in print.

Graciously, Spurgeon acknowledged the need for love and kindness between sincere Christians with different doctrines. He also acknowledged that some (though far from all) theological differences were largely semantic:

But I do maintain there should be, and there must be if our churches are to be healthy and sound, a constant adherence to the fundamental doctrines of divine truth. I should be prepared to go a very long way for charity’s sake, and admit that very much of the discussion which has existed even between Arminians and Calvinists has not been a discussion about vital truth, but about the terms in which that vital truth shall be stated. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 6:395.)
Spurgeon recognized that both Arminians and Calvinists were correct in many of their understandings of Scripture, but their mistake was in choosing one set of truths over another, rather than accepting both regardless of their apparent contradiction. He attributed our lack of understanding to our finite and fallen minds, not to problems with God or Scripture. Spurgeon put it this way:
The Calvinist has said, and said right bravely, that salvation is of grace alone; and the Arminian has said, and said most truthfully, that damnation is of man's will alone, and as the result of man’s sin, and of that only. Then they have fallen out with one another. The fact is, they had each one laid hold of a truth, and if they could have put their heads together, and accepted both truths, it might have been greatly for the advantage of the Church of Christ. These two doctrines are like tram lines that you can travel on with safety and comfort, these parallel lines—ruin, of man; restoration, of God: sin, of man's will; salvation, of God's will: reprobation, of man’s demerit; election, of God’s free and sovereign grace: the sinner lost in hell through himself alone, the saint lifted up to heaven wholly and alone by the power and grace of God. Get those two truths thoroughly engraven upon your heart, and you will then hold comprehensively the great truths of Scripture. You will not need to crowd them into one narrow system of theology, but you will have a sort of duplicate system. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 41:500.)

Our desire for logical consistency, as we understand it, can become our God. Then we, not Scripture and not God, become our own ultimate authority. We end up ignoring, rejecting, or twisting Scripture that doesn’t fit our chosen theology. On the contrary, our theology should be a reflection of Scripture itself, and wherever Scripture teaches apparently contradictory ideas, our theology should embrace those same ideas, rather than resort to a consistency which rejects part of God's revealed Word.

My Greek professor liked to say, “I would rather be comfortable with my Bible and uncomfortable with my theology, than comfortable with my theology and uncomfortable with the Bible.” Theology is a very good thing—as long as it is true to Scripture, and helps us understand it, and see it in its fuller picture. When theology replaces Scripture’s authority, and ends up obscuring Scripture and causing us to reinterpret it rather than accept it, that's when it interferes with rather than illuminates God’s sacred revelation.

May we read Scripture and believe it, not explaining away what doesn’t fit our theology, but stretching our theology to embrace the full breadth of God's revealed truth.

The Extent of the Atonement, by Richard E. Powell, Fort Caroline Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, USA


“For whom did Christ die?” This question speaks to the fundamental issue of the extent of the atonement. There are two predominant views of the extent of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. One view teaches that Jesus Christ died only for the elect. The other view teaches that He died for all people.

This paper will discuss the extent of the atonement by surveying scriptural evidence for both views. It will be demonstrated that, while Christ certainly died for the elect, He also died for all sinners. Scripture often limits Christ’s death to the elect, but it also declares His redemptive death for all mankind.

The Definition of Limited Atonement

Limited atonement, also called particular or definite, can be defined as the belief that Christ died for the elect only. Edwin H. Palmer defines the doctrine of limited atonement in his book, The Five Points of Calvinism, by writing, “…Christ died only for the believer, the elect, only for those who will actually be saved and go to heaven.” In his book, Manual of Christian Doctrine, Louis Berkhof writes, “The Bible clearly teaches that the effect of the work of Christ is not merely to make atonement possible, but to reconcile men to God and to put them in actual possession of eternal salvation, Luke 19:10; Rom. 5:10; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1:7. Moreover, it indicates in various ways that Christ laid down His life for a certain qualified number…”

Scriptural Evidence for Limited Atonement

Proponents of limited atonement cite numerous Scriptures in support of their view. Timothy George states,
"Those who believe in particular redemption find support for their view in verses such as Acts 20:28 where Paul spoke of ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood,’ and Ephesians 5:25 where we are told that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."
Those who hold to a limited atonement also find support in the verse that speaks of Christ’s death “for the sheep” (John 10:15). They look to Matthew 20:28 where Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” John 15:13 is often cited in favor of limited atonement. In this verse Jesus stated, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Arguments In Favor of Limited Atonement

A number of arguments have been set forth in defense of limited atonement. One argument contends that if Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of all people, then God would be unjust to condemn unbelievers. Wayne Grudem writes, “For God could not condemn to eternal punishment anyone whose sins are already paid for: that would be demanding double payment, and it would therefore be unjust.” Another argument states that Christ is dishonored if He died for sinners who will ultimately perish. Arthur W. Pink writes,
"And it certainly is not to the glory of God to suppose that He designed to save any that perish, for that would show His benevolent purpose was frustrated and would proclaim a disappointed and defeated Deity."
He further wrote, “The fact is that those who advocate the scheme of a general redemption, are so far from magnifying the grace of God, that they, really, degrade both Divine grace and Christ’s sacrifice.” A further argument of limited atonement concerns the biblical terms such as “all” and “world” as used in reference to the scope of Christ’s atoning death. Grudem states, “Several passages that speak about ‘the world’ simply mean that sinners generally will be saved, without implying that every single individual in the world will be saved.”

The Definition of Unlimited Atonement

Unlimited atonement, also called general redemption, is “the view that Christ died for everyone but that His death is effective only in those who believe the gospel.”[9] Lewis Sperry Chafer refers to the teaching of Scripture concerning the death of Jesus Christ when he writes, “In these divine records two great truths are evident: He died as a substitute for someone else, and that someone else is each and every individual in all the lost world of mankind.”

Scriptural Evidence for Unlimited Atonement

Scriptures referenced in support of unlimited atonement include John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The proclamation of John the Baptist is viewed by those who adhere to unlimited atonement as opening the scope of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross to the entire world. John said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The apostle Paul declared, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation”(2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul taught Timothy that Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Arguments In Favor of Unlimited Atonement

One argument for the unlimited view of the atonement is the presence of Scriptural passages that seem to widen the scope of the atoning work of Christ. One of the most familiar and clear verses on this subject is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Limited redemptionists must interpret this verse to refer to the “world of the elect” or “all of the elect.” Timothy George admits this tendency of Calvinists when he writes,
"The standard Calvinistic response to the ‘all’ verses is to say that they refer to all sorts or kinds of people: to princes as well as paupers, to city dwellers as well as country folk, to Africans no less than Asians, and so forth. But this is a strained exegesis which is hard to justify in every case. Unless the context clearly requires a different interpretation, it is better to say that ‘all means all,’ even if we cannot square the universal reach of Christ’s atoning death with its singular focus."
Robert P. Lightner observes, "Seemingly, the only explanation to be given for these arbitrary and inconsistent meanings is to be found in the strict Calvinistic insistence that Christ did not die for all men. Being convinced of that, the limited redemptionist proceeds to defend his position by narrowing the meaning of words wherever the normal and literal meaning would contradict his premise."

It is also argued by those who reject limited atonement that their position does not necessarily lead to universalism. To believe that Jesus Christ died for all men does not mean that all men will be saved. Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:6, authors Thomas Lea and Hayne Griffin write, “The objects of Christ’s death are as wide as the objects of prayer in 2:1, ‘all.’ The death of Christ is potentially on behalf of all people, but its saving effects are limited to those who respond in faith.” Another argument favoring the unlimited view centers on the command to preach the Gospel to all men. Both sides agree that believers are obligated to preach the Gospel to all men indiscriminately. The clear teaching of Scripture is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be universally proclaimed (Matthew 28:19). However, if Christ did not die for all men but only the elect, how can the offer of salvation be sincerely made to all persons? Some strict Calvinists do not believe that it is proper to tell individuals that Christ died for them personally since no man can know who the elect are prior to salvation. Charles M. Horne states,
"Certainly all born-again Christians agree that the Bible teaches that Christ died for sinners, and in the preaching of the gospel this is all that needs to be stated; the question of the designed extent of the atonement need not come into the story at all."
Charles H. Spurgeon considered himself a Calvinist. However, he did not hesitate to offer the Gospel to men indiscriminately and personally. In a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 Spurgeon assumed the role of an “ambassador of Christ” when he said,
"Oh, that these lips had language, or that this heart could speak without them! Then would I plead with every unconverted, unbelieving soul within this place, and plead as for my life. Friend, you are at enmity with God, and God is angry with you; but on His part there is every readiness for reconciliation. He has made a way by which you can become His friend-a very costly way to Himself, but free to you. He could not give up His justice, and so destroy the honour of His own character; but he did give up His Son, His Only Begotten, and His well-beloved; and that Son of His has been made sin for us, though he knew no sin. See how God meets you! See how willing, how anxious He is that there should be reconciliation between Himself and guilty men. O sirs, if you are not saved it is not because God will not or cannot save you; it is because you refuse to accept His mercy in Christ. If there is any difference between you and God today it is not from want of kindness on His part; it is from want of willingness on yours. The burden of your ruin must lie at your own door: your blood must be on your own skirts."

A careful reading of the Scriptures will reveal that Christ died for the elect, but not only for the elect. His death included all mankind. It was the full and final satisfaction of all the demands of a holy God. Lightner correctly notes,
“The Biblical extent of the atonement is settled by answering the question of the Father’s purpose in the death of His Son. If the purpose was to justify all those for whom Christ died apart from any other consideration, then of course He only died for some because all will not be saved. However, if the Father’s purpose was to provide a redemption for all which was dependent upon faith for its personal application, then His death must be extended to all.”
The tenor of Scripture is that the work of Christ on the cross is a completed work for all mankind and is freely bestowed on all who believe. The benefits of the atonement do not become effectual until biblical faith is exercised. The Gospel messenger may proclaim the good news to all men without reservation that salvation is free to all who believe. One does not have to explain away the inclusive nature of passages which declare that salvation is provided for all, that God’s saving love extends to all the gift of eternal life, and that whosoever will may receive it by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Calvinism, Arminianism, and The Word of God, by Ptr. Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel

It is not our purpose to take sides on these issues or to divide the body of Jesus Christ over human interpretations of these Biblical truths concerning our salvation. We simply desire to state how we in the Calvary Chapel fellowships understand the Bible's teaching regarding these matters.


We believe that all are sinners (Romans 3:23) and unable by human performance to earn, deserve, or merit salvation (Titus 3:5). We believe that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that apart from God’s grace, no one can be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). We believe that none are righteous, or capable of doing good (Romans 3:10-12), and that apart from the conviction and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, none can be saved (John 1:12-13; 16:8-11; I Peter 1:23-25). Mankind is clearly fallen and lost in sin.


We believe that God chose the believer before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-6), and based on His foreknowledge, has predestined the believer to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29-30). We believe that God offers salvation to all who will call on His name. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We also believe that God calls to Himself those who will believe in His Son, Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 1:9). However, the Bible also teaches that an invitation (or call) is given to all, but that only a few will accept it. We see this balance throughout scripture. Revelation 22:17 states, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” I Peter 1:2 tells us we are, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Matthew 22:14 says, “For many are called, but few are chosen (elected).” God clearly does choose, but man must also accept God's invitation to salvation.


We believe that Jesus Christ died as a propitiation (a satisfaction of the righteous wrath of God against sin) “for the whole world” (I John 2:2; 4:9-10), and that He redeems and forgives all who will believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as their only hope of salvation from sin, death, and hell (Ephesians 1:7; I Peter 1:18-19). We believe that eternal life is a gift of God (Romans 6:23), and that “whosoever believeth” in Jesus Christ will not perish, but will have eternal life (John 3:16-18). I Timothy 4:10 says “we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.” Hebrews 2:9 states that Jesus, “was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was clearly sufficient to save the entire human race.


We believe that God's grace is not the result of human effort or worthiness (Romans 3:24-28; 11:6), but is the response of God’s mercy and love to those who will believe in His Son (Ephesians 2:4-10). Grace gives to us what we do not deserve nor can earn by our performance (Romans 11:6). We believe that God's grace and mercy can be resisted by us. Jesus said in Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” We are not condemned because we have no opportunity to be saved, but a person is condemned because he makes a choice not to believe (John 3:18). In John 5:40 we read “And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.” Jesus also said in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:40 states, “And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life.” In John 7:37 Jesus said “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” In John 11:26 He adds “whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”

Jesus clearly acknowledges the fact of human resistance and rejection. In John 12:46-48 He said, “I am come as a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came, not to judge the world but to save the world. He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath One that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”

In Stephen's message in Acts 7:51, he concluded by saying, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.” In Romans 10:21, the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2 when he speaks of God’s words to Israel, “All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” In one of the five warning passages of the book of Hebrews, we read in Hebrews 10:26, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Verse 29 adds, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” Clearly, God's grace can either be resisted or received by the exercise of human free will.


We believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38-39), and that there is no condemnation to those who are in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1). We believe that the promise of Jesus in John 10:27-28 is clear: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” Jesus said in John 6:37, “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” We have this assurance in Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." We believe that the Holy Spirit has sealed us unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).

But we also are deeply concerned over the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name have cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Apparently there are many who claim to be believers that in fact are not.

Jesus said in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” I Corinthians 6:9-10 insists that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” and warns us not to be deceived. A list is then given of various kinds of sinful lifestyles with an ending remark that they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Similar statements and conclusions are given in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:3-5.

Galatians 5:4 says “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Colossians 1:22-23 says about Jesus Christ “In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight, if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature that is under heaven, of which I, Paul, am made a minister." II Timothy 2:12 says “if we deny Him, He also will deny us.” Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Can true believers (“brethren”) depart from the living God? I Timothy 4:1 says that “in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith.” II Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of “a falling away” or an apostasy. II Peter 2:20-21 makes these remarkable statements: “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 it, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”

It is no wonder that Peter says in I Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” We thank God for the encouragement of Jude 24 - “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”

Maintaining a Bible-centered balance in these difficult issues is of great importance. We do believe in the perseverance of the saints (true believers), but are deeply concerned about sinful lifestyles and rebellious hearts among those who call themselves “Christians.” We don’t have all the answers to these matters, but we desire to be faithful to the Lord and His word. If we find ourselves basing our view of salvation on the performance and attitudes of people we become discouraged and concerned. But when we keep our eyes on the Lord, and trust in Him alone and in His power, we say with Peter in I Peter 1:3-9:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”

It is not easy to maintain the unity of the Spirit among us on these matters. It seems that the sovereignty of God and human responsibility are like two parallel lines that do not seem to intersect within our finite minds. God’s ways are “past finding out” (Romans 11:33), and the Bible warns us to “lean not unto thy own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). To say what God says in the Bible - no more and no less - is not always easy, comfortable, or completely understandable. But Scripture tells us that the wisdom from above will be loving and kind toward all, seeking the unity of the believers, not trying to find ways to divide and separate from one another. May God help us all to love each other, to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Jesus Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32)! In difficult doctrinal matters, may we have gracious attitudes and humble hearts, desiring most of all to please Him who has called us to serve Him in the body of Christ. Discussion - YES! Disagreements - YES! Division - NO!

Jesus said, “By their fruit ye shall know them.” When a particular position on the Scriptures causes one to become argumentative, legalistic, and divisive, I question the validity of that position. I seek to embrace those things that tend to make me more loving and kind, more forgiving and merciful. I know then that I am becoming more like my Lord. If you have come to a strong personal conviction on one side of a doctrinal issue, please grant us the privilege of first seeing how it has helped you to become more Christ-like in your nature, and then we will judge whether we need to come to that same persuasion. Let us always be certain to look at the fruit of the teaching.

Seek those things that produce the loving nature of Jesus in our lives. I would rather have the wrong facts and a right attitude, than right facts and a wrong attitude. God can change my understanding of the facts in a moment, but it often takes a lifetime to effect changes of attitude.

What Calvinism And Arminianism Have In Common, by Edward Fudge (from Apologetics Index; read the complete article)

Neither “side” has the whole truth in its pocket and that no human analysis can fully contain or explain what God accomplished for sinners in Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet we can speak truthfully even when not exhaustively. Convinced that evangelicals of all stripes share more than they generally realize, I propose the following seven couplets as a modest attempt at bridge building. Of course, this is only a step. But perhaps we can at least survey the terrain, establish some boundaries, and drive a few stakes. Doing so is surely better than defending our doctrinal turf while firing volleys of proof texts at each other.

Couplet 1:

- Every accountable person deserves to be lost.
- No accountable person deserves to be saved.

On this point Scripture is transparently clear: “All ...are under the power of sin...that...the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:9, 19). “[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

God requires absolute obedience, and not one of us has presented it. The mystery is not that some are finally lost but that any are finally saved. Every person finally lost will receive justice, whereas every person finally saved will receive mercy grounded only in its giver (Rom 1:18-20, 32; 2:5; 3:4-8).

There are important differences between Augustine and Pelagius, between Calvin and Arminius, between Whitefield and Wesley. But this is not one of them. Every careful Calvinist insists that God deserves no blame for the fate of the lost. Every careful Arminian affirms that God deserves all glory for the salvation of the redeemed. Stressing each of the two points in the couplet can help us minimize needless misunderstanding, define genuine differences with sharper clarity, and cultivate a fraternal climate in which to study jointly the Word of God.

Couplet 2:

- God takes no pleasure in the final destruction of any.
- God finds pleasure in the salvation of every person who is saved.

God finds no joy in the death of any sinner. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” he asks rhetorically in Ezekiel 18:23 (see also Eze. 18:32; 33:11). He is not vengeful or vindictive. The Creator does not delight in the destruction of any person he has made, not even his enemies. He desires “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Whoever is finally lost will not see God smiling as a result. Indeed, the Son of God says, there is celebration in heaven over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:7,10). (Read the complete article)

Notes: (1) This ministry does not necessarily endorse or share all the views and opinions expressed in the materials, resources or links mentioned in these posts. Please always refer to the Articles of Faith and Biblical distinctives of Baptists when you study these materials. (2) This lesson is part of the projected 300 plus lessons. From time to time, the lessons will be updated, revised, combined, formatted, and edited to comply with the VOA Simplified English word list. Later on, these lessons will be categorized, numbered sequentially, and made available as PDF downloads.

No comments: