Arminians who confuse and refuse: free will in coming to Christ

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. Two other terms are monergism (God alone is involved in justification – the Calvinist view) and synergism (God plus man cooperate in man’s justification – the Arminian view).

Say you are a professing Christian but keep on sinning, the Arminian view would be that God feels compassion for you and wants to forgive you. Alas, He is unable to forgive you because every time you tell God you’re sorry, you do it again. In the end, God fails to save you whom he brought back to life (regenerated). If, not by some miracle (this can’t happen for an Arminian) but by your resolve, you really repent and stick with it, you will be ultimately saved. But you will never be sure you’re saved until the moment after your last breath. If you presume to be sure (of your salvation) before you die, that would mean that you don’t really have free will, because if, for any moment of your life, you’re not free to reject Christ, that would mean that you are predestined to be saved. It is possible that you’re very confused. God does not condemn a Christian who is confused. For example, you might be confused about John 6:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…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 6:37-40; 44).

So, those given by the Father will come and never be lost, because Jesus says those who come (because they are given by the Father) will certainly be raised on the last day. “Raised, of course means “raised to eternal life.”

Many Arminians are confused: they just can’t get it that the causal progression is Given – Come – Eternal life. If however, they see it clearly but refuse to accept that all those who are given will definitely come and will never lose their salvation because it is entirely up to God and not even a thimbleful to them, then the problem is far more serious. The following excerpt explains:

Are Arminians Saved?

Question: If we are saved by grace alone (and we are) how can anyone be saved if they believe salvation is a cooperation between man and God and that you can lose your salvation? If one believes they can lose their salvation does not that faith then become a work, rather than a gift of God? If someone believes he can lose his salvation, do he really believe that it is the finished work of Christ, and not the “work” of faith, that saves him? If people  believe that they can lose their salvation, would it be true that their faith is no longer a free gift from God, but something they need to muster up daily to keep their salvation? So here is the hard question. In this matter, can we be saved in spite of bad theology? If someone truly held to the five points of Arminianism, could they have “real” saving faith? Can you have real saving faith without understanding Grace Alone?

Response: Important question. If they are consistent, since they do not believe grace is effectual, Arminians must ascribe their repenting and believing to their own wisdom, humility, sound judgment and good sense. However, I tend on the side of being generous (“thank you very much!”) when Arminians affirm that they justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ’s mercy alone – which most Arminians do. So most Calvinists do not exactly hold the view that Arminians are lost. Much bad theology turns out merely to be inconsistent theology and it is possible to be saved in spite of bad theology, but only if you are inconsistent, and you don’t really believe what you think or say you believe. I find, in my many encounters with Arminians, that this is usually the case. Thankfully I think a good number of Arminians are inconsistent, and they don’t really believe what they say. For example, they pray for God to bring friends and neighbors to salvation – why? God has no power (or right) to do that, according to Arminianism. But some Arminians (I would argue, the ones that are saved) know in their heart that salvation IS all the work of God and IS all by grace. So they pray for God to save sinners! Their true theology comes out in their prayers, even if they don’t want to admit it.  For more see here.

Here is a scripture passage that Christian groups use against one another, in our case, Arminians (synergists) and Calvinists (monergists).

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:19-25).

Both synergists and monergists confess that Jesus is the Christ and believe “the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” “Receive eternal life” is another way of saying “raised on the last day” of John 6:44, discussed above. Recall what must occur before one can receive eternal life (be raised to life on the last day): “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 6:44). If a professing Christian says he knows – and loves – the truth and yet believes that once he is born again he can still be lost, this can only mean that does not believe in the Jesus Christ of the Bible. He believes – as he does about his salvation – in a Jesus ultimately of his own making. The question is: “Is he confused about, or does he refuse, the words beaming up at him from the page.”

Here’s a related question, which a synergist would struggle with: Why does God refuse to open blind eyes and deaf ears, as He says so clearly In John 12:40 (and isaiah 6:9) about the Jews: “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.” The answer lies in another difficult-for-synergists verse: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

if you say that these verses are not talking about individual salvation, you’re one of two kinds of Arminian: you’re confused or your heart is hardened. And we know from Romans 9 who hardens hearts.

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4 thoughts on “Arminians who confuse and refuse: free will in coming to Christ

  1. I spent eighteen years in the Vineyard movement, and another six beyond that under the teaching of one of the world’s foremost leaders in the Renewal Movement – Malcolm Smith. I have personally met and spoken to a lot of people; teachers, preachers, professors, Christian intellectuals and laymen alike. Sitting here, five years on the other side of all that, a believer in God’s sovereign grace, I cast my mind back to find that I do not recall ever having met a single individual during those twenty-four years who understood the gospel in even the least little bit.

    First off, most “Christians” do not even understand that the gospel is forensic. Rather, they think it is experiential; all about Jesus doing a change in you to either make you believe in exchange for blessings today and Heaven tomorrow, and/or change your behavior for blessings today and Heaven tomorrow.

    Second, so what if Arminians affirm that they justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ’s mercy alone? That isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the message about how and why Christ accomplished His people’s redemption by offering His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for sin that did indeed satisfy God’s wrath that was against His people because of their guilt. You cannot get to this without an unconditional election and a particular atonement. There just simply is no way.

    And I find that this is exactly what some people want to leave out of the gospel for fear of offending. They treat Romans 9 as the crazy uncle you hide in the back room when guests come to visit. It embarrasses them. They are afraid it will offend because the truth is it offends them.

    1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    • David (?)

      Thank you for these valuable thoughts. I comment on individual sections:

      “First off, most “Christians” do not even understand that the gospel is forensic. Rather, they think it is experiential; all about Jesus doing a change in you to either make you believe in exchange for blessings today and Heaven tomorrow, and/or change your behavior for blessings today and Heaven tomorrow.”

      Comment: Forensic = legal
      Yes, a forensic transaction as in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

      But also the corollary of 2 Cor 5:21 of Christ dwelling in the Christian:
      Ephesians 3:15-17
      “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.”

      This “dwelling” of God in the believer should be experiential (“experimental” as the puritans say). By “experiential” is not meant, of course, emotionalism. Emotions, though do sometimes come into the Christian life. We just have to be careful. As you say it is dangerous to think of salvation as a blessings today, heaven tomorrow.

      “Second, so what if Arminians affirm that they justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ’s mercy alone? That isn’t the gospel.”

      Comment: Doesn’t “Gospel” include the bad news of deserving wrath (as in Romans 1-3), which can only be removed through God’s mercy ALONE? The problem is that Arminians do not believe in mercy alone, but mercy plus “opening the door of their hearts.”

      “The gospel is the message about how and why Christ accomplished His people’s redemption by offering His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for sin that did indeed satisfy God’s wrath that was against His people because of their guilt.”

      Comment: I would prefer to say the Son – the Man-God “offering himself…to satisfy His Father’s wrath.” (I suppose it is difficult to limit the wrath of God to the Father alone – Revelation 6:16).

      “You cannot get to this without an unconditional election and a particular atonement. There just simply is no way.”

      Comment: Yes. Christ does not “possibly redeem” that is, shed his blood for possible believers – made possible by the potential believers opening their dead dark granite hearts. He came to redeem his own.

      “And I find that this is exactly what some people want to leave out of the gospel for fear of offending. They treat Romans 9 as the crazy uncle you hide in the back room when guests come to visit. It embarrasses them. They are afraid it will offend because the truth is it offends them.”

      Comment: Arminians either avoid Romans 9 or see it as referring not to individuals but a nation – Israel. They have to do this, otherwise they will have to apply “it’s not he who wills or runs” and “I will have mercy on whom I want to have mercy” to individuals. Nations? Bizarre.

  2. Mormons are confused also. Like the liberals, Arminians don’t believe that Christ died as a strict substitute for the elect.

    The biblical doctrine of election is not only about election being before regeneration and regeneration being before faith. The Biblical doctrine of election is about Christ’s death being a just substitution for all those for whom Christ died.

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