The Arminian and Calvinist understanding of “Salvation is (totally) of the Lord.”

“Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly… Salvation is of the LORD.” —Jonah 2:9

jonah_on_dry_ground

The Word of Faith movement (Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer) teaches that if God is going to do anything good in your life – better health, more cash, increase your divine power, save you (from your mistakes) – you have to grant him the opportunity to do so. If you do nothing, guess what God’s gonna do? Or rather, not do? Keep your cold, your bad back, your Ebola; no better house-car-job. Dry bones.

When it comes to salvation, Word of Faith people are Arminians, as are the majority of Christians. Unless Christians are into apologetics or theology, terms like Arminianism and Calvinism make them giddy. 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, which he finds irresistible (Lazarus didn’t complain when he was raised from the dead). in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation.

Our understanding of how we come to faith shimmers through our whole understanding of the sovereignty, holiness and love of God, and consequently impacts greatly on our Christian life. I deal briefly with the following aspects of the Christian life:

God’s will and purposes

Prayer

Witnessing

Assurance

God’s will and purposes

Isaiah 46:9-10

9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.

 If you believe that, you, an unregenerate person, can/has come to Christ (ultimately) on your own steam (you get to make the final decision), you could find yourself in hot heavenly water, for you are the person that must also say that Christ is begging people to come to him but in most cases fails. But how can God fail when it is clear that “I will do all my pleasure.”

Two more scriptures: “The Lord does whatever pleases him,
 in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6). “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Job knows that, but do Arminians know that? If God tries to save but fails, then it must please him fail. Do you really believe that God gets a kick out of failure? That’s what you must think but  will not to.

Prayer

Arminian on his Calvinist knees praying for someone’s conversion: “Lord please change his heart, open his eyes that he may see.”

Witnessing

Arminian on his feet with the same person he prayed for: “God respects your will. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He won’t force you to believe. The greatest gift you have is your freedom to chose salvation. You need to change your heart.”

I am reminded of the Arminian song “Change my heart oh God, make it ever true.” What do they mean? If they mean “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” then this is impossible for the Christian, because when you became a Christian (born again), God changed your natural heart (of stone) – dead heart, for a spiritual heart (of flesh) – living heart. What the Arminian means is “make my new heart more devoted to you (ever true), increase my faith.” All Christians should pray for this kind of renewal. If, however, Arminians were biblical, they would not water down – “make my heart ever true” – the pivotal biblical description of God – unilaterally – changing hearts, as in Ezekiel 36:26) above, to mean “make my heart ever true.”

Assurance

Arminian: “I’ve decided to follow Jesus, I’ve decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

Calvinist: Why are you so sure you won’t turn your back on Jesus?

Arminian: Jesus said that he won’t cast me out.

Calvinist: What if, after you decided to follow Jesus, you decided to unfollow him? Didn’t you decide on your own bat to follow Jesus? If so, then surely if you’re free, you can decide not to follow him anymore.

Arminian: I won’t allow that to happen. I will never forsake Christ.

Calvinist: I have a good title for a song you could write: “Greater is the me in me, than the me who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Consider the concept of the “gift” of faith. Ephesians 2:5-9 [My square brackets and capitals]:

Even when we were dead in sins, [he] hath quickened [regenerated] us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

By “dead” in sins, the Arminian means “deadish,” that is, there remains in every sinner enough ability and desire to receive the gift of faith. But this (grace and) faith – “THAT not of yourselves,” means that you had nothing to do with the planting of faith in you. There is nothing in Ephesian 2:8 about faith being a possible faith. If that were so, then faith would not be God’s gift to you but your gift to God. And that is exactly how Arminians interpret Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” They say – for example, William Lane Craig – that “that [gift] is not of yourselves” in the above verse refers only to grace, not to faith. because “that” is grammatically neuter while “faith” is feminine. Craig’s argument falls flat because grace is also feminine. The Greek grammar rule is this: “In the case of concrete nouns, for example, the mother, the ship, the way, the house, the relative pronoun that follows is ordinarily feminine; but what the president did not know is that abstract nouns like faith, hope, and charity use the neuter of the relative pronoun. As a matter of fact, even a feminine thing, a concrete noun, may take a neuter relative (see Godwin’s Greek Grammar). (Gordon Clark in Is Faith the Gift of God in Ephesians 2:8? By Jack Kettler).

All Calvinists hold that both grace and faith are gifts from God whereas the Arminian says grace (“prevenient” grace) is God’s gift to man, and faith is man’s gift to God. (See The Calvinist robot and the Arminian zombie: Grammars of coming to faith).

Jesus is a saviour, not a possible saviour. “Possible” means possible failure, a miserable failure. “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able … There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:23-24 and 28). “”Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13).

Jesus died for his sheep; they hear his voice. Those who reject Jesus are not – will never be – of his sheep:

John 10:

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The causal connection in 10:27 is not “hear his voice and then become his sheep” but “if you are a sheep you will – certainly – hear his voice.” This becomes crystal clear (one would think!) in John 6:35-44, specifically verses 40 and 44.

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 40 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.” 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Arminians confuse or refuse the grammar.

Here is something that I read, which could be said by both an Arminian and a Calvinist.

“Well, if you say Arminianism or Calvinism my mind starts to spin. But I do know what I believe. I believe we are dead in our sins apart from Christ. I believe that is only by grace that are saved, not anything that we do although there is a response required on our part however that works exactly, I couldn’t really tell you. Somethings are mystery. It’s totally, completely all God Who chooses us and saves us, yet he allows us to respond with faith.”

Yes, salvation is “totally all of God.” But “what about free will?” is the predictable cry. What do we make of “salvation is TOTALLY/ALL all of God” in the above paragraph? If salvation is all of the Lord, then instead of saying “yet” he allows us to respond, which implies a (“mysterious”) contradiction, we should rather, and indeed can logically and joyfully say “and” he allows us to respond. How is this so? As scripture says, all unbelievers are dead in sin, and so hate (the true) God. Another way of speaking is that our wills are in bondage to sin. We are slaves, in chains.

There are two ways in which Christians explain salvation:

1. The Arminian view (the label comes from Jacob Arminius).

God comes to all the slaves in the world, who love more than anything their slavery to sin – indeed reject the very idea of sin. Now God through his powerful mercy (grace) makes it possible for all to see that they are sinners and in bondage, and need to be saved from their sin. He then offers to set them free. YET (the Arminian is speaking) most refuse. Those that accept he sets free.

The salvation process on this view is: we are deadISH in sin, aliveISH to God. God, through his grace, gives us the possibility to become much more alive than we were, to make us a newISH creature (I would then be Jewish newish). He offers (the “gift” of) faith. Some take the gift. They believe. Next, God regenerates them (they are born again). This is back to front because if you believe, this can only occur if God had previously regenerated you, and granted you the desire to believe and repent. According to the Arminian view, the reason why you were saved is because there is something better – they will deny this vehemently – in you than in the person that is damned. Jesus the possible saviour becomes – because of you opening your dead heart – a real saviour.

2. The Biblical view (Calvinist, after John Calvin)

The salvation process on this view is: we are not deadish but dead, dead, in sin. God, through his grace makes some alive, that is, completely alive, transforming them into new creatures. He raises us (regenerates us – born again) from the dead and plants in our renewed souls the gift of faith, which we receive/accept with joy. We repent of our sin. The reason why you were saved is not because there was something in you that decided to “give God a chance” but because after he regenerated you from death to life, he freed you from the bondage to your sin. As a result, you were overcome with gratitude and joyfully received the new life he gave you.

Upshot: it is impossible to accept God – believe and repent – BEFORE God has raised you from the dead, before he has broken your chains. So then, God first births you anew (regenerates you) AND – consequently – you are drawn irresistibly to him. The dead cannot refuse or hate to be resurrected (Lazarus didn’t complain). Result: they are made free, which they accept with great joy. In a nutshell, “Salvation is of the Lord” where words such as “totally” and “all” (of the Lord) add nothing to the meaning but serve as emphasis, as in “I don’t REALLY want to be rude.”

But, but that is not fair! What’s unfair about a judge deciding to not be merciful to a criminal who deserves punishment? How we come to faith and God’s purposes in salvation is encapsulated in Romans 9.

10… when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,2 but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Here is Jonah Calvin’s prayer in the belly of the whale:

“Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” —Jonah 2:1-10.

Beware of the vanities of Arminianism.

Related – Free willy: Amazing grace and the grammar of Bible interpretation: Inspired by James White and Michael Brown

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