Jesus, outstretched arms on the cross: “Hug me; back”

Our understanding of how we come to faith straddles our whole understanding of the sovereignty, holiness and love of God, and consequently impacts greatly on our Christian life; understanding of doctrines such as God’s will and purposes, prayer, witnessing, and assurance. (See

If the reader has read any of my posts on Arminianism (God pleads with people to allow Him to save them), they will know that Arminianism’s emphasis on human free will (in contrast to God’s free will) is my greatest bugbear. It is, of course, not enough to express disgust; one needs to give reasons for that nasty taste in the mouth. Here are a few excerpts from a typical Arminian sermon, given on Christmas day 2015 by a dear friend, followed by (Calvinistic) responses.

1. “Christ did not come to spread wrath but love.”


Here is the favourite verse of Arminians (and New Agers), which I love too:

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to judge (condemn) the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

“Whoever” in verse 16 evokes in the English-speaking noggin “all those who decide to believe.” The Greek says “the believing ones” and nothing about human decision. But to the more pertinent next verse: God did not send his son to condemn the world but that the world “might be saved.” The Arminian understands “not judge” to mean “Jesus came to love not to express his wrath on sinners”; and “might” as “God comes as a possible saviour. If you decided to give Him your heart, He will save you.” “Might” grammatically is a subjunctive and so hasn’t a mite to do with “maybe, maybe not, depending on moi.” Arminians never continue on to the next “wrathful” verse: 18 “Whoever believes in him is not judged (condemned), but whoever does not believe is judged (condemned) already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Arminian preachers, after focusing on God’s love (verse 16), never, in my experience continue on to verse 18.

How would the Arminian reconcile verse 17 where the Son “did not come to judge the world” with verse 18 “whoever does not believe is judged already?” One answer: it is not the Son but the Father who judges those who do not believe. This is incorrect: it is the Son who is THE judge, not the Father. Indeed the distinctive feature of the Son is that he, not the Father is judge.

John 5

19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

Furthermore, at judgment day it is the Son who separates the goats and the sheep, the one for condemnation, the other for salvation.

In a nutshell: Jesus came into the world as saviour, not as judge. When he returns at the end of this world (as we know it), he will come as judge.

  1. “Jesus is king whether we know or believe it. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.”
  2. Prayer at end of sermon: “I want you to be lord of my heart”

Response to 2 and 3:

Jesus is also LORD whether we know it or not. Then please stop praying on behalf of the congregation: “I want you to be Lord of my life.” Are you talking to believers? Must they, after being brought from death to life (born again, trusting in Jesus as saviour) now take the next (humongous) step and grant the saviour to be Lord of their lives! Christ is already Lord of all – unbelievers and believers.

  1. “It’s about giving yourself to Jesus.”
  2. “Jesus stretches his arms out on the cross giving us all a hug. Jesus is loving you today. Why don’t you hug Jesus (back).”

Response to 4 and 5:

With regard to 5 Although it is true that outstretched arms can indicate “give me a hug,” to apply such an idea to Christ in his death agony on the cross is too gooey for words. With regard to 4, nobody gives themselves to Jesus in their natural state (“the flesh”), because in your natural, that is, radically corrupt, state you cannot and will not want to please God:

Romans 8

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

At the end of the sermon, my friend gives a rundown of the political and financial woes of our country (South Africa) and tells the congregation not to anxious; trust Jesus. A good thing, not so?

My friend, of course, still remains very dear to me. And why not!

Visions: why does God give them only to some?


Dozens of Muslims say that a vision of Jesus led them to Christian conversion. Most Calvinist Christians say that all these visions are delusions. With regard to conversion, a Calvinist believes that in conversion, one has to be raised from spiritual death (regenerated/born again) before one can or wants to believe in Christ as saviour. I hold the Calvinist view of conversion, which means the whole process of conversion is a sovereign act of God’s grace/mercy. An Arminian Christian friend to whom I tried to explain the sovereign grace of God in salvation sent me a link to a video of a Muslim, Afshin Javid, who came to Christ through a vision. After seeing the video, I believe Javid had a genuine experience of “I am the way, the truth and the life…I am Jesus Christ, the living God…” (Minute 9:30).

I asked my Arminian friend why does God give this vision to some but not to other Muslims? No answer. I said because God says, “I will have mercy on who I want to have mercy and compassion on whom I want to have compassion” (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15).She rebuked me, saying “It must be something else.” I left it there because I wanted to avoid yet another unpleasant confrontation. This difference in the nature of God’s sovereignty between Calvinists and Arminians shimmers through the whole of their opposing theologies, and consequently through every aspect of the way they pray, understand and communicate their faith.

I said to my friend that there are only two possibilities of why God gives only some Muslims a genuine vision of Jesus Christ: either God has mercy on them or He sees something good in them and consequently rewards them with a vision. My friend said that there might be a third reason. Most Arminians will say both of the following are true: there is nothing in them that can influence God to save them, AND – which seems to be this third thing my friend means – God has mercy on those who show a desire to be born again; which my friend says does not mean that they deserve to be saved. Odd. Regarding the desire to be saved, the Bible says that no one in their natural state can have the desire to be saved:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). And – “5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8).

What pleases God most? To regenerate you (birth you again). The Arminian (Jacob Arminius), in contrast, says that the natural man can please God. Other Arminians, like my friend, would say that the natural ISH (“man” – Hebrew) “cannotish” please Him. (See The Arminian view of free will: Those who are in the flesh cannotish please God).

The Arminian view of free will: Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannotish please God.


Free agency – Man is free to do what he wants, that is, to follow his heart.

Free will – Man’s will is neutral and can decide to choose Christ or reject him.

According to the Arminians, man has free will. They have a concept called “prevenient grace,” by which they mean – although they would never put it this way – God has decided to woo sinners with this “prevenient grace” Thus He has decided to make it possible for man to decide to open his heart to Jesus, who is continusously pleading for sinners to open the door to let Him in so that he can save them. So, God for them is only a possible saviour; and it’s up to them whether he becomes an actual saviour. In other words, if you’re saved, the possible was made actual by something, good of course, in you, just as if you’re condemned for not having faith in Jesus, it was something, bad of course, in you.

Man is a free agent, that is, it is not something outside of him that determines the decisions he makes about following Jesus, but something inside him – his lub-a-dub. Scripture says that although man is free to choose what he wants, what he does not want, and cannot want is to follow Jesus.

Romans 8

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

How then can you be saved? The Spirit breathes life into you, or to use another biblical description, God removes your heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh:

Ezekiel 26:36 – A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.

“Flesh” in Romans 8 means the natural human state of radical corruption. In Ezekiel 26:36 it means “a new spirit.”

“So are you telling me that God is going to give me a heart that loves him, trusts him, without me asking for it.” I reply, if it is you who decides the transplant, then your heart, to start with, couldn’t have been stony, but merely stony-ish; it couldn’t have been dead (Ephesians 2:1) but merely deadish. And that is what Arminians say: (spiritually) dead doesn’t mean really dead. And I suppose “cannot” in Romans 8:8 does not mean cannot, but “cannotish.” – “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannotish please God.”

“I am determined to get well”: Yep, you are – to get well or not to.

“Happy enough is the man who is chosen of God; he may not ask a question as to when or where. Yet we could wish it were otherwise in our case, and that zeal and fervour were not restrained and hampered by being yoked to painful infirmities of the flesh. We could do more, and we think we may add, without self-confidence, we would do more, if we were not laid prostrate at the very moment when our work requires our presence. However, unto the Lord be the arrangement of our health or disease, our life or our death ; but while we live, we will leave no stone unturned for the increase of His glorious Kingdom “in the earth. Every interval of relief shall be laid out in His service. The time is short, it must therefore be spent all the more economically; the work is great, the Lord must be trusted the more simply.”

Excerpt from the Introduction by Thomas Spurgeon, son of Charles Spurgeon, of C. H. (Charles Haddon). “Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon compiled from his diary, letters and records by his wife and his private secretary.” Passmore and Alabaster, 1900. Free ebook

One of my Christian relatives was in an accident and will be restricted in movement for a while. She feels, naturally, frustrated, and is determined to get well quickly. She is determined, but, as she is an Arminian (and thus has a thin understanding of the decrees of God), what she means by “determined” is not what the Bible means.

Christians of all stripes who know their Bible have a tendency to forget or no longer trust:

Romans 8:28
And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.

Or don’t understand or appreciate the reason for their existence:

Romans 8:38-39
38 I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Arminianism: The submortuarian, relapsarian view of predestination/election

Definition: lapsus – (the) Fall (of man)

Here is an amusing, but pithy, answer to an Arminian objection to the Calvinist view of God’s decree.

“Objection 5. The predestinarians cannot agree about stating their decree; some stating it before the fall, as the supra-lapsarians ; and others after the fall, as the sub-lapsarians.

Answer 1. The Arminians, by the law of retaliation, may be called submortuarians, for their holding no full election till men die; and post-destinarians, for placing the eternal decree behind the race of man’s life. Surely when believers die, they are the subjects of glorification, not of election. Christ should have said (upon this hypothesis) to the penitent thief, this day thou shalt be Fully Elected, not, thou shalt 6e with me in paradise. And may they not also be stiled relapsarians, for saying that the elect may totally and finally fall away; and that he who is a child of God to day, may be a child of the devil to morrow?”

Excerpt From: Ness, Christopher. “An antidote against Arminianism: or A treatise to enervate and confute all the five points thereof.”

Why is Christianity so complicated! All you need is love. Hmmm.

Predestination: Many Christians know what it means but can’t swallow it

Those who believe scripture is God-breathed (theo + pneustos – breathed out by God; divine “expiration”) also believe that there are no deeper meanings lurking below the surface text. So, if one differs in the interpretation of a text, the interpreter is at fault. I was visiting a Christian friend who loves God and talking Bible. She said we can discuss anything but not “predestination.” I started to sputter “But, but…” I said it’s mentioned several times in the Bible. She would have none of it. She said God foreknows whether people are going to believe and as a result predestines them. Perceiving her reluctance to engage further on the topic, I left it there.

What do Arminians make of the four occasions where the distasteful term appears? Romans 8:29-30 For him he did foreknow, he also did PREDESTINATE to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did PREDESTINATE, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 1 1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having PREDESTINATED us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.. 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being PREDESTINATED according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. Arminians (you choose to be saved) says that “pre” (before) means that God can see before it happens who will believe and on that basis “destinates” (selects) believers for salvation.

My intention here is not to discuss why Arminians get it wrong (which I discuss elsewhere, but to state that such a dim view of “predestination” is cockeyed. I suggest they do indeed understand “predestination” but can’t swallow it.

When did Eve sin in the Garden? When she swallowed the fruit? No, when she refused to swallow the command not to. Related: Did God really say. Divine clarity and the doctrine of inspiration.”David Klassen, Shepherd’s Conference, 2015 </a

I’m thinking: perhaps it’s not just a moral will problem but an intellectual one as well, because when Adam took his bite of the fruit, he also took a bite out of his loaf. So both his will and mind fell. So not only is there – sins the Fall – no neutral will, there is also no neutral neurons.

John Calvin and the execution of Servetus

John Calvin – we Jews know what we’re talking about – is the greatest theologian since Augustine. Much drivel has been written about Calvinism. Most people, including most Christians, have an abysmal knowledge or understanding of the profound biblical principle that God so loved the world, not Mars, that he elects to save only those on whom he has mercy.

Then there’s Servetus. Calvin, you murderer, you. Why did you chop off his head, or was it burn? If you want to understand the Servetus episode (who does?) you could benefit – if you put on, as Calvin would say about understanding scripture, the right specs – from these excerpts from the “Memoirs of the life and writings of John Calvin; compiled from the narrative of Theodore Beza, and other authentic documents. Accompanied with biographical sketches of the Reformation” by Mackenzie, John, of Huntingdon, 1809.

The history of Servetus, so often referred to, and so little understood, merits the minute attention of all who are sufficiently impartial to weigh the opposing interests and circumstances which mark this tragical transaction. The blemishes, real or pretended, of the reformer, having been maliciously employed to discredit the reformation itself, heit becomes of no small importance to elucidate this point of history, and to clear Calvin from the injurious imputations which have been falsely thrown upon him.
It has been confidently pretended, and boldly asserted, that Calvin had, through life, nourished an implacable hatred against Servetus, and that the Genevese theologian had employed all his efforts to satiate it in the blood of the unhappy Spaniard; that he denounced him to the magistrates of Vienna, and occasioned him to be arrested on the day after his arrival at Geneva. Things advanced with an air of confidence are readily believed, and it is scarcely suspected that they may be false. Bolzec, however, the mortal enemy of Calvin, who wrote the life of that illustrious man merely to blast his memory, and who was cotemporary with the facts which he relates; and Maimbourg, equally known by his partialities and his falsehoods, have never dared to advance those things which modern historians have not been ashamed to risk.

The principal accusations exhibited against Servetus were, First, his having asserted in his Ptolémée, that the Bible celebrated improperly the fertility of the land of Canaan, whilst it was unfruitful and barren. Secondly, his having called one God in three persons a Cerberus, a three-headed monster. LANE CRAIG. Thirdly, his having taught that God was all, and that all was God. Servetus did not deny the truth of the principal accusations, but
whilst in prison called the Trinity a Cerberus, a three-headed monster; he also grossly insulted Calvin, and was so fearful that death would be the punishment of heresy at Geneva, as well as at other places, that he presented a petition on the 22d of August, in which he defended the cause of ignorance, and urged the necessity of toleration: the procureur-general replied to him in about eight days, and no doubt did it very ill. Servetus was condemned upon extracts from his books, De Trinitatis Erroribus, and In Ptolemeum Commentarius; from the edition of the Bible which he had published in 1552; from his book Restitutio Christianismi; and from a letter which he had written to Abel Paupin, a minster of Geneva.*

* A copy of the sentence pronounced against Servetus will not be uninteresting to the reader. “We Syndics, judges of all criminal causes in this city, having witnessed the process made and instituted against you, on the part of our lieutenant in the aforesaid causes, instituted against you, Michel de Villeneuve, in the kingdom of Arragon, in Spain, in which your voluntary confessions in our hands, made and often reiterated, and the books before us produced, plainly shew that you, Servetus, have published false and heretical doctrines; and also despising all remonstrances and corrections, have, with a perverse inclination, sown and divulged them in a book published against God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; in sum against all the true foundations of the Christian Religion, and have thereby tried to introduce trouble and schism into the Church of God, by which many souls may have been ruined and lost, things horrible, frightful, scandalous, and infectious, and have not been ashamed to set yourself in array against the Divine Majesty and the Holy Trinity; but rather have obstinately employed yourself in infecting the world with your heresies and stinking heretical poison; a case and crime of heresy grievous and detestable, and deserving of corporal punishment. For these and other just reasons moving us, and being desirous to purge the Church of God from such infection, and to cut off from it so rotten a member, having had good participation of counsel with our citizens, and having invoked the name of God that we may make a right judgment, sitting upon the tribunal of our predecessors, having God and the Holy Scriptures before our eyes, saying in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by that definitive sentence, which we here give by this writing, you, Michael Servetus, are condemned to be bound and led to Champel, and there fastened to a stake and burned alive with your book written with your hand, and printed, until your body shall be reduced to ashes, and your days thus finished as an example to others who might commit the same things; and we command you our lieutenant to put this our sentence into execution. Read by the seigneur syndic D’Arlord.”

It must be confessed, that the intolerant spirit of the age dictated the sentence of Servetus at Geneva; but, it is not equally evident that Calvin was the author of that atrocity, and that he laboured with ardour to accomplish it.

On the 27th of October, Servetus was condemned to be executed. It Hzhappened same day.

The civil and ecclesiastical jurisprudence of the tribunals with respect to heresy, was undoubtedly grossly inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity, and the principles of equity. But if we could transport ourselves into that age, and contemplate the circumstances in which Calvin was placed, divesting our minds of prejudice, we should no doubt perceive that the sentence was that of the civil judges, and that they strictly followed the ordinary course of the law; that Calvin followed the judgment of all the ecclesiastics of his time, and complied with the sanguinary laws of every country in Europe against heretics.
It cannot, however, be denied, that in this instance Calvin acted contrary to the benignant spirit of the gospel. It is better to drop a tear over the inconsistency of human nature, and to bewail those infirmities which cannot be justified. He declares that he acted conscientiously, and publicly justified the act. Cranmer acted the same part towards the poor Anabaptists in the reign of Edward VI. This doctrine they had learnt at Rome, and it is certain, that, with a very few exceptions, it was at this time the opinion of all parties.* The apostles John and James would have called down fire from heaven; Calvin and Cranmer kindled it on earth. This, however, is the only fault alledged against Calvin; but, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”
“It ought, however,” says a sensible writer, “to be acknowledged, that, persecution for religious principles was not at that time peculiar to any party of Christians, but common to all, whenever they were invested with civil power. It was a detestable error; but it was the error of the age. They looked upon heresy in the same light as we look upon those crimes
which are inimical to the peace of civil society; and, accordingly, proceed to punish heretics by the sword of the civil magistrate. If Socinians did not persecute their adversaries so much as Trinitarians, it was because they were not equally invested with the power of doing so.

It was the opinion that erroneous religious principles are punishable by the civil magistrate, that did the mischief, whether at Geneva, in Transylvania, or in Britain; and to this, rather than to Trinitarianism or to Unitarianism, it ought to be imputed.*