Arminianism vs. Calvinism—a controversy that has been in existence for centuries on the issue of salvation. One teaches free will to choose God, the other teaches man has limited free will and is incapable of choosing God. One teaches free will to choose God, the other teaches man has limited free will and is incapable of choosing God. One believes salvation is conditional, one believes it’s unconditional. Which one is correct? My response is below.
I really don’t consider myself a Calvinist or Arminian, but simply a Christian living by the Word of God as best I can. I will however express my thoughts on the issues.
FREE WILL – I do believe that man has free will—total free will. Since God created man (Adam) and placed him in the Garden, man has had free will. [Gen 2:16-17] Adam had total free will to obey or disobey God; to live or die. When Adam chose to disobey God man ultimately became depraved and wicked [Gen 6:5].
However with the advent of Christ, the way was paved for righteousness to be imputed to all. Scripture reads in Rom 5:18: Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. NIV
Throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, man has perpetually had free will to choose. [e.g. Deut. 30:19, John 3:16]
This is especially true in the New Testament where it is made clear that believing is a prerequisite to salvation. There are seventeen (17) Scriptures in the NIV translation containing the conditional phrase, “who believe.” They are: Matt 18:6, Mark 9:42, Mark 16:17, Acts 22:19, Rom 3:22, Rom 4:11, Rom 4:24, 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal 3:7, Gal 3:22, Eph 1:19, 1 Thess. 2:13, 1 Tim 4:3, 1 Tim 4:10, Heb 10:39, 1 Peter 2:7, 1 John 5:13 NIV
In the King James translation, twenty one (21) Scriptures contain the conditional phrase, “that believe.” They are: Mark 9:42, Mark 16:17, John 1:12, John 6:64, John 7:39, Acts 13:39, Rom 3:22, Rom 4:11, 1 Cor 1:21, 1 Cor 10:27, 1 Cor 14:22, Gal 3:22, 1 Thess 1:7, 1 Thess 2:10, 1 Thess 2:13, 2 Thess 1:10, 1 Tim 4:10, Heb 10:39, 1 John 5:13 KJV
It appears to me that believing is a pretty prevalent requirement in the life of a Christian. It’s about faith from the beginning of salvation to the end. Scripture reads in Rev 2:26: 26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
Those that believe, overcome and obey to the end will rule over Christ’s enemies and reign with Him as He judges evil.
Those that believe and those who believe is plural…anyone that believes and continues are saved. The choice is ours, everybody’s.
There is a passage of Scripture that clearly indicates freewill to choose, Rom 6:16-18
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. NIV
Notice the word “offer.” King James uses “yield.” These are verbs; words of action.
Life is filled with choices about whom and what we will obey and we are slaves to whomever or whatever we commit ourselves to obey. We can be slaves to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness—life. There are only two ultimate choices and no middle ground.
Therefore my question to the Calvinists is: when did man lose his free will or when did his free will become limited? Because I haven’t found a Scripture indicating that he has.
God is omniscient and in his foreknowledge He knows that a person will choose to be saved. In His wide scope God can see those who will choose Christ and in response to this act of human free will, God in turn chooses them and calls them the elect. [Rom 8:29, 11:12, 1 Pet 1:1-2] We see that election is conditional upon free will because God has to see that a person will make a free will decision in the future before He is able to impart salvation to that person. The decision to be saved, then, is ultimately a human decision prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin prompting one to realize that they need a savior and makes a decision to act or not. According to Calvinism, if God doesn’t choose a person beforehand, there are simply lost. [scripture please?]
Truth is God’s forgiveness is unconditional. There is no Scripture which states God won’t forgive. Scripture says in Acts 2:38 “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” KJV
When Christ died he took upon Himself all sin for every human being. This does not mean that all humans are saved. Therefore, Christ’s sacrifice does not actually save individuals but only provides the potential for every individual to be saved. Christ’s death will only provide salvation when it is completed by a free will decision made by an individual. [John 3:16, 1 Tim. 4:10, etc]
The important point is salvation is open to all. Scripture reads in Rom 5:18:
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. KJV
Grace is open to everyone, but God never forces salvation upon anyone. He didn’t force Adam in the garden and He’s not forcing anyone in the world today.
Though the Holy Spirit is instrumental in salvation, He is a gentleman and does not force anyone into repentance. The Spirit merely prompts people who are then free to choose for or against the gift of salvation. The process of salvation is this: The Spirit prompts people. Man in his free will chooses to believe in Christ. Having believed, he then begins to exercise faith. It’s all about faith. Faith is the cause of regeneration. Faith is what allows the Holy Spirit to do His regenerative work in the new believer. So again we see that free will is fundamental. We can refuse grace [Matt. 23:37, John 5:40, Acts 7:51]
Because man has free will and in the process of salvation has the ability to choose for or against God, it stands to reason that it is possible to fall away from this grace. God can never impose His will upon us so that we lose our free will. It follows, then, that we must be free to accept or reject this grace at any time. This is a necessary conclusion since man must be as free to reject God’s grace and leave God’s kingdom, as he is free to accept God’s grace and enter the kingdom. Again, we see that this belief is entirely dependent on free will.
Life is serious. Being a Christian is even more serious. It is a serious responsibility. It is more serious than a large amount of professing believers take note of. We are not to accept Christ, set back, live the way we want (worldly or otherwise) and cruise into eternal life.
With regeneration a change takes place and puts us on a path to live for God. We are to grow in godliness, working out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12), making our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). Scripture indicates that when we fail to grow ahead, we fall behind and can fall away from God’s grace. 2 Peter 1:3-10
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. KJV
When we accept Christ and put our faith in Him, God through the power of the Holy Spirit gives us what we need live a godly life (to keep us from sin and to help us live for him). This puts us on the path to eternal life and away from the path of eternal death (vs. 3).
God through Christ has given us great promises and through these promises we can participate in the divine nature that involves fellowship and unity in our relationship with God. This divine nature also enables Christians to, as the Scripture reads: escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (vs.4).
Now this is God’s part; the promises we receive as the result of having faith in His Son Jesus.
But we have a part also in addition to faith. (Vss. 5-7). These qualities equate to Spiritual growth. We have a responsibility to grow.
If we increase in these qualities, if we continue our spiritual growth, our knowledge will increase and will affect the way we live. These qualities will equip us to live a godly life (vs. 8).
However, as I mentioned earlier: when we fail to grow ahead, we fall behind and can fall away from God’s grace. If we fail to engage these qualities or refuse to grow, we become shortsighted leaving us blind to the big picture, possibly causing us to forget that we were removed from our past, sinful state (vs. 9). If we forget that we were removed from our past we are subject to return to it. Jesus warns about salt loosing it’s saltiness in Matt. 5:13.
The good news is if we engage these qualities, we make our calling and election sure and are guaranteed an entrance into God’s kingdom (vss. 10-11).
Other Scriptures to review include: Heb. 6:4-6, 2 Pet 2:20-22, Rom. 11:22. These Scriptures address the issue of a believer discontinuing in growth and backsliding.
OSAS (once saved always saved)
Calvinists believe that a believer is saved whether they grow or not; that the elect will never fall away from God. If they don’t grow, they’ll have a lower position in the kingdom than if they had grown. I haven’t found that in Scripture.
Further, Calvinists believe that even a backslider is saved because it’s only for a while. However the last set of Scriptures [Heb. 6:4-6, 2 Pet 2:20-22, Rom. 11:22] doesn’t indicate that thought. If there is one that does, I’m willing to observe it.
Perhaps backsliders know exactly how long they will live! Therefore, they can live the way they want until there time to depart earth is near.
Calvinists also say that in this instance, an individual was never really saved. I urge a study of the passage in Hebrews 6:4-6.
There is another passage of Scripture that makes it clear that remaining in God’s grace is a choice. John 15:1-10, 16:
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
In this passage, Jesus represents Himself as the Vine and God as the gardener. The gardener cuts off the branch that bears no fruit. This is an illustration that if we don’t bear fruit (grow), that’s a problem! People who won’t bear fruit for God will be cut off from his life-giving power.
For the branches that do bear fruit (grow), He prunes so that they bear even more fruit (grow even more).
Verse 3 acknowledges the acceptance of the Word-the truth; the call to salvation and are clean as a result. Presently, we received this Word through the acceptance of it being preached to us. [1 Cor. 15:2, Rom 10:17] But notice what He says in verse 4: “remain in me.” This clearly indicates a choice. If we remain in Him (grow and bear fruit-grow), He will remain in us. ”No branch can bear fruit on its own.” We cannot grow on our own but only do so if we remain in Him: “unless you remain in me.”
We are to hold fast to the Word. Otherwise, we “have believed in vain.” [1 Cor. 15:2]
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
Verse 5 contains a divine promise from Christ that if we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit (grow mightily). Verse 6 makes it abundantly clear that if we do not remain in Him we become useless to the kingdom and ourselves spiritually. Again—when we fail to grow ahead, we fall backwards. Verse 7 contains another promise for remaining in the Lord. Verse 9 expresses the love shown to us by the Father and the Son and verse 10 expresses our part as a result. IF we obey His commands, we will remain in His love just as Christ has obeyed and remained in His Father’s love.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. NIV
Jesus chose those that believe and remain in Him to bear fruit (grow and increase the Kingdom).
Jesus made the first choice — to love and to die for us, to invite us to live with him forever. We are to make the next choice — to accept or reject his offer.
Unless he first chose us, we would have no choice to make. [cf. I John 4:9-10, 19] Remember verse 5 of the text:”apart from me you can do nothing.”
This passage is about choice…the words “if you remain,” “remain in me” “remain in my love” carries the point. To remain means to stay…if you stay, stay in me, stay in my love. Is there a pattern here?!! The point, the central theme of this passage…if we want to be saved, if we want the blessings of God, we need to accept Christ and stay in his love by obeying His commands (vs.10).
One cannot lose salvation because it’s a gift from God and is always available to mankind until Christ returns. If one should fall away, that one is free to return (as the prodigal son did). Therefore Salvation is not lost. But one can certainly lose the merits of salvation by not remaining in Christ and His love by obeying Him.
Scripture alerts us in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 of the kinds of behaviors of people that will not enter the kingdom. While He does save people who are engaged in these behaviors and repent, there is a price to pay for one who returns to them. [2 Pet: 19-22] God does not reward bad-sinful behavior.
I have one final question for Calvinists: if it is true that the elect can never fall away from God, then why do we have Spiritual warfare? Why does the enemy continue to temp and taunt the elect? If all one had to do was profess Christ and remain saved, unable to be lost, no matter how they lived, the enemy would be out of business! In that case, the whole world is saved! But we really know better than that! Don’t we?
Let’s look at one more passage: Eph 6:10-24:
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; KJV
For starters, Paul is writing to Christian believers in Ephesus. Second, he is warning them against the powers of evil; that they must stand strong in the Lord and His power against spiritual attacks.
Third, since they are saved and will always be saved, why the warning, why should there be a concern?
Fact is the millisecond we accept Christ, a war, a spiritual war commences with our spirits for a battle for our souls. Further, understand there is no Christian that cannot fall (1 Cor. 10:12)
Folks, this is serious! There is a battle for souls and there’s no time to be complacent in our salvation. We have to “work out” our …”own salvation with fear and trembling.” [Phil. 2:12]
There are no shortcuts with the gospel! We will be held accountable and must be responsible!
I would rather be defined as a follower of Christ than a follower of the teachings of Calvin or Arminius. However, having said that, I do believe that one of their teachings is correct and the other is not.
The issue of eternal security versus conditional security is, in some respects, an antinomy. The definition of an antinomy is that it is two truths that are both true yet apparently opposite. We must all return to the Scriptures and take the whole teaching of the Word, instead of relying on these doctrinal systems. Following the Word in truth is the only way to true doctrine. We must be careful of the doctrines of men.
Warnings of the doctrines of men go back to the early church where Paul wrote: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. ” 1 Cor 3:3-7 NIV
Bottom line: stick to the Word of God; only God gives the increase! Not John calvin or Jacob Arminus.
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