There currently exists throughout the world today a misunderstanding about the scriptural teaching regarding salvation as it uniquely relates to Christianity. Even within the ranks of Christendom there is great disagreement among various denominations about it.
While there are many other perceptions, two prominent views have emerged and endured as prevailing “schools” of theology – Arminianism and Calvinism. While both views have significant flaws and neither is completely consistent with a proper interpretation of scripture, the disagreement between them is vast. When compared side-by-side, the two are separated essentially by five important points.
They differ primarily on these basic issues:
- man’s free will and ability or man’s total depravity
- conditional or unconditional election
- universal or particular redemption and atonement
- effectual resistance or irresistible grace
- eternal security or the possibility of losing one’s salvation
While neither is absolutely correct in its individual totallity, my cumulative research and study of scripture over several decades has brought me to the personal conviction that truth exists in both, but there needs to be a discerning edit to combine and refine them into one scripturally accurate doctrine.
Of course, to imagine this to occur on a universal ecclesiastic plain is naïve, and I do not expect this to happen, this side of eternity. But I do believe it can happen as the Holy Spirit reveals truth to individual believers, one by one.
Summarily, the two opposing views are as follows.
According to Arminianism, salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, choose to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation. This view was submitted by the Arminians to the Church of Holland in 1610 for adoption but was rejected by the Synod of Dort in 1619 on the grounds that it is unscriptural.
The view of Calvinism is that salvation is accomplished solely by the power of God. The Father chose a people (election), the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation. This theology was reaffirmed by the Synod of Dort in 1619 as the doctrine of salvation contained in the Holy Scriptures.
Too often, modern preaching leaves a false impression that Christianity is a religion, rather than the intended result of appreciation for and acceptance of the GOSPEL. Gospel is “good news” – that which was lost may be found! It is NOT indoctrination into a religious practice, which too often tends towards an understanding of acceptance by God through the accomplishment of good works. The “good news” is that:
“God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” [Jn. 3:16].
God, knowing that no one is capable of attaining righteousness by perfect compliance to the Law (keeping it completely), became Himself a man (Jesus of Nazareth) and dwelt among us [Jn. 1:1, 14], lived a perfect, sinless life (making Him eligible to be the perfect sacrifice), and then gave His life on our behalf (paying the full price for our redemption), so that what none of us could ever hope to accomplish on our own, Jesus Christ did for us — totally, completely, once and for all [Heb. 5:8,9; 7:22-28; 8:7-10; 9:11-15, 22-28; 10:10-13; 13:8,9].
Christ being the PERFECT sacrifice, absolutely NOTHING needs to be added to His atonement through His shed blood. It is eternally sufficient to cover sin — ALL SIN – past, present, and future. This wonderful work of GRACE opens the door to eternal life and provides not only access directly to God, but RIGHT standing before Him, through Christ’s work for us. It does NOT depend on our works. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He forever lives to make intercession for them [Heb. 7:25]. Those truly saved, are saved COMPLETELY and ETERNALLY (to the uttermost). Such is the doctrine of salvation by grace. [Read the whole books of Hebrews & Galations]
Too many confuse good works as conditional to achieving salvation; a misconception that our works will be used to determine our eligibility for entrance into eternal life, rather than as the fruit of having been saved. Therefore, eternal security (once saved, always saved) rests upon a proper definition of salvation, whether it is a product of man’s free will, or God’s sovereign intervention.
Is it a qualification of man’s free will decision, or an actual entrance into eternal life in fulfullment to God’s promise; is it truly a gift, or must man do something not only to qualify for it, but to continue in it; is man saved by God, or by man’s free will; is salvation maintained and guaranteed by man’s ability to endure, or by God’s ability to keep them which He has chosen?
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”“-Heb. 13:5
“I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and NONE of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” – Jn. 17:12
“I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” – Jn. 10:28
God determines varying degrees of reward at the Bema Seat of Christ (the believer’s judgment) according to our works in Christ:
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire“ – 1Cor.3:15
But judgment unto eternal damnation is NOT determined by works. The lost shall be damned by their rejection of God’s plan of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ; by no other name can we be saved; therefore, there is no other salvation.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” -Ac. 4:12
Religion (all and any religion) always requires some adherence to regulations or standards to meet God’s approval. But religion is a creation of man, NOT God. True Christianity is God revealing Himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ and developing an eternal right relationship with God as a result of His completed earthly mission – to save the lost. Salvation is initiated and maintained by God; He comes down to us; we can never build a stairway up to Him.
Religion is man’s attempts to reach and appease God by observance of ritual and adherance to regulations. True Christianity by contrast, is God’s reaching out to man. Grace (unmerited favor) is the provision through which this great relationship is appropriated. It cannot be earned or purchased; the price of redemption is already PAID IN FULL by the ONCE shed blood of Jesus Christ.
“Who needs not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, 1st for his own sins, then for the people’s: for this He [Christ] did once, when he offered up himself”–Heb. 7:27
The two prevailing theological views appear to agree on this general explanation, but then argue over the finer details regarding man’s part, his ability, and personal responsibility. Even while professing Christ as Savior, many assume a role of co-savior in their incomplete understanding of the whole of scripture. On a completely opposite extreme, man’s free-will is totally void, leaving our eternal destiny a predetermined conclusion of an already stacked deck.
Calvinism teaches a doctrine of man’s total depravity. Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and absolutely corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not — indeed he cannot — choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ — it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation— it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.
Conversely, Arminianism professes a rather “supreme” view of man’s free will. Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
Regarding these two points of view, as stated above, I see truth in both, but a revision is required to bring both into proper alignment with scripture. The understanding that each of these views lack, is related to the state of man, both before and after salvation has become a reality in each individual. They each hold EXTREME opposing views. Truth is centered in the middle of these views; a balanced appreciation of both, yet also a rejection of both. As the line which distinguishes between both sides of salvation has been set by God (Who definitely knows the truly saved), I am NOT advocating moving the line. What I propose is a deeper discernment of what man’s free will is capable of on each of the two sides of the line.
While Calvinism rightly proclaims the total depravity of man as a sinner, this does NOT nullify his ability to exercise free will. While yet a sinner needing to be saved, his ability to properly discern between right and wrong is indeed compromised; he is however, capable of responding to or rejecting grace. If the election of God is fixed by God and only those already deemed by God to be saved (through election) can be saved, then what purpose is there in preaching the gospel to the lost? Indeed, if God arbitrarily choses and rejects independent of man’s free will choice, what responsibility has man, and what is the purpose of free moral agency?
Therefore, Arminianism is right in its profession that God graciously enables EVERY sinner to repent and believe according to their personal free will choice. Where Arminianism fails in their doctrine concerning man’s free will is by elevating it to a “supreme” status, whereby an individual’s free will can ultimately void God’s plan of salvation AFTER acceptance and entrance into it.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, IF they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” -Heb. 6:4-9
They seem to view the “line” as one that can be crossed over in both directions, at will. Based upon this erroneous assumption, many congregations practice giving an “alter-call” at the conclusion of their worship services. Not only are the lost invited to become new believers, but there is also a plea to the “prodigal” or “backslider” to return to their former right standing with God. This completely contradicts scripture which proclaims that if a person could lose their salvation, it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew such a one unto repentance.
In this passage, “IF” implies a thoughtful acknowledgement of merely a proposed possibility, contrasted immediately with a definite determination of impossibility. In other words, to be once saved and then lost again, although NOT possible, would preclude the destination of such a one is eternal damnation, because having been exposed to the gospel and then rejecting it, there is NO available alternative path to repentance unto salvation. It is quite obvious this was the intended interpretation of the original author by his own conclusion. “But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” [Heb.6:9].
Just as they do not properly discern the difference between true and false conversions, the results of real salvation opposed to mere feigned experiences, they also fail to recognize the substantial difference between the two covenants God institued – the Old and New Testaments. While “backsliding” was possible for the Old Testament followers due to being under the law, by which observance was totally dependent upon an execution of an individual’s free will, the primary benefit of the New Testament is that Christ has completely fulfilled on our behalf ALL the requirements of the Old Testament.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” – Gal. 2:20,21
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulls, or addes thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of One, ‘And to your seed’, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the Law, which was 430 years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance be of the Law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serves the Law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is One. Is the Law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. But the scripture has concluded ALL under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” – Gal. 3:13, 19-25
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised [ritually bound to the law], Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole Law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” – Gal. 5:1-6
By fulfilling the Law, He has replaced it with a BETTER covenant. Centuries under the Old Testament reveled man’s absolute inability to keep the Law. What we could never do ourselves, Christ has now accomplished for us. We no longer are to depend upon our efforts to fulfill God’s requirements of law, but instead, depend absolutely on Christ to save us and keep us, and provide a place for us in His eternal kingdom.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” – Jn. 14:2].
When a person receives Christ as their personal Savior, they become born again (a spiritual birth) with the Holy Spirit taking up permanent residency in them. This is the SAME Spirit that was in Christ enabling Him to perform the works of God.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” – 2Cor. 5:19
It is for true believers that they are no longer led by the flesh, but by the Spirit of God.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” – Ro. 8:14
So it is that we may fully comprehend the awesome reality of the truly saved individual.
“For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”– Phil. 2:13
The Arminian view lacks a proper understanding of the difference in the before and after state of an individual in reference to a truly biblical view of salvation. They forget or completely ignore the important concept of REGENERATION. Salvation results in a person becoming “born again”; they have become a “new creation”.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. –2Cor. 5:17
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” – Gal. 6:15
“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” – 1Pt. 1:23
Salvation is NOT a remodeling of the old sinner and the sinful nature. It is a complete departure from such; a transformation (or more properly, a new birth) takes place in the spiritual realm, but that which is carnal remains corrupt.
“The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can be” – Ro. 8:72
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” – 2Cor. 10:4
Regeneration is not to be confused with metamorphesis, where one body is rejected and the being within it emerges in a completely different form. No, in biblical regeneration we remain in our original form but are “birthed” into a newness of life experience – righteous spirituality – which allows us to transcend the physical body, but without leaving it or exchanging it.
So the Calvinistic idea of a total depravity of man is correct, in that man cannot remove the corruption in his flesh; it continues to be destined to death. But salvation implements a NEW life in the spirit, by which man becomes completely reconciled to God. Whereas before accepting salvation, man is spiritually depraved and absolutely naïve to the spiritual realm (having a consciousness of it, but no proper understanding of it), when an individual becomes born again, they become spiritually aware and literally alive “unto God” [Ro. 6:11].
Because this “new birth” is produced through the incorruptible “seed” of the word of God (the Spirit of Christ), scripture declares that the recipient has passed from death unto life [1Pt. 1:23]. A truly born again believer has already entered an eternal existence in right relationship with God [Jon. 5:24; 1Jn. 3:14]. The ETERNAL aspect of this existence makes it irreversable, else what is the definition of “eternal”?
So it is that every truly born again believer enters eternal life. It is the gift of God fulfilled; all who believe on the Son of God shall not perish but have eternal life. Because the essence of this “new life” is eternal, there is no reversing the process.
This is what “predestination” is. Not that it has been predetermined for every human life regardless of free will, but that God in His Omniscience knows beforehabd ALL things that shall occur. To those whom He has “foreknown” who shall choose to accept His gift of scalvation, THOSE He has predestined to eternal life with Him; those who reject Christ and God’s grace are conversely predestined to experience the “second death” [Rev. 20:14].
Just as scripture declares that BEFORE sin entered, Christ was slain from the foundation of the world; God in His Omniscience fully implemented the plan of salvation as part of His unique ability to predestinate those He foreknew [Mt. 13:35; 25:34; Eph. 1:5-11; Heb. 4:3; Rev. 3:8].
Since scripture declares that eternal life is the predestination of the saved, and that it is the gift of God to all who believe on Christ’s atonement, and God’s gifts are without repentance, it is incongruous to presume that once eternal life has been received, it could ever somehow be reversed or lost. No, true beleivers are born again – never lost again. Logically, if it were possible to reverse or undo salvation, then it would NOT be entrance into ETERNAL life. Life to the unregenerate has an expected expiration. It is appointed once for man to die and after that, the judgment [Heb. 9:27].
A full and proper explanation of that is reserved for the doctrine of eternal judgment, a topic for another article. Suffice it to say, that there are different judgments awaiting the saved and the lost – the saved to degrees of reward [1Cor. 3:11-15]; the lost to the second death [Rev. 20:14].
The problem with the Arminian view of man’s free will is that it is elevated to a “supreme” status where it has the ability to frustrate God’s ability to hold that which He has claimed through salvation. According to their view of free will an individual can, after being saved (thereby entering eternal life), choose to reject salvation and become lost again. While this may be undeniably true in the case of false conversions and false beliefs that salvation can be won or lost by virtue of works, it is based upon wrong assumptions regardding the scriptural teachings about salvation. In those cases, God has never actually provided salvation and those persons have never been truly born again [Mt. 7:23].
This is precisely why Jesus explained to Nicodemus (a teacher of religion) that unless a man is born again, he cannot enter into eternal life [Jon. 3: 1-21]. Unless one is “born of the spirit” (becomes a “new creation”), no compliance with regulation, no adherence to the law, no practice of ritual, nor even complete obedience (if it were possible, which it isn’t), will grant one the benefits and scriptural provisions of salvation.
Therefore, the idea that free will can “over-ride” all the things listed in scripture as impossible to separate us from the love of God, is absurd. It not only contradicts scripture – it presumes man’s ability of free will to be more forceful than all things listed in Romans 8:38, 39 (an exhaustive list indeed), ultimately claiming that man’s will nullifies the will of God and His intented purpose of salvation.
The argument is made and supported by the observance of man’s ability to frustrate the will of God in this life by choosing not to obey the law of God and thereby sin. Even among truly born again believers, there is not an absolute compliance and submission to the revealed will of God in their individual lives and they do sin.
But this pertains to the carnal nature which is NOT regenerated when a person is saved, and it is exactly this misunderstanding of the dual nature of true believers that continues to elude a proper scriptural balance regarding the doctrine of salvation and whether or not one is or is not really saved.
A thorough comprehension (a proper spiritual discernment) of Paul’s explanation of the ongoing strife between the spirit and the flesh (the new creation and the carnal nature) as presented in Romans [7:14-25] reveals the remedy. We (true born again believers) are saved and destined to eternity with God, but our flesh continues to be corrupt and shall ultimately face total corruption in physical death [Heb. 9:27].
When this message is preached with the REVELATION of God as the primary focus, God & man can share a right relationship. He has chosen us; we did not chose Him [Jn. 15:16]. Grace alone makes it possible; man’s free will choice to receive God’s gift appropriates it to an individual, but once the gift has been accepted, according to scripture – the gifts of God are without repentance [Ro. 11:29] – meaning that He does not negate nor reverse the giving of His gift.
This being God’s revealed will regarding salvation, it becomes a rather presumptuous insult to believe that a man can then usurp God’s will by rejecting His gift after having truly received it and entering into eternal life. Such an experience cannot be rightly equated with ETERNAL life. But knowing the TRUTH, we are set free!