Doctrine of Salvation (Part 2)

January 19, 2014     Time: 00:38:29

We’ve been talking about the Doctrine of Salvation and looking at a couple of key New Testament passages, first from a Reformed or Calvinistic point of view and then we’ll look at them from an Arminian point of view. Last time we looked at Ephesians 1:3-6 and Romans 8:28-30 from a Calvinistic perspective.


Question: I was actually reading your arguments versus the Calvinistic arguments regarding “the people God foreknew, he predestined.” From the church fathers, it looks like they interpret “foreknew” as actually knowing in advance. Even John Chrysostom, the Eastern Orthodox father. There are two instances where foreknowledge – proginosko – is sort of like loving in advance. Then there are two other instances, I think in 2 Peter, one is in Acts definitely, and I think in a non-Pauline epistle where foreknowledge means knowing, the way “I know mathematics.” So it can go either way. Chrysostom, and all the church fathers, have said that God’s predestination of us being justified, sanctified, glorified, is based on his knowledge that we would respond to his offer of grace.

Answer: Really?

Followup: Yeah. In fact even Chrysostom said this whole idea of what Pelagius and Augustine sort of like battled against, the idea of what is man’s soul capable of apart from grace. Chrysostom didn’t even think there was such a state of the soul. It is like asking if pigs could fly would bacon taste different. There is no human soul apart from grace.

Answer: That is really interesting what you said because that would be an anticipation of a Molinist point of view construing foreknowledge in this very broad sense to mean that he knew how they would respond to his gifts of grace.

Followup: Perhaps he foreknew about the coming of Molinism. [laughter]

Question: My dad is a campus minister so on campus he has had a few organizations that are more Reformed in theology and into Calvinism. A couple times in the last few years he has had a couple of students come to him, one in particular recently was a girl, and she was crying and she was all upset because she said she tried to accept Christ and she wanted to believe all these things but she was really struggling in her faith and just struggling with her belief. She was just in tears. So she asked, “You think maybe I am one of those people who can’t be saved?” So my question would be – I can’t imagine that the Calvinist is going to say that she could possibly be right – would they say under their understanding of Calvinism that anyone who desires to be saved can be saved, and if so does God not only choose who will be saved but also dictate who will have the desire to be saved?

Answer: I don’t think that there is a sort of doctrinaire position on that question, but I could well imagine someone saying from the Reformed point of view that anyone who feels that kind of conviction of sin and of the Holy Spirit is on the path toward salvation and regeneration because this is the work of God in her heart. So that minister could give her comfort in that respect, to persevere in her search for God, to keep following, keep thirsting after him, because he’s at work in her to bring about these fruit. So she needs to simply keep on pursuing God and she will break through. She will win salvation because God is at work in her to bring that about. So that could actually be a source of comfort to that person.

Followup: OK, but definitively she would be wrong in saying, “I am just one of those people who can’t be saved” – that would be a wrong thought on her mind, right?

Answer: Insofar as she is a person who is as you’ve described. But I could well imagine someone whose heart is hardened, who hates God, who has no interest in spiritual things could, I think, truly say, “Perhaps I am just one of those persons whom God has not chosen.” And that might well be true. But it is hard to imagine someone like you described in whom God is so evidently at work being such a person.[1]

Question: Bill, you are going to hate me for this but, I have a great deal of difficulty with individual predestination because it seems to undermine the fundamental premise of Christianity that salvation is offered to everyone (John 12, “I’ll draw all men to myself” and so forth). Ephesians it seems to me (and I don’t think you are going to buy this but) in chapters 1 to 5, if you read the pronouns carefully, it looks to me like what Paul is really saying is that, for example, verse 4 “he chose us” - the Jews. You get down to verse 13 and he says, “In him you also, the Gentiles, you can participate even though you were not chosen.” That would seem to be consistent with what Paul says in Romans 1 and Romans 3 that the Gospel was intended first for the Jews then through his ministry for the Gentiles. I think this would support the argument that the predestination concept (or the choice of God for salvation concept) is a group phenomenon analogous to the Old Testament choice of Israel. God chose Israel – not individual Israelites, but he chose the nation. Likewise, it seems to me you could argue that Paul is saying that the Jews were chosen here in Ephesians 1 – but you Gentiles, you can participate also by means of the Gospel message that I am delivering to you.

Answer: So you are saying the switch takes place, what? Verse 11 of chapter 2 where he says, “Therefore, remember that at that time you Gentiles in the flesh,” etc. Is that where you see the switch?

Followup: Chapter 1, verse 13 is the first place where he switches from the first person to the second person.

Answer: Oh.

Followup: And then chapter 2 verse 12 he also talks in terms of the second person: “You Gentiles can enjoy the fruits of the Gospel.”

Answer: Now, it seems to me that it would be very implausible to think that in chapter 1 that he doesn’t mean to include the Ephesians themselves when he says, for example in verse 3, that “God has blessed us in Christ” and that he is just thinking of Jewish Christians there rather than including the Ephesians themselves in that.

Followup: But the Ephesian church, as I understand it, included Jewish and Gentile Christians. So what I am suggesting is you could argue that Ephesians 1 starting in verse 4 when he says that we are chosen (first person, he is talking about the Jewish believers) and then verse 13 he switches to the second person and saying “you also.” After listening to the Gospel and so forth and having believed, you were sealed in him with the Holy Spirit of promise. There is this dialectic between the first and second persons. I think it continues through the first half of chapter 5. If you read the pronouns carefully it seems to me you could argue that what Paul is saying is “We, Jews, were chosen but you’re not but you can participate and enjoy the benefits also because of the Gospel.”

Answer: That’s a wild view! It would force you to, as I say, re-read this chapter in a very, very different way so that the Gentile Christians are not included in all of these things about being chosen in him and having redemption through his blood and being part of God’s plan and so forth. I have never heard anybody offer that sort of an interpretation of the pronouns before. I think that there probably are other ways to employ your central insight about this being corporate without having to identify the corporate groups dividing them up in the way that you suggest between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and only the Jewish Christians were chosen and not the Gentile ones. Let’s wait until we get to the Arminian perspective to see more about the corporate interpretation of these verses.

Let me add one thing.[2] Someone had questioned last week whether or not the perspective I was representing was something that Calvin himself would have believed. And I found a couple of interesting quotations from Calvin that I thought I would read that I think bear this out. This is from the Institutes, section 3:21.5. He says, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man.” So there you have this individual predestination that was referred to. “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” Then in his treatise Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God he says,

When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. . . . If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction. . . . the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined. . . . God chose out of the condemned race of Adam those whom He pleased and reprobated whom He willed.[3]

So that seems to suggest that Calvin was indeed an advocate of the sort of individual predestination that we spoke of last time.


Having explained the Reformed scheme of salvation, let’s say something more now about the notion of calling which plays a very critical role in the plan of salvation. The Reformed or Calvinist thinker distinguishes between the general call of God (which goes out to every person indiscriminately) and the special effectual call of God (which is directed only toward the elect, those who have been chosen by God).

The general call to repentance and faith is issued to all of mankind. Examples of this general call would be found, for example, in John 7:37: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.’” You notice the universal term there “anyone” – if anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. So this is a general invitation that goes out to all persons. Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Again, notice the universal quantification. “All” who labor and are heavy laden and are invited to come to Christ. This is a general call. And of course finally Matthew 28:18-19 which is the famous Great Commission given to the disciples,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Here they are commanded to go out to everyone proclaiming the Gospel. Not just to the elect but to everyone. So this is an illustration of the general call that God issues to repentance and faith.

However, this general call is not in itself intrinsically efficacious. People can ignore this general call. They can refuse to respond to it and to repent and believe.[4] Therefore, the Calvinist distinguishes a special call of God which is irresistible. This is, as we saw last time, called effectual calling. And when this sort of a call confronts a person, it is irresistible and will surely produce its effect. Verses that might be appealed to in this respect would be Romans 8:30, which we read last time. “And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So this is not just the general call. This is the special effectual calling of the predestined, of the elect. And when he calls them then he justifies them.

Also turn back to Romans 1:6-7 where the Roman Christians are said to be called in this way. Paul says, “including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints . . .” And this is taken to be an example of this effectual calling to these Roman Christians who are called to be saints of God.

Also, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” So here is again supposedly an illustration of this effectual calling to salvation on the part of the Corinthians. Then in verses 26 to 27 of the same chapter,

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

And so on and so forth. So God has chosen them and now he has called them to be saints.

With respect to this special calling of God, we can distinguish between the efficient cause – the moving or motivating cause – and the instrumental cause. The efficient cause, that is to say, that which produces the effect, is God himself. It is God who effectually calls sinners or the predestined into his Kingdom. Look again at 1 Corinthians 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son.” It is God here who is the efficient call who brings the elect into the Kingdom. Also, Galatians 1:15. This is Paul reflecting on his own conversion experience. He says, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me.” So here he refers to God as the one who had set Paul apart even before he was born, like Jeremiah, and then at the right time God called him through his grace.

Finally, 2 Timothy 1:9. Picking up at the end of verse 8, “God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” So here again the reference is to God. He, in virtue of his own purpose (not because of anything we’ve done), ages ago he had set us apart and now he has called us into fellowship with himself.

So the efficient cause of this special effectual calling of God directed toward the predestined, toward the elect, by which God brings them into fellowship with himself, is God himself.[5]

The moving cause, that which motivates this calling, is simply God’s will. Just God’s will. Look again at 2 Timothy 1:9, “God, who saved us and called us . . . not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace . . . he gave us in Christ.” As we saw in Ephesians, it is simply God’s will. There isn’t anything about the elect that makes them special or move lovable that would motivate God to save them. It is simply God’s inscrutable will. He chooses to save those whom he wills and then he calls them.

Then the instrumental cause, that is to say that by means of which the call goes out, is the Word of God. 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is through the preaching of the Gospel, the Word of God, that they are called.

So through the Gospel as its instrumental cause, God reaches out to those elect (those predestined) and he brings them – he calls them – into his Kingdom and justifies them.


Question: I think Ephesians . . . all these steps can be illustrated by the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs are the Kingdom of heaven.” So those that Jesus calls as you say God is the initiator of the blessing and those that believe in the Kingdom of God are compelled to comply with the poor in spirit, to humble themselves. So it is like the general call election is thrown out but the character of the person – whether they want to have the Kingdom of God or want to be comforted or want to be filled with righteousness or merciful – those people are compelled to the condition or to the presentation of alternative attitudes. So they are one and the same.

Answer: So you are saying that those whom God has predestined, he produces in them a kind of a poverty of spirit, a humility, so that when the call comes to them they are compelled to respond. Is that the idea?

Followup: He gives them the hope or desire for the Kingdom of God, or hope and desire for being comforted. So they are compelled to follow the truth that is laid before them as the way to get there.

Answer: Yes, that would be an accurate summary of the Calvinist viewpoint.

Question: I have to ask an obvious question here. It seems to me that Calvin could be charged with saying these incidents of this ineffective call – obviously these references disagree with his view of election so he just labels them as ineffective. What evidence is there that they are ineffective, and also why would God do such a pointless thing? Surely he doesn’t fall prey to PR or optics just to say “I’m going to select these but I’m just going to put this out as though I called everyone.” The whole thing sounds, I hate to use the term, ridiculous, but as one that is not really well steeped in religion and philosophy and all I say it sounds ridiculous.

Answer: [laughter] Alright, that is spoken like a good Arminian. If I might try to speak from the Calvinist point of view, perhaps the Calvinist might say that in issuing this general call that God shows mercy toward these non-elect persons in a way that he is not obligated to do.[6] Even to issue this general call is condescending to them, they don’t deserve it, but nevertheless it goes out universally. It would sort of like be common grace. He makes his rain fall on the just and the unjust, his sun shines on the righteous and the wicked alike even though only those who are predestined are able to respond. But, yes, we will see when we get to the Arminian point of view, others have shared your skepticism about this differentiation. I do think that you raise a good point: is one imposing this grid on these verses when they are not effective, then you say, a-ha, this is an example of the general call rather than say there isn’t such a thing as effectual calling. It requires a human response. It would be easy to impose this grid on the verses in the way you described, I think.

Question: Any of you that know me know that I think these things exist in tension – free will and election – because we are bound by time and space. But I found a verse in 2 Timothy to maybe relieve some angst. 2 Timothy 2:24,

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Now I’ll also link that with Romans 4:17 that says God calls all things as though they are. So God has infinite knowledge, so you have to approach everyone as if they are called and maybe we get people grandfathered or granted in – they get a grant deed. Maybe there is a group that are knowingly predestined and God will allow others to be added to that number based on how things unfold and the responsiveness. Again, you still have the situation where you have human beings bound by time and space trying to figure this out because when you are not infinite these things have to ultimately exist in tension. The practical part about it is you go about the activity of sharing Christ in the hope that everybody is saved.

Answer: Yes, there you are making a good point. Since we don’t know the identity of the elect, we carry out the Great Commission sharing it with all people hoping that perhaps these people are elect. The verse you read is a good Calvinistic verse. He said, “God may perhaps grant that they will repent.” He doesn’t say “perhaps they will repent” but “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and escape the snare of the devil.” So the idea, I think you are quite right in saying, is that we indiscriminately share the Gospel not knowing who the elect are. But from a Calvinistic point of view, you must not think that what you said was accurate that God will take into account certain responsiveness and things of that sort. That begins to initiate then this human element which the Calvinist wants to exclude. We can introduce a couple of words here. He wants salvation to be monergistic. That is to say God is the only one at work; not synergistic where it is a cooperative effort of human beings and God. The Calvinist will accuse the Arminian of synergism – of making salvation something that is wrought by the cooperation of man and God together whereas salvation should be monergistic, solely wrought by God alone and therefore to God be the glory.[7]


Let me go on to the next point which is regeneration. For those who are effectually called, having been predestined by God, God will then produce regeneration in them. This means a quickening, of bringing, of spiritual life, where before there was simply spiritual death. So God makes them alive.

In the Calvinistic system, regeneration is explanatorily prior to faith. It is not something that comes in response to faith. It is actually explanatorily prior to faith. A spiritually dead person cannot exercise saving faith. He is spiritually dead. So, God must do first the work of regenerating him and then he will place his faith in Christ. Now that doesn’t mean that these are chronologically one after the other – that first God regenerates him and then he places his faith in Christ. It could happen like that but it could also be simultaneous – it could happen at the same time. God regenerates the person and he places his faith in Christ. But that is why I said it is an explanatory priority that is in play here, not a chronological priority. The faith is the result of God’s regenerative work. It is not that the person has faith and God regenerates him as a result.

If you don’t understand the idea of explanatory priority, let me give an illustration to try to make it clear. Imagine a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The chain is explanatorily prior to the chandelier dangling there in the air. It isn’t the chandelier that is forcing the chain up to the ceiling. It is the chain that is holding the chandelier – even though they are simultaneous. It is not as though there is first the chain and then the chandelier. They are simultaneous. But the relation of dependence is that the chandelier depends on the chain. It is not that the chain depends on the chandelier. So the chain is explanatorily prior to the chandelier dangling in the air. If you were to say “Why is the chandelier dangling in the air” the answer would be “because it is suspended by the chain from the ceiling.” In the same way, even if regeneration and faith take place simultaneously in a person’s life, the person has faith because God has regenerated him. A spiritually dead person cannot have saving faith in Christ. So he needs to be first regenerated and then he can place his faith in Christ.

That is really an interesting view when you think about it because what that means is that salvation is not given in response to faith. It is not as though you place your faith in Christ and God saves you. Really what happens with the elect is God does this secret work in their heart – he saves them – and then they place their faith in Christ. Faith is the result of being regenerated. Only regenerate people can have faith in Christ. An unregenerate, spiritually dead person can’t exercise saving faith. So on the Calvinist scheme, even if these occur simultaneously, regeneration explains saving faith.

Conversion then may come some time later. The person then may, having been regenerated, then begin to seek out baptism and begin to identify as a Christian and to read the Bible and to pray and so forth. These would be the fruits produced in his life by regeneration. Saving faith for the Calvinist will involve the elements of knowledge, ascent, and trust. First he will understand what there is to be believed; he will have knowledge of the Gospel. He will ascent to it – he will give his agreement with it. Then finally he will trust in what he believes to be true.[8] So genuine saving faith involves these three elements: knowledge or understanding, ascent – agreement, but then also this personal trust – trusting in Christ, trusting in God. This kind of saving faith is something that only a regenerate person can exercise.


Question: A simpler way to see regeneration probably is to see possibility like when our relationship with God is broken, you don’t see any possibility to reconcile until God shows you this possibility and so your faith can kick in.

Answer: It is even more than that. I like the way you put it. There is no possibility of an unregenerate person having saving faith. But he needs to see more than just a possibility. God needs to zap him – regenerate him – and then he can have saving faith. So it is like, if I may use an analogy (maybe this isn’t good) it is like a dead car battery. A dead car battery won’t start the car. It doesn’t do any good to turn the ignition if the battery is dead. You have got to have those jumper cables to zap the battery and then you can turn the key; then the ignition will work. So the regeneration is like the jumper cables zapping the battery which was dead, now becomes alive, and then the faith is like turning the key in the ignition and the car starts.

Followup: I thought of it more like an elephant that is being staked – it is confined by a stake. And then they don’t know that they can get out of that realm until someone shows them that they can get out of it. Then they are set free to believe on.

Answer: You are at liberty to hold that view yourself, but don’t think that that represents the Calvinist view which is what we are trying to understand. We are not talking here about a living person that is confined. We are talking about a spiritually dead person. It is like an elephant corpse. It is not some living elephant that is confined and needs to get out. That would be just totally the opposite because there there is something that just needs to break free. Here this is a spiritually dead person that needs God to call him, regenerate him, give him justifying grace, and then that person can have faith in Christ.

Next time we will turn to an Arminian perspective on these same passages.[9]

[1] 5:10

[2] 10:02

[3] John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), pp. 121, 125

[4] 15:02

[5] 20:14

[6] 25:16

[7] 30:12

[8] 35:02

[9] Total Running Time: 38:28 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)