Doctrine of Salvation (Part 4)

February 02, 2014     Time: 00:26:17

In our lesson we have been looking most recently at an Arminian perspective on Ephesians 1 and Romans 8:28-30. We saw that in contrast to a Calvinistic interpretation of these passages, the Arminian tends to interpret these passages Christocentrically and corporately. That is to say, we are objects of God’s predestination only secondarily. The primary object of God’s predestination is a people – a group – whom he has elected for himself. And insofar as we are members of this corporate group, we are the objects of his election and therefore predestined to conformity to Christ’s image.

Faith

Let’s turn then now to how the Arminian looks at faith.

For the Arminian, faith is not something that is bestowed upon us by God prior to and independent of our own exercise or free decision to believe in Christ. Romans 9:18, 22-24, 30-31. In Romans 9:18, Paul writes, “So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.” It is God’s discretion whom he shall save and whom he shall pass over. It is up to God. Verses 22-24 explains who it is then that God has chosen to have mercy upon. He says,

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

So God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to elect for himself not simply Jewish people but Gentile peoples as well. No Jewish person can gainsay God’s decision in this matter because God is sovereign. He has mercy upon whomever he wills and hardens the heart of whomever he wills, and he has chosen to save Gentiles as well as Jews. So then, in verses 30-31, Paul says,

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.

It is through faith that one comes to be a part of this elect body. God has chosen to save all who have faith in Christ Jesus. Whether Jew or Gentile, this is his sovereign choice. Similarly, over in Galatians 3:6-9, Paul says,

Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

[Not just the Jews only, but those from the Gentiles who have faith are reckoned as sons of Abraham.]

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.

Faith is the key factor in putting oneself into this elect body of persons that God has chosen. It is faith which qualifies you to be a son of Abraham and heir to God’s promises.[1]

Finally, Romans 10:12-13. Back to Romans again,

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So faith is the distinguishing factor in who is elect and who is non-elect. It doesn’t matter whether you are Jew or Gentile. All who have faith in Christ Jesus will be saved.

Ephesians 2:8 emphasizes that this setup, this arrangement, is by God’s own choice. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Remember we saw that the word “this” is neuter whereas faith is feminine. So “this” doesn’t refer to the faith, this refers to this arrangement of salvation by grace through faith. That arrangement is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God. It is God’s sovereign choice to save people in this way by grace through faith. Faith is the key factor here in determining whether or not you are part of the elect, part of the predestined.

The Arminian, in contrast to the Calvinist, regards God’s grace which is freely offered to all as resistible. Look, for example, at Acts 7:51. This is Stephen’s statement just before his stoning. In verse 51 he says to the people around him, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” So this is not irresistible; this is resistible. God’s saving grace is offered freely to all persons, and those who respond with faith will be saved and be part of the elect group, but this is not an irresistible, unilateral work of God. This is a work that requires a free human response.

That completes my exposition of an Arminian interpretation of these passages.

Discussion

Question: If I understood that correctly, you are saying that from an Arminian standpoint grace is offered to all and then the individual chooses whether to accept it or deny it.

Answer: Yes.

Followup: Therefore, the human is, in my way of looking at it, placing himself as the decision maker and God is just waiting to hear whether the human will accept or not. It almost puts man above God in the sense that now man is making the decision. Shall I accept this? Or shall I not accept this?

Answer: I would say that is almost right except that we shouldn’t think of God as a passive participant in this process. God is actively trying to win the unbeliever by giving him the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, various gifts of grace. God is actively drawing this person to himself but not irresistibly so. At the end of the day, God is not going to unilaterally move that person’s will to have faith in him. He is going to allow that person the freedom to finally reject him and to separate himself from God forever.[2]

Followup: So if God is working out his plan of salvation, is he not then not certain of the ultimate of that plan because he is still waiting to see – even though he offered this – it is still this human’s decision of his own free will whether to accept it or not.

Answer: Well, now, that would depend on whether or not you think that God knows the free decisions that people will make. If you remember our section on divine omniscience, I think God knows every future-tensed truth. So he knows that Joe will place his faith in Christ at the Billy Graham crusade. He knows that Sally will reject the Gospel when her roommate shares the four spiritual laws, etc., etc. So to say that God allows people the freedom to accept or reject his saving grace doesn’t mean that he is ignorant or has to wait around to find out. He knows all of these things in advance.

Followup: Does that in any way affect his being all-powerful? It puts him in a light of inability to make something happen.

Answer: Recall our discussion of divine omnipotence when we discussed that in the attributes of God. We said that being omnipotent doesn’t mean the ability to do the logically impossible, like to make a round square or a married bachelor. And it is logically impossible to make someone freely do something. So God’s inability to make someone freely receive him or reject him isn’t any infringement of omnipotence anymore than his inability to make a stone to heavy for him to lift would be an infringement of his omnipotence. So I think that human freedom is quite consistence with God’s omnipotence, but it does mean that God isn’t the unilateral cause of everything that happens. He gives to human beings the ability to make decisions that are not determined by God himself. That would be the Arminian perspective.

Question: Do the Arminians believe that you could lose your faith? Once you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and you become a Christian, can you lose it?

Answer: I think that depends on which denomination you are talking about. Certainly some do. For example, Methodists would be Arminian and Methodists would generally think that, yes, you can apostatize and lose your faith. On the other hand, many Baptists are Arminian in their view of receiving Christ but very often they will say that it is impossible to fall away. Once you’ve exercised genuine faith in Christ you cannot fall away. We are going to take this up as our next topic. So we will have a longer discussion of this.

Question: Just a brief mention – one of the best books, I think, on that subject arguing for conditional security is called The Believer’s Conditional Security by Dan Corner. If you want to read arguments for that, that’s one.

Answer: OK. Thank you.

Question: Following up on a past question, if Peter said that God desires that no one should perish but all have eternal life, so if he is wooing us, what is restraining him? He is omniscience. Wouldn’t he know what would be the right persuasive method to call someone to come to Christ? And since a lot don’t, does that mean there was never any chance for them?

Answer: Ultimately, from an Arminian perspective, even though God’s will is that all should be saved and he issues a genuine, sincere call to repentance, ultimately it will be human freedom that would preclude God’s universal salvific will from being accomplished. Indeed, this would be probably one for the strongest arguments for freedom of the will that the Arminian could give – the fact that universalism isn’t true. The New Testament is abundantly clear that not all will be saved, and yet it also says that God wills and wants all to be saved.[3] The only thing that could seem to prevent God’s will from being done would be human freedom. People simply resist God’s every effort to save them. Now your question is more subtle, and we can take that up maybe in a later time. You are asking, “Suppose John resists God’s saving grace and so is damned. Couldn’t God have given John some other sort of circumstances or grace that might have led to an affirmative free response by John?” I’ll say something about that later, but that is not an inherent part of the Arminian position. Arminians might have a variety of answers to that question. We will hold off on that one for now.

Evaluation of These Competing Views

Let me say something by way of evaluation about these competing views.

It seems to me that the notion of corporate election does make good sense of many of the scriptural passages, particularly Romans 9 and 10 as I’ve said. It seems to me that Paul’s burden in Romans 9 is to say that it is up to God whom he will save and whom he will damn. And that he wants to broaden out the scope of salvation to include Gentiles as well as Jews. So God has decided to save all who will place their faith in Christ regardless of their ethnic origin. That is why in chapter 10 Paul can say, “Therefore everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” – a statement that would be impossible on the Calvinistic view because only those who are elect and irresistibly and effectually called can be saved. So the view of corporate election, I think, makes very good sense out of Romans 9 and 10 as well as so many of the corporate metaphors that Paul uses in his epistles like the body of Christ, the church, the olive tree with branches broken off and grafted in, and so forth.

Having said that however, I do not think that corporate election is the whole story. I say this on the basis of passages like Acts 13:48. Here Luke is describing the response to the apostles’ preaching, and he says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” What a remarkable statement that is. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” That can’t plausibly be construed corporately. He is talking there about individual people who responded to the preaching of the Gospel. As many as were ordained to eternal life believed in the Gospel.

The verb here is the past-perfect of the word tasso in the Greek which means “to appoint” or “to designate” or “to set aside.” It indicates that those whom God has set aside or appointed or designated to salvation or eternal life will be saved. The Arminian attempts to interpret this passage by saying what it means is as many as were disposed to eternal life believed. So if you had the disposition that was right for eternal life then you believed. Therefore, it was of your own free will.

But I am not persuaded that that is a plausible interpretation of this passage. Let me give two reasons why I think that that is incorrect. First, as I say, the form of the verb there is in the passive voice. That indicates that God is the subject. That is to say, it is all of those whom God had ordained to eternal life. The use of the passive voice is indicative that God is the active subject of the verb. He is the one who has appointed or set aside certain people to eternal life.[4] Moreover, the context of the theology of the book of Acts, I think, doesn’t sit very well with that Arminian interpretation. The context of the book of Acts shows, I think, that Luke believes that people are foreordained to eternal life as individuals. Look, for example, at Acts 4:24-28. Here the early church is at prayer and Luke records,

And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit,

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth set themselves in array,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate [notice, they are named as individuals], with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.

Isn’t that remarkable? Herod and Pilate named as individuals along with the people of Jerusalem and the Gentiles, they were there to do whatever God’s hand and plan had foreordained. The expression in the Greek here is he boule proorisen. Proorisen means “to ordain something in advance.” Whatever your will foreordained to happen is what took place in Jerusalem. Also, take a look at Acts 2:23 for a similar statement. Here Peter says, “this Jesus [again, a specific individual], delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Notice here he speaks of the definite plan and foreknowledge of God which included the crucifixion of Jesus. The Greek here, again, is te horismene boule (that’s the word for God’s will) – your foreordained will. It’s the same root word from proorisen. Your foreordained will and (and then here comes the word for foreknowledge) prognosei tou theou. The foreknowledge of God. So the ordained will and prognosei tou theou – the foreknowledge of God. This is what has determined will take place.

Compare with this Galatians 1:15. Here Paul is talking about his own call. He says, in verse 15 of chapter 1, “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,” etc., etc. Here the word in the Greek is aphorisas which means “to set apart” or “to put aside.” He says that God has set him aside even before he was born, clearly as an individual. We are not talking corporate election here.

Finally, go back to Acts 9:15. It also speaks about this call of the apostle Paul.[5] Here the Lord says to Ananias, “‘Go, for he [that is, Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.’” The Greek here is skeuos ekloges which means “a chosen vessel” or “an instrument” that God has chosen to use.

So both Paul and Luke think of Paul himself as someone set apart by God, a chosen instrument or vessel that God has then called at this appropriate time. Again, this can’t be thought of as primarily corporate.

On the other hand, Paul apparently did not think that this call that came to him was irresistible or inevitable. He says in Acts 26:19 in his testimony to King Agrippa, “Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus,” etc., etc. So even though Paul felt that God had set him apart before he was born as an individual and then called him at the right time – he was a chosen instrument – Paul didn't seem to think that this was something that was irresistible or inevitable. Rather, he said “I wasn’t disobedient. I obeyed the heavenly vision and did what I was told to.”

So on the one hand we have this sovereignty of God that does seem to extend to individuals. Yet, at the same time, we have this affirmation of human freedom that one is able to resist what God has planned and ordained.

How are we to best put these together? Well, as some of you might surmise, I think that the best way to understand these passages is through divine middle knowledge. This is the Molinist view of divine providence from the Jesuit Counter-Reformer Luis Molina. According to Molina, God knows how every possible person he might create would freely respond in any set of circumstances that God might place him in. This provides the key to his providence just as it states in the book of Acts. This is according to the foreknowledge and plan of God. God knew how Herod and Pilate would respond if in positions of authority in first century Palestine. He knew how the Jews in the city of Jerusalem would respond in those circumstances. How the Gentiles would behave. So all of this plan unfolds according to God’s foreknowledge according to his understanding.

For Molina, the circumstances in which God places people includes various gifts of grace and workings of the Holy Spirit to bring people to salvation. God knows whether or not a person would respond to his grace in any set of circumstances that he might place that individual. So, for example, he knew that if he were to appear to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road as he was journeying to Damascus to persecute Christians that Saul would freely obey the heavenly vision and would not be disobedient. Therefore, he chooses to appear to Saul in this way. Not robbing Saul of his freedom, but knowing how Saul would freely respond in such a circumstance. So God knows which people to create and what circumstances to place them in in order to bring about the salvation of those that he wants to be saved. Acts 17:26-27 is Paul’s address to the Areopagus in Athens. He says,

And he made from one [man] every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us.

Here Paul says that God has determined the exact times and places that every human being should live in the world with a view toward achieving their salvation.[6] So even before the foundation of the world, God knew which people would freely respond to his grace and be saved and which would reject it. Therefore, he knew the people who had been chosen and set apart to be saved. That is what it says in Romans 8:29, that those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

Molina also believed that God provides sufficient grace for salvation to every person that he creates. God’s will for human salvation is truly universal. God wants everyone to be saved, and moreover this grace is given to all persons that is sufficient for their salvation.

Now, does God really in fact want all persons to be saved in the way that Molina described? Well, I think there are a couple of options here. One of the options is a form of Molinism that is called Congruism. This school of thought says that there is congruent grace that God offers. That is to say, God knows for any individual person what gifts of grace would be met with a free, affirmative response by that person. He knows, as someone said earlier, what circumstances to place that person in in such a way that that person would freely respond and be saved. If that is the case, that God knows the circumstances under which every possible person would be saved, why isn’t everybody saved? Well, the Congrist could say it is because there is no feasible world available to God in which all of these circumstances are compossible – that is to say, the circumstances may not be able to cobbled together in such a way that everyone would be saved. It may well be the case that in every world that is feasible for God of free creatures that some would freely reject his grace and be lost. So, although there are possible worlds in which everyone is freely saved, it may well be the case that there are no feasible worlds available to God in which there is universal salvation.

Or, here’s the second alternative, the second option. The Molinist could just say God prefers a world in which not all respond and are saved even though he could have chosen such a world. He has simply chosen not to create a world in which everybody is freely saved. That view gets you as close to Calvinism as you can possibly get and yet still affirms human free will. It is to say that God could have elected to save all, but he has chosen to create a world in which he knew some would freely reject him. Why did he choose such a world? Let the Calvinist answer that – maybe to bring greater glory to himself somehow by showing his justice or something. I don’t know. But the point is that this will get you everything that the Calvinist wants to have but it will not annihilate human freedom. It will still give you human freedom.

So there are a couple of options here that are available in answer to that earlier question as to why God’s universal salvific will is not achieved. But it does seem to me that a middle knowledge perspective supplements what we’ve already seen with regard to corporate election by showing how people can be predestined and foreordained and elected as individuals and yet in a way that is fully compatible with human freedom.[7]



[1] 5:03

[2] 10:11

[3] 15:08

[4] 20:06

[5] 25:06

[6] 30:32

[7] Total Running Time: 35:17 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)