The Security of Salvation

[originally published on my old site]

Introduction

Probably the favorite “proof-text” for the Calvinist view of unconditional election is Romans 9, starting from about verses 6 and going through 27. Many people who don’t buy Calvinism’s claim of a very partial God find themselves a bit intimidated when an eager determinist spouts off as proof:
“Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they [are] not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, [are they] all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these [are] not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this [is] the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only [this]; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will He hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, [that] in the place where it was said unto them, Ye [are] not My people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved…” (Romans 9:6-27)

Key Points

Romans 9 is very telling about the nature of God and His work of salvation, yet many Christians and even pastors are so unlearned about this and similar scriptures that when someone quotes them, they are not sure what to think. Such an ignorance of Biblical doctrine even among clergy may be the cause of the recent surge in “Reformed Baptists” (Baptists who have embraced the five points of Calvinism). When an argument or piece of proof is submitted with only the bias of one side, it always seems to work in that side’s favor — often due to the bias through which it is viewed. But as we shall shortly see, evidence does not always imply what one tries to make it say; and sometimes, what evidence does not imply is as important as what it does.

Let’s examine several key points in Romans 9:

“…but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

“What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory…”

When faced with a sudden flood of alleged proof, it is hard for those who do not know their Bible well to respond to the Calvinist doctrinal assertions that:

  • God chooses some for salvation and leaves others for damnation before they are born, simply because He loves some and despises the others. Nothing about the person determines this love or hate, God simply does.

  • The mercy God shows to His elect, He shows simply because He wants to, with no requirements on their part.

  • God hardens the hearts of those who are not elect so that they will not be saved because He does not will them to be saved, seeing as Christ did not die for them.

Now let’s examine these claims and the proof text used to back them up.

Does This Passage Indicate Unconditional Election?

“…but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

What the text does indicate: The concept of election is nothing new if you study your Bible. The scripture is quite clear that God chose us from the foundation of the world, so it should come as no surprise that we were chosen unto salvation before having done any good or evil. It is evident then that election is not according to works, but according to the will of God who calls us.

What the text does not indicate: It does not imply that God simply chooses some and rejects others in some seemingly arbitrary manner. It states that He loved Jacob and despised Esau, but gives no conditions or lack thereof. And while it is true that election is not according to works, it is according to the foreknowledge of God (Romans 8:29-30, 1 Peter 1:2), which would indicate that there are conditions concerning those whom He elects apart from their works. This text therefore lends no credence to the concept of unconditional election.

But Doesn’t God Show Mercy to Whomever He Wills?

“What shall we say then? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then [it is] not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

As opposed to what? Showing mercy to whomever He does not will? Now that would make some interesting theology.

What the text does indicate: Paul is simply saying that God is perfectly just in choosing His elect before they are born, I don’t recall disagreeing with that point. It also states plainly that God’s mercy to His elect is not of us, but comes from Him.

What the text does not indicate: There is no hint that God requires nothing of those whom He chooses to save. In fact, the exact opposite is indicated throughout the scripture.

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” [James 4:6 (see also Proverbs 3:34 and 1 Peter 5:5)]

This would imply that election and receiving of God’s grace are not earned or merited by works, but still conditional. Election coming from God and not from us and Him setting conditions to us receiving His mercy are not mutually exclusive ideas. To say that this passage of scripture implies that there are no conditions to receiving God’s mercy simply because it is according is to His will is to flatly assume that God wills to elect people unconditionally — a classic case of begging the question. This portion then is proof only of election, not unconditional election as has often been purported.

Doesn’t God Harden the Hearts of Those Whom He Does Not Wish to Save?

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will [have mercy], and whom He will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed [it], Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [His] wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory…”

What the text does indicate: That God both shows mercy and hardens the hearts of whom He wills, making some into vessels of His mercy and others into the vessels of His wrath by hardening them against the truth, and is not unrighteous in doing so.

What the text does not indicate: That God hardens the non-elect because He does not desire that they be saved.

Reading this passage in a vacuum, Calvinists conclude that God must harden people because He simply does not want them to be saved (presumably because Christ did not die for them, what they call limited atonement). Based on this interpretation, they attack the meaning of passages like this regularly:


“For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have
[i.e. desires] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

But the ninth chapter of Romans is meant to be interpreted in the context of the rest of the book it was written in as well; take a look at Romans chapter 1 (emphasis mine):

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [Him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity…” (Romans 1:18-29)

Far from the picture the Calvinists paint from the text a few chapters ahead in the same book, Romans 1 clearly states that God darkens peoples hearts and gives them over to a wicked mind because they reject and forget Him. Romans chapter 9 simply states that God hardens the hearts of whomever He wishes, which should be taken in the context of what Romans chapter 1 has already stated. This text is no proof of limited atonement or unconditional election; but it is proof of God’s absolute power over the human heart, and that God bears with and uses even those who hate Him for His greater glory. I once watched a friend of mine who was quite a proficient potter at his wheel. A good potter has absolute control over the clay he molds; and in the same way, God’s sovereignty extends to and supersedes the human will. Though the Bible does indicate that free will exists, it is apparent that it is a free will ultimately limited by the will of God. But this is no cause for concern if you remain in Christ and follow His teachings, for it is also written:


“Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. ” (
1 John 2:24)

Bottom Line:

  • Romans chapter 9 addresses the issues of God’s election of, mercy to, and hardening the hearts of men.

  • There is no evidence in the entire passage that election unto salvation and God’s mercy are unconditional, nor that God hardens the hearts of men because He does not wish them to be saved.

  • There is ample evidence throughout the Bible that God desires that all men be saved, but that His election unto salvation is conditional.

Calvinism and Free Will, an Exegetical Vindication of Matthew 23:37

[Guest article by Kangaroodort; originally published on my old site in 2007]

Arminians have long pointed to Matthew 23:37 to respond to the Calvinist doctrines of determinism, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.

Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect (particular atonement), that he has decreed whatsoever shall come to pass in human history (determinism- no human free will as pertains to true contingencies), and that man has nothing to do with his own salvation (monergism), which necessitates their doctrine of irresistible grace.

Matt. 23:37 poses serious problems for all of these doctrinal positions. It would seem that though Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews, they were not saved. They were not saved because they were unwilling. If this be the case, then Calvinism cannot stand. Why?

Calvinists believe in unconditional election and reprobation. God determined from all eternity who would be saved and who would be damned. This determination was unconditional. This choice was according to God’s good pleasure. It pleased God to unconditionally elect some for eternal life. It also pleased God to unconditionally reprobate others to eternal punishment [this may be an active or passive reprobation]. Arminians feel that any such choice, if truly unconditional, would make God arbitrary. Very few Calvinists want to claim such a word as a description of God. They contend that God’s choice was not arbitrary but was still unconditional. If God’s choice was not arbitrary, then he must have had some reason for choosing one and rejecting the other. The Calvinist avoids this conclusion by appealing to God’s inscrutable counsel. God had a reason, but it had nothing to do with those being chosen or rejected, and it is simply beyond our understanding. This is the approach taken by Peterson and Williams in Why I Am Not An Arminian. They state, “His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” [pg. 66] The Arminian finds this unacceptable given the clear Biblical assertion that one is saved or rejected based on whether or not that person believes the gospel or continues in unbelief (Jn. 3:16-18, 36). The Arminian contends as strongly as the Calvinist for the Biblical doctrine of election, but believes that God’s decision to elect was based on the free response of his creatures to either accept or reject the gift of salvation.

Matt. 23:37 lines up perfectly with the Arminian view. In the Arminian view God genuinely desires that all of his creatures be saved (see also Ezk. 18:31, 32; 33:10, 11; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3). If they are not saved, it is due to their own refusal of God’s gracious gift, and not because God has unconditionally determined from all eternity to damn them (Hosea 11:1-2; Jer. 13:15-17; Rom. 10:21; Heb. 3:7-13). The Calvinist feels that determinism is the only way to reconcile human choices with God’s sovereignty1. There is no room for libertarian free will in their theology. Some Calvinists then deal with these passages by dividing God’s will into parts which are plainly contradictory. They maintain that God does not desire the eternal death of the wicked while at the same time unconditionally determining from all eternity that some should remain wicked, never know his saving grace, and perish eternally, according to his good pleasure. Here is pictured a God who stretches his hands out to the perishing while refusing to give them the grace they need to be saved. He can say that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, while secretly desiring and guaranteeing their eternal death. The Arminian points out the inherent facade and is met with responses like, “God’s ways and thoughts are high above ours; his counsel is inscrutable”, or “Who are you O’ man to talk back to God?” etc. John Wesley summed up the problem well,

Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite “all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors in his name, “to preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. He himself “preached deliverance to the captives” [Luke 4:18] without any hint of restriction or limitation. But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possibly induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not. And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for him, even while he is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel?” [cf. Ezek. 18:31]. “Why” (might one of them reply), “because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us.” Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour? [Excerpt from Predestination Calmly Considered; Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2, pg. 97]

Consider the Lord’s words to Judah in Jeremiah 13:15-17,

Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.”

With regards to this passage, Walls and Dongell make the following observation,

Knowing that Judah did not turn and listen, the Calvinist concludes that God had already chosen to withhold his transforming grace from them, though he could easily have granted it. So while the text seems to identify Judah’s pride as the root cause of punishment, the Calvinist instead concludes that Judah’s ability to repent depends on God’s eternally fixed plan. Again, although the text seems to identify salvation as God’s deepest desire, the Calvinist must conclude that at a deeper level God never intended to bestow transforming grace on Jeremiah’s hearers. In other words, the true intentions of God cannot be discerned from his words. [Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 57- emphasis in original]

It would seem that some Calvinists are rather uncomfortable with appealing solely to contradictory wills within God, and prefer rather to undertake exegetical wrangling in order to conform these passages to the tenets of Calvinist theology. This is the approach taken by James White in, The Potter’s Freedom. His handling of Matthew 23:37 is revealing, and ultimately does more harm than good for his position.

In Chapter 6, Mr. White attempts to explain away what he refers to as Norman Geisler’s “Big Three” verses to which he makes constant appeal in his book (Matt. 23:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9). His treatment of Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matt. 23:37 is not only problematic, but detrimental to his Calvinism. The passage reads, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This passage seems to plainly indicate that Christ genuinely desired the salvation of the Jews (cf. Ezk. 18:30-32; 33:11), but their unwillingness prevented him from saving them. Mr. White wastes no time in helping us understand that we have it all wrong, and this should be very plain to us if we would just focus very hard on the context. The passage in question comes after a lengthy rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes for being blind guides, hypocrites, etc. Therefore, Mr. White concludes that when Jesus says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, he is not speaking of the Jews in general, or Jerusalem personified, but the leaders of Jerusalem (the hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes), and saying that he wanted to gather their children [in some sense, then, the Jews are the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s children?], but these corrupt leaders were not willing [to let Jesus gather “their”, i.e. the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s] children to himself, and therefore it was not the children themselves that were not willing. Mr. White concludes, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’…This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism.” [pg. 138]

This “exegesis” is problematic for several reasons. First, it is hard to fit the further comments made by Jesus of these people (in verses 38, and 39) with the idea that Christ is only addressing these corrupt leaders. It is to the same people that Christ says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” [vs.39] If Mr. White’s interpretation is accurate, then this statement must also be directed to the wicked Scribes and Pharisees. Were they the same who would call him “Blessed” when they saw him again? Such an interpretation does not seem to fit the historical context, for the Scribes and Pharisees certainly saw Christ again after this event and continued to be hostile towards his ministry to the point of securing his death. If Christ is speaking of the final restoration of Israel, as many scholars believe, then surely all of the people of Jerusalem are in view and not just the Scribes and Pharisees. Again, if Christ was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees that he had just rebuked, it is quite clear that none of them survived to see Israel’s final restoration. Even If we apply these passages to the triumphal entry (as very few scholars seem willing to do), it was the common people who called him “blessed”, and the Pharisees who called on Christ to rebuke them. Mr. White does not even address these verses in his book.

Second, this same lament is recorded in Luke 13:34-35 in a completely different context; one which will not so easily lead to Mr. White’s conclusions (in Luke, the Pharisees are trying to protect Jesus from Herod). Mr. White does not even mention the Luke account.

Third, there is no exegetical warrant for making such a strong distinction between “Jerusalem” and the “children” of Jerusalem. Such was a common use of Biblical language to use two terms to describe the same object. In the Old Testament We find God both calling his people “Israel”, and the “children of Israel”. Consider the word usage in Jeremiah Chapter 4, “At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, ‘A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them…O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved…Tell this to the nations, proclaim it in Jerusalem…Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment…My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.” [11, 14, 16, 18, 22, NIV-emphasis mine] It is clear that, in these passages, The Lord speaks to the city, the people, and the children as the same entity. When Jeremiah speaks of Jerusalem it is an obvious personification of those who live within the city, for he says of Jerusalem, “wash the evil from your heart”. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, the city is about to be destroyed due to the sin of its people. These are the very people whom the Lord desired to save. Their destruction is deserved due to their continual rebellion. They were “unwilling” to submit to their Lord, but instead killed those sent to them who were calling them to repentance. They will compound these sins by rejecting and killing the very Son of God. The city will therefore suffer destruction, and the rebellious “children”, unless they repent, will suffer the loss of their eternal souls,

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” [NAS- Luke 19:41-44-emphasis mine].

Notice that in this parallel lament Christ says that the city’s enemies will level “you” and “your children within you”. If we assume again that “Jerusalem” is shorthand for the leaders of Jerusalem, then we need to explain how “your children” can be within these corrupt leaders [Jerusalem]. Obviously, as in Matt. 23:37, Jerusalem is personified, and is not a reference to leaders as contrasted with the common people of the city.

The fourth and most glaring problem comes from the fact that if we accept Mr. White’s “exegesis”, it creates an even bigger problem for his Reformed doctrines. Remember, according to Calvinism, God is sovereign over his creatures to such an extent that they have nothing to do with their own salvation (monergism). When God desires to save his elect, nothing can stop him, not even the unwillingness of the rebellious sinner (God will simply “make” him “willing”). Man can do nothing to thwart God’s saving purposes, they are irresistible. This is the very doctrine that Mr. White is trying to preserve with his “exegesis” of Matt. 23:37. But does he succeed?

Listen again to Mr. White’s explanation, “Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow him to ‘gather’.” [pg. 138] He reinforces this by connecting it to a previous verse [13], “But woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from the people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” [138] Mr. White, then, trades one problem in for another, for the text plainly states that the Pharisees and Scribes were not allowing those who were entering to go in!! Now we have really opened a can of worms! If those who are saved are the ones that God has unconditionally elected from all eternity, how could anyone, including the Scribes and Pharisees, prevent them from entering in? How could they possibly “shut off the kingdom of heaven” from them? How could anyone “not allow [Jesus] to gather” them to himself? If they are the elect, then nobody can effectively “shut off the kingdom” from them; and if they are reprobates, it is God who has “shut off the kingdom” from them (by refusing them his saving grace), and not the Pharisees! And if they are reprobates without hope (for God has eternally and unconditionally decreed to reject them), then in what sense could Christ possibly have “longed” to gather them unto himself? Perhaps Mr. White did not think through the ramifications of his conclusions, or perhaps he just hoped that we would not. Whether we accept the traditional Arminian interpretation, or Mr. White’s proposed exegesis, Calvinism still suffers a fatal blow.

1 The Arminian typically holds to a libertarian view of free will. This view maintains that when a person makes a choice, he could just as truly have chosen otherwise. The person himself is the cause of his choice, gives weight to the options presented to him, and is therefore truly responsible for his choices. Calvinism typically holds to either determinism or compatibilism. For an excellent treatment on the various views of human freedom, see Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pp. 96-153.

Limited Atonement and the Divine Command to Believe Falsehood

(Revised 11/30/2014, removed a paragraph with little relevance and revised/expanded the conclusion. Much thanks to members of the Society of Evangelical Arminians for their feedback)

When Christians who aren’t from a Calvinist tradition hear about limited atonement, something usually seems entirely wrong about the idea. Indeed, in the face of having no clear biblical data to support such an idea, a substantial body of passages that seem to indicate just the opposite, along with numerous logical difficulties, something just seems entirely wrong with the idea that Christ didn’t die for the sins of a great many people.

Many times, an incorrect belief by itself isn’t particularly harmful, but if taken to its inevitable conclusions, tends to produce great inconsistencies. Limited atonement, if taken in conjunction with the common Calvinist beliefs about the gospel call, inevitably leads to the conclusion that God commands people to believe falsehood. I’ll start by postulating and defending the necessary premises.

Premise 1: God’s command for the non-elect to believe the gospel requires that they must believe that Christ can save them.

For the first part of the premise, we need only establish that the command to believe is given to all, including the non-elect (if limited atonement is true, the term ‘non-elect’ here describes the people for whom Christ did not die to save). Surprisingly, despite their belief in limited atonement, Calvinists are usually among the first to agree that the everyone, elect and non-elect, are commanded by God to believe the gospel.

“First, the preaching of Paul goes out to all, both Jews and Greeks. This is the general call of the gospel. It offers salvation to all who will believe on the crucified Christ. But by and large it falls on unreceptive ears and is called foolishness.” (John Piper, What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism)

“I can proclaim God’s command to repent and believe to all men, and I can do so with passion, not because I pretend to look into God’s heart and mind, but because I know the reality of God’s wrath, the sin of man, and I believe implicitly the promise of God that anyone who turns in faith to Christ will be saved.” (James White, “Phil Johnson on ‘Desire'”)

“If we take the command to believe, with the promise of life upon so doing, for an offer of mercy, there is an eternal truth in it; which is, that God will assuredly bestow life and salvation upon all believers, the proffers being immediately declarative of our duty; secondly, of the concatenation of faith and life, and not at all of God’s intention towards the particular soul to whom the proffer is made….” (John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

“The commission He has given His servants is to preach the Gospel to every creature, and they certainly have not fully obeyed until they bid their hearers “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Whom God quickens, is His own affair; ours is to faithfully warn the unsaved, to show wherein their sins consists (enmity against God), to bid them to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him, to call upon them to repent (Acts 17:30), to proclaim the One who receives all who come to Him in faith.” (A.W. Pink, Duty-Faith)

“It is a command to enter and not to enter is disobedience. That is why judgment falls on those, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, “The retribution of God comes to those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. You obey because the gospel is a command. When you share the gospel, you command people to believe. You command people to repent so that it is crystal clear that what they have done is obey or disobey. That’s why I say invitation is not a word that is consistent with commanding. Better to finish your sermon with a command than an invitation.” (John MacArthur, “Two Paths, One Way”)

“We see that God commands men everywhere to repent, Acts 17:30, but it is God who grants repentance 2 Timothy 2:25. We see that God commands people to believe in him yet he opens their hearts to believe, as he did with Lydia in Acts 16:14….” (Matt Slick, Matt Slick vs Lou Rugg Discussion on difficult questions)

It seems that only a far-left-field-hyper-Calvinist could deny that the command to believe is given to everyone. Slick’s comment cites a key passage that makes it clear that the command to believe the gospel is for everyone, everywhere.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17:30)

Disobeying such a command is mentioned as being among the reasons that sinners are condemned.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

The command from God Himself, which goes from the mouths of His servants is for all, even people who ultimately end up being false teachers.

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21)

Notice that they turned aside from the holy commandment given to them, not a command given only to others.

1b. Obedience to the gospel entails believing that Christ can save you

Christians since the beginning have understood that believing in Christ is more than just assent that He died and rose (as James also notes, even the demons believe that). True and living faith in Christ requires that we trust in His work on the cross, and in Him as our Savior. Herein lies the second part of the premise: that the aforementioned command requires that they believe that Christ can save them. I don’t think any tenable objection can be raised to this point. One cannot trust Christ as his Savior without believing that He has power to save him.

Consider the counter-example of a lost man who has a Calvinist friend that faithfully witnesses to him. Despite not trusting Christ as his Savior, the man is convinced that limited atonement is true, and that Christ died to save some people. He’s convinced by his prior hardness of heart that he’s simply not one of the elect. As he lays dying, his Calvinist friend tries to persuade him to believe, to which he receives the sinner’s final declaration: “Therein lies life for you, but in that cross there is no hope for me.”

This man has accepted what are, according to Calvinism, the correct facts. But has he obeyed the gospel? No. By the measure of any Christian, he has rejected the gospel and rightly incurred eternal condemnation. To actually obey, he would have had to believe that Christ could save him, not just that Christ can save other people.

Thus is our first premise established: God’s command for the non-elect to believe the gospel requires that they must believe that Christ can save them.

Premise 2: If Limited Atonement is true, then the idea that Christ can save the non-elect is a lie.

Many Calvinists don’t like language that Christ cannot save certain people, but that is an inescapable ramification of limited atonement. Christ either can save one through His sacrificial death, or He cannot. Christ cannot save people for whom He did not die to save. The sacrifice has already been offered, there’s no going back and changing who it was for; there is no other sacrifice, and there is no other way. If the non-elect were excluded, that decision has already been made, and cannot be abrogated. It matters not how many sins the sacrifice was sufficient to cover, if its power to save is not applicable to a person, then Christ cannot save that person.

Thus to believe that Christ can save one of the non-elect, if limited atonement be true, would be a falsehood -often called a ‘lie’ when speaking in an objective sense.

Putting it together

Taking our premises,

P1: God’s command for the non-elect to believe the gospel requires that they must believe that Christ can save them.
P2: If Limited Atonement is true, then the idea that Christ can save the non-elect is a lie.
Conclusion: If Limited Atonement is true, God’s command for the non-elect to believe the gospel requires that they must believe a lie.

Conclusion

And herein lies a major inconsistency that holding to limited atonement yields. In short, if 5-point Calvinism is true, then God effectively commands the non-elect to trust in Christ to save them, when He’s already limited Christ’s atoning sacrifice such that He can never save them!

Besides the readily apparent absurdity of God commanding people to believe what is false, such an inconsistency raises other problems: Accepting and obeying the gospel is characterized throughout the New Testament as belief in the truth, while refusing to do so is opposition to the truth (c.f. John 8:32, Romans 2:8, 15:8 Galatians 2:5, 5:7, Colossians 1:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, 2 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:25, 3:8, Titus 1:1, James 5:19). Contrary to that description, if Calvinism is true, then the man in our example above is accepting the objective truth and rejecting a falsehood in his rejection of Christ as his Savior. Worse than that, not only is he believing the truth in his rejection of Christ, but he’s condemned for doing so!

Truly, one’s theology is built on shaky ground if it entails that God condemns men for believing the truth. I for one could not swallow such a preposterous ramification. The word of the Lord, especially the proclamation of the gospel -the holy commandment to trust in Christ for one’s salvation- is not given to induce anyone to believe deception. Christ Himself states,

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:7)

Calvinists should sustain the admirable zeal to proclaim the gospel to all people. Let us all do that without hampering it with tertiary doctrine that would lead to confusing and unscriptural ideas, such as God commanding a great many of those people to believe a lie.

Debate With Turretin Fan, Rebuttal Essays

[Turretinfan’s Rebuttal Essay]

Perseverance of the Saints is consistent with the Scriptures. It is particularly consistent with the basic theme that God’s love is an unconditional love, that God is able to prevent apostasy, and that it is within Christ’s desire to save to the uttermost those he wishes to save. Furthermore, the concept of saved again / lost again / saved again is completely foreign to Scripture, as is the concept of Christ losing any that the Father gives to him.

In short, when we look at the specific passages that JCT has picked out, we realize that there are reasonable explanations of the verses that harmonize them with the rest of what we know about God. Furthermore, we find that the sense JCT has proposed for those verses actually forces the verses into more or less contradiction with other parts of Scripture.

Thus, not only has the “negative” side of this debate established that there are reasonable sense of the relevant verses consistent with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but in fact the “negative” side has established that the alternative sense proposed by JCT is not itself a reasonable interpretation of the verses.

At the heart of the matter, it seems as though JCT feels that the verses should only be there to describe a situation that is contrary both to the best interests of the person involved, and contrary to God’s own desires. Such an interpretation of the verse would require us, in essence, to discard our theology away from a theology including an omnipotent God, since it would in essence declare that God’s attempt to save genuine believers sometimes does not succeed to the uttermost.

Accordingly, we can conclude that contrary to the resolution, the doctrine that teaches that genuine Christians cannot end up in hell (whether due to unfaithfulness or any other reason) is and must be coordinate with the true sense of the largely unrelated passages of Matthew 5:27-30, Hebrews 4:9-11, and Revelation 22:18-19.

(Source)

[My Rebuttal Essay]

TF hurls a few elephants in claiming that I contradict scriptural principles, yet can cite no clear evidence as to how specifically. Apostasy wouldn’t require that God be less-than-omnipotent, merely that He allow its occurrence. His ‘reasonable explanations’ of the passages cited collide with problems I’ve already presented:

  • His interpetation of Matthew 5 explains nothing of how avoiding sin helps one enter into life (Matthew 18, Mark 9).
  • His suggestion that I’m confused concerning Hebrews 4 is confuted by his admission that conditions for Christian and heavenly life aren’t mutually exclusive (second response). He also grossly misrepresents my view as, ‘[by] works,’ which was nowhere suggested.
  • His view of Revelation 22 is self-contradictory: The unsaved aren’t being told what awaits them, since he denies that anyone’s part in New Jerusalem will ever really be taken.

His calls them ‘pastoral warnings,’ given to move believers to perseverance; but his case upon examination falls apart, answering nothing as to why God threatens consequences of damnation to those who can supposedly never suffer them. When finally asked how the consequences specifically would spur one on if they are not real-world possibilities, he appeals to a ‘logical connection’ between warnings and consequences, with no explanation as to how such a connection with what (in his view) amounts to an absurdity could spur on anyone.

His answer to the last question (which follows through with his ‘hypothetical’ interpretation), destroys his argument’s credibility entirely when he states, Hypothetical questions are dangerous, especially when they contradict reality. A ‘logical connection’ to a consequence that ‘contradicts reality’ won’t spur anyone on to anything. People aren’t motivated by what they’re told are hypothetical bluffs, they don’t strive to serve God for the sake of what they think is a hollow myth, and they aren’t driven to persevere by ‘logical connections’ to fairy-tales with no connection to reality –which is exactly what Calvinism makes the consequences of the warnings out to be.

Opening statements
Cross-exam, my questions
Cross-exam, TF’s questions

[Though we were slated for one more essay each, the debate ended here]

Perseverance & Warning Passages Debate With Turretinfan: Cross Exam, TF’s Questions

#1 Is God’s love for those humans whom he loves conditional on their behavior, or is God’s love for them unconditional on their behavior?

‘Love’ as it pertains to salvific effectuation is not conditioned upon behavior (in terms of good works) itself, but upon a relationship with Christ (good works being an outworking). God loves all sinners in that He has no pleasure in their deaths and desires their repentance (Ezekiel 33:11), but savingly loves those who receive and abide in Christ.

Continued faith and perseverance are not only qualities of Christian life, but conditions to eternal life. All the promises of God for salvation, preservation, spiritual life, and forgiveness of sin hinge upon remaining in His Son: we remain saved because we persevere in Christ, not vice-versa, for the promises are only for those who by faith and patience inherit them (Hebrews 6:12). Not surprising, since God’s promises of blessing carry conditions of faithfulness throughout scripture. To the profane Eli He says,

“‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before Me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from Me! Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained.” (1 Samuel 2:30b)

Even for one who has been known by God (and is thus born of Him), if he turns away, Christ will profit him nothing (Galatians 4:7-9, 5:2), for those who deny Christ will be disowned (2 Timothy 2:12). Such does not constitute God contradicting or denying Himself, since He Himself is the one who has justly declared the condition of perseverance, and remains steadfast to that declaration whether we remain faithful or not.

God desires that none of His apostatize, He also desires that we abstain from fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3), but does not choose to imperatively halt either from occurring, but strictly warns us against them. Such warnings are of great import, since nowhere does God promise to unalterably cause us to persevere, but rather gives us all that’s requisite to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Unlike the old covenant that the nation of Israel forfeited, the new covenant of God’s law being written on our hearts will not be broken with His chosen people -He will bring the body to completion until the day of Christ. But God’s faithfulness to His covenant does not preclude individuals that have obtained its blessings and later despise Him from being cut off: even when the old covenant was in force, those who forsook it were severed from the covenant body, those unfaithful to it forfeited its promises (Exodus 6:4, Numbers 14:30). This is not unfaithfulness on God’s part, but man’s. Likewise, we under the new covenant are warned not to be highminded about our position, but reverently fear and endure lest we incur like punishment (Romans 11:20-22).

So the love of God is in Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant and Seed to whom the promises were made, in which we share if we abide in Him, and in doing so, keep ourselves in the love of God.

#2 Given your comment, “God desires that none of His apostatize,” (yet seemingly God might not prevent apostasy) is God able to keep people from falling away into apostasy or does something (man’s free will?) stop God from keeping them from falling?

God can do whatever He pleases within the range of His holy nature, nobody prevents Him. If God didn’t care if we apostatized, He wouldn’t give us sustaining grace enough to endure. The fact that men can still fall away despite His provision is easily reconciled by the fact that He doesn’t choose to apply His grace irresistibly. I’d pointed out this concept in 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states that God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure. ‘Can’ does not amount to ‘will;’ believers sometimes do fall, but due to our own failures, not want of God’s help.

His provision is evidenced in several passages often mistaken for support of eternal security. John 10:27-29 and Romans 8:35-39 for instance express that no one will ever tear us away from God (as countless martyrs for Christ have by their deaths triumphantly testified), but nowhere does scripture indicate that it’s impossible to willfully walk away from Him, since apostates themselves don’t separate/pluck themselves from God -scripture clarifies that God the Father Himself severs those who don’t remain in Christ (John 15:1-6). Hence, arguments such as the sealing with the Holy Spirit guaranteeing eternal security miss the mark as to how one can be lost: Since the sovereign God has both power and prerogative to cast out those who don’t abide, His own seal is no bar to Him doing so. Having the Spirit is both a gift and responsibility, for those in which the Spirit dwells are the temple of God,

…If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. (1 Corinthians 3:17b)

According to the riches of His grace, God preserves us, sustains us, and works in us to will and do His good pleasure, yet the apostles still plead with us, “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1b). God is able to keep us from stumbling and to make the weak in faith to stand (Romans 14:4), yet we are still told,

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

It’s only by God’s grace that the heart can be established in persevering, but the scriptures never portray the operation of grace as something unconditional or irresistible. Grace to endure is never merited, nor is it inescapably instilled, but when enduring temptation it’s written,

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

So God is able to keep us from falling, but doesn’t choose to do so apart from our willing cooperation (we being freed by His grace to serve Him -Hebrews 12:28), and thus He warns us against the real dangers of apostasy and exhorts us to seek Him,

…be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10b)

#3 Given your comment, “God can do whatever He pleases within the range of His holy nature, nobody prevents Him,” is it pleasing and within the range of Christ’s holy nature to save to the uttermost those whom he wishes to save by making intercession for them?

Most definitely. Just as the priests in the Old Testament made intercession for the people, so Christ eternally makes intercession for His, and is our Advocate with the Father if we sin, and the Mediator of the better covenant God has made with us. Unlike the Levitical priests which were imperfect and subject to death, Christ lives forever and is perfect, and so can save to the utmost, in contrast with the animal sacrifices by the Levite priests that could not. He being the sole way to God, our salvation wholly relies upon His mediation between ourselves and the Father. The question as far as the conditionality of salvation is concerned is not whether Christ makes intercession for us, but whether He’ll do so for one who departs from Him. He indicates that He won’t, as He states,

“But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33, similar statement made in 2 Timothy 2:12)

Some may argue that Christ’s intercession will imperatively keep all genuine believers from apostatizing, but such an idea is not found in scripture. Indeed the fact that His confession of us before the Father is conditioned upon our confession of Him indicates conditionality. Others point to Christ’s prayer in John 17,

…keep through Your name those whom You have given Me… (John 17:11b)

The conditional nature of salvation comes to light when one considers that God keeps us through faith (1 Peter 1:5), which we are exhorted to hold fast to, and told that not all have done so,

Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck… (1 Timothy 1:19)

It must be noted that Paul does not distinguish the latter as some superficial, ineffectual form of faith; nor would the exhortation to hold to faith be coherent if no one with true faith could ever forfeit it. The theme of continuance in the faith of Christ as being necessary to our being forgiven runs throughout the New Testament, many wicked acts such as unforgiveness being incompatible with saving faith:

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

This sentiment is also reflected in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. When scriptural warnings (including the three in question) indicate consequences of damnation for believers who unrepentantly commit certain sins, taking them as serious and violable is not salvation “by works” as was erroneously insinuated in the opening statements –such actions necessarily reflect a heart no longer in union with Christ.

So Christ saving those He wishes to the uttermost by making intercession for them is perfectly in line with conditional security, since the only ones He will confess before the Father are those who hold fast to their confession of Him.

#4 It appears that your position is that genuine believers can violate certain warnings, with the consequence of such violations being hellfire. Is that correct, or is the consequence merely a return to an unsaved (but re-savable) state from a saved state?

Varies. Denying Christ for instance will bring denial by Him, yet Peter repented of his denial and was restored. Speaking against the Spirit (Matthew 12:32) on the other hand, will never be forgiven. For some who have fallen into grievous sin, they can be ‘in danger of hell fire,’ but scripture indicates there’s hope of God restoring backsliders who have not sinned ‘unto death.’

If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. (1 John 5:16)

One can believe, yet be imperiled: the key is that salvation isn’t granted in its entirety when one believes, Paul writes,

…for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11b)

While the scriptures do tell us that we who believe are saved, it also indicates that final salvation isn’t obtained during earthly life:

…if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. …Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule…. (Philippians 3:11-12, 16a)

We have to a degree attained salvation through faith, but it’s ours probationally, its condition being continuance in Christ; final salvation is not attained until one has endured to the end. Romans 2 expresses that it is granted at the judgment,

“But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath….” (Romans 2:5-8)

Hence while we already possess eternal life in a sense (1 John 5:13), it is not contradictory to call it the ‘hope of eternal life’ (Titus 1:2) or to exhort a fellow believer to ‘lay hold’ on it (1 Timothy 6:12). Additionally, if eternal life were fully and finally ours now, then neglect thereof would be a non-issue,

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…? (Hebrews 2:1-3)

From the scriptural record then, some fall into sin, but are brought back; while the completely apostatized are “twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (Jude 12).

#5 Given your assertion that, “We have to a degree attained salvation through faith, but it’s ours probationally, its condition being continuance in Christ; final salvation is not attained until one has endured to the end,” what shall we make of verses that suggest salvation is unconditional on works?

Neither remaining in union with Christ nor continuing in the faith are ‘works,’ otherwise ‘justification by faith’ would be ‘justification by works.’ It would be absurd to call continuance in Christ ‘works’ for being a necessary condition for salvation, as it was even stated from the negative: [if one] were to lose union with Christ and apostatize, there would be no hope for that person.” (Turretinfan’s fifth answer). The relationship between abiding in Christ and good works was touched upon in my first answer: good works are an outworking of a relationship with Christ, for one bears good fruit by remaining in the vine. Inversely, because sin proceeds from the heart, unrepentant iniquity denotes that wickedness is overcoming one’s heart, which is immiscible with abiding in Christ.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26, 29)

Through His word, God is mighty to save and uphold His own, but this doesn’t constitute unconditional security, since He only grants such preservation based upon one’s relationship with His Son. By faith we stand (2 Corinthians 1:24), but He has no pleasure in anyone who withdraws from it (Hebrews 10:38). A believer who falls into unrepentant sin isn’t in danger because Christ “can’t forgive sin,” but because of the condition of his heart before God and his love towards Christ growing cold. If the sinner turns back to God and acknowledges his wrongdoing, God will gladly forgive him (1 John 1:9); but He rejects one who remains obstinate and proud.

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6b)

The real peril of a Christian growing proud is underscored in the warning against making elders out of new believers,

…not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6)

The fact that salvation isn’t by works then doesn’t imply that one can remain saved when in willful rebellion against God, as scripture repeatedly states (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:8) -the doom of one who turns from Christ unto wickedness being worse for him than if he’d never known Him:

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)

Therefore taking the warnings against being surmounted by sin seriously, and regarding their disastrous consequences as real-world possibilities for believers is not ‘works righteousness’ as has been erroneously claimed by some.

Opening statements
Cross-exam, my questions
Rebuttal Essays

Perseverance & Warning Passages Debate With Turretinfan: Cross Exam, My Questions

#1 How exactly would something like damnation being the consequence to violating a ‘pastoral warning’ “have use in the form of preventing the warned person from ever doing” what is warned against?

To understand how this would work, I suggest making use of an analogy. We are sheep, God is the Shepherd. Suppose that we, the flock of sheep, are feeding at pasture that has, on one side, a sheer 200 foot cliff. Falling off the cliff is “something like damnation” for a sheep.

If the shepherd wanted to keep the sheep from falling off the cliff (i.e. preventing the warned person from ever doing what is warned about), one of the ways he could do so is by warning the sheep of the danger that would befall them if they walked over the cliff. This would spur a rational sheep not to try to walk over the cliff (i.e. not to violate the pastoral warning).

On the other hand, of course, it does not mean that if it looks to the shepherd like a sheep is going to try to ignore his warnings, that he is just going to let the sheep do this thing that would be bad. No, the warning is just one of the ways that the sheep are kept from falling.

This is, of course, an analogy: but it is founded on a Biblical analogy. The Good Shepherd not only warns, exhorts, and uses his rod and staff on the sheep, the Good Shepherd even goes so far as to die for the sheep.

If there is someone who is going to fall off the cliff, it is not going to be the sheep, but the good shepherd. He’ll do everything in his power to save the sheep whom he loves. That’s true, remarkable, self-sacrificing love.

I think it’s fair to say that a genuinely loving Shepherd uses every possible tool to save the sheep he loves: from warnings of the consequences of apostasy, to discipline (in the form of various temporal chastisements), and to promises of reward as well. Thanks be to God that he does, for if he did not, we’d be as helpless as sheep without a shepherd.

Source

#2 How is being diligent to enter into eternal rest so that we do not fall after Israel’s example of unbelief (for which they did not enter that rest) a “condition of Christian life” that is mutually exclusive of being a “condition for Heavenly Life?”

Of course, being a condition of Christian life is not inherently exclusive of being a condition for Christian life. Instead, the conditions of Christian life are a superset. For example, grace from God is a condition both for and of Christian life.

In other words, we view perseverance as fitting within a logical scheme such that all believers will persevere, but not that people are believers because they persevere. Instead, people persevere because they are believers.

John’s epistle is instructive in this regard. John explains:

1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

1 John 5:18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

The apostle Peter explained the same thing, namely that we who are born again are born of incorruptible seed:

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Thus, as a result those who are born again will persevere – but not contrariwise: in other words, they are not born again because they persevere: to suggest such a thing would be to put the cart before the horse.

To return to the question, it is not that I am claiming that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. In the case of being born again, the condition is both a condition of and a condition for Christian life. Instead, I’m trying to explain that continued faith, repentance, and perseverance to the end are qualities of the Christian life.

They can serve as evidences to us, justifying us (in the sense James speaks of) in the eyes of ourselves and our fellow men. They help us to distinguish the true faith that springs from being born again (1 John 5:1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.) from a dead faith that illustrates that we continue in a state of bondage to sin, not having been freed by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Source

#3 If God unequivocally promises that the consequences of His warnings against apostasy given to the saints will never come to pass, then why should anyone pay any heed or caution to avoid them?

First: Because our paying heed and our giving caution to avoid them, is a means God has ordained to the end of our perseverance. In other words, as already explained, the cautions help us to steer clear of the danger.

Second: Because failure to heed these warnings may give rise to God taking further measures. In other words, if we do not heed these warnings, God may chastise us as sons (with a rod of correction) or as sheep (with a rod and staff), which will not be pleasant for us. Ben Franklin sagely said that experience is a dear [expensive] school, but a fool will learn in no other.

Proverbs 10:13 In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.

Proverbs 26:3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.

Third: Because God commands obedience to his warnings. It is a thoroughly sufficient reason to simply answer that God commands us to heed the warnings. That is a perfectly good reason to do something. Even when Abraham did not understand the reason why God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he obeyed, and that became a demonstration and witness of faith.

Fourth: Because we love God. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” This is connected with the previous item. Nevertheless, this is an answer to one’s naughty side that says, “Yes, it’s bad: but it’s not like God’s going to punish me eternally, right?” Love should and will constrain us from acting that way. If we love God, we will keep his commandments.

1 John 3:9-11
9Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 11For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 5:1-3
1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

Source

#4 If both the warnings against final apostasy and their consequences are given to motivate believers to persevere/avoid chastisement/obey/love/etc (as your responses indicate), yet the consequences are not even to be considered real-world possibilities, then how are the given consequences specifically meant to spur believers to perseverance?

The concept of “real-world possibilities” is inherently self-contradictory (i.e. an oxymoron) in the context of this debate.

To distinguish, the science of statistics is not meaningless. The concept of “possibility” exists. It relates to the orderly way in which many “random” events occur. Thus, for example, a meteorologist will predict the chance, possibility, or probability of rain tomorrow. Such discussion has meaning, and we speak reasonably when speak of a “fair coin” in statistical calculations.

Nevertheless, from God’s perspective, there is no such thing as “chance,” “possibility,” or “probability” (see also Ecclesiastes 9:10 and Proverbs 16:33). This is simply a logical consequences of God having omniscience: given omniscience, there is nothing left undetermined by His mind, and consequently, there is no real-world “possibility” from God’s perspective: only what will be and what will not be.

When God promises us, he communicates what will be. Thus, for example, Abraham knew that the Messiah would come, because God had promised it (though if Isaac had stayed died childless and stayed dead, God’s promise would have failed). It was not a mere possibility, but a certainty.

Because of the promise-certainty link, we can echo Paul:

Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

One might object that if no one actually apostatizes (i.e. the consequences are only in hypothesis: never actualized) then the warning lacks meaning (that seems to be the question’s unspoken premise). Two main responses come to mind:

(1) It seems absurd to suppose that a woman must sometimes let her children burn in order to give her warning meaning (all the more so, as to God’s warning to his children); and

(2) The truth value for the meaning is determined by the reality of the logical connection between the hypothetical premise (apostasy) and the hypothetical conclusion (hell).

Thus, rather than simply spurring us to obey (as already discussed in the previous answer), the consequences may promote gratitude in us for God’s grace. Just as the world’s continued existence day by day is only by God’s mercy, God does not have to prematurely end the world to make that proposition true. Likewise, God does not have to let any of his sheep perish to prove the truth of the premise consequence relationship.

Thus, the consequences specifically motivate by logical connection with their premise, as already noted in the previous answer, not by occasionally being actualized. In fact, such consequences could only be helpful to us if they are not actualized for us (just as the truth that long falls kill is helpful only to those who don’t fall).

Source

#5 Hypothetically speaking, if God did allow one who was born again and had his sins atoned for by the blood of Christ to sin by violating the scriptural warnings given against apostasy, would the violator then no longer be born again or have his sins atoned for?

Hypothetical questions are dangerous, especially when they contradict reality. That said, let me do my best to give some kind of meaningful answer.

a) Being born again (regeneration of the heart) is an event. It takes place in history.

b) Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (atonement for sins) was also an event. It also took place in history.

c) It would seem to be a fairly fundamental principle of history that what is done cannot be undone.

Thus (a) and (b) cannot cease to have happened. Nevertheless, if someone who had been born again and had received the benefit of the atonement in justification were to lose union with Christ and apostatize, there would be no hope for that person.

In other words, such apostasy would defeat the purpose of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart (regeneration) and the purpose of Christ on the cross (atonement). Indeed, this is a powerful argument for why such a hypothetical situation (as JCT’s question describes) cannot occur. God cannot contradict himself.

If we were severed from Christ, we would perish, because our life derives from him. But we can have assurance that we will persevere, because of what connects to God is God’s “great love” (πολλην αγαπην) (Ephesians 2:4).

If God divorced us for our sins, we would perish. But the Lord is the God who hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). Instead, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

In short, the hypothetical situation will not arise, because if it did, it would violate the principle enunciated in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

God accomplishes what he wants to accomplish. What is that? “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” John 6:39 And again, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Source

Opening statements
Cross-exam, TF’s questions
Rebuttal Essays

Debate With Turretin Fan, Opening Statements

[This debate was in response to a challenge by Turretinfan over an article I wrote, challenging the idea of inevitable perseverance with facts from scripture]

[My Affirmative Constructive Essay]

I wrote a challenge to Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints some time back to show that the concept of eternal security was incompatible with several key warning passages in scripture. An important principle of scriptural interpretation is that passages that are clearer should guide our understanding of those which are not as clear. Though many places in the Bible warn against falling away, I chose these particular three for two main reasons:

1.) Clarity of address, and 2.) clarity of consequence.

Matthew 5:27-30 – Escaping the snares of wickedness is not advice that would benefit one who was unregenerate, much less allow him to enter into life (see the parallel passages in Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:47). Christ’s words were plainly directed at those who follow Him. The consequence of being overcome by sin is hell fire, it doesn’t get much clearer.

Hebrews 4:9-11 – The context of the whole discourse pertains to those who believe, notably where the author states that “we who have believed do enter into that rest,” and when he concludes his call to perseverance by stating of himself and those he addresses, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The rest being spoken of can only be eternal rest given the context. Note that it is not something achieved when one believes, for we who have believed are entering it (verse 3), further indicated by verse 10, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”

Revelation 22:18-19 – The consequence of having one’s part in the holy city taken being only applicable to those who possess a share of the heavenly inheritance, who is being addressed specifically isn’t hard to determine. Having one’s part in the holy city taken can realistically amount to nothing else than eternal separation from Christ.

Unlike many of the warnings in scripture which Calvinists write off as applying only to the unsaved or speaking of loss of tertiary rewards, these warnings with eternal and damning consequences are addressed to the regenerate specifically, eliminating any possibility of chalking them up to the “almost saved” or “false professors. Such clarity also renders the eternal securist arguments of violators getting their ‘potential’ eternal reward taken from them rather weak, such arguments made even more ridiculous by the Calvinist position, which effectively has God threatening to revoke an inheritance that He never planned on giving them.

The clarity with which these warnings are delivered has driven many Calvinists to view the passages as entirely hypothetical. Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms ‘hypothetical’ and ‘possible.’ This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it’s ‘possible,’ but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur).

With that in mind, it would be much easier for Reformed theologians to reconcile their views with just a command to persevere, but the consequences given with these divine warnings (especially Revelation 22:19, which pertains directly to the possession of the believer) pose a major problem in that the Reformed view of Perseverance turns them into absurd impossibilities contingent upon more absurd impossibilities. If a genuine believer falling into damnation would imply a change in the very nature of God (as was stated at Dordt), and hence God Himself ensures that such warnings can never be violated by believers, then Calvinism essentially makes these divine warnings say, “Don’t do something God won’t allow, or He’ll do something He would never do,” putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness.

It’s true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth. In contrast, these warnings are not at all framed as anything speculative or hypothetical, nor does anything in the text suggest as much. Hence reinterpreting, “If you take away from this book, God will take away your part in His kingdom” as merely, “If God were to allow such a thing (which He won’t), then you would lose your part in His kingdom” is naught but wholly unjustified filtering of scripture through a dogmatic lens. The absolute negative of those consequences being, in the Calvinist view, due to and absolutely necessitated by the very faithfulness of God, one can only wonder as to why God would cast doubt upon His own faithfulness by proclaiming such consequences upon the redeemed who violate His command, without even a hint of the “but that could never happen” qualification that Calvinists are so quick to add.

The eternal securist defenses against the clear implications in these passages then fall far short of being either sound or convincing. Many instead like to point to assurances of salvation given in scripture as evidence against its conditionality, but a promise does not negate its own conditions — assurance with accompanying conditions is still conditional assurance. Bottom line, the Calvinist view of perseverance cannot be soundly reconciled with the scriptural warnings against believers falling into damnation:

Scripture says, “Be diligent lest you come up short!”

Calvinism adds, “But you can’t possibly come up short!”

Scripture says, “Take heed lest you fall!”

Calvinism counters, “You never can and never will fully fall away.”

Scripture says, “Do not be high-minded, but fear.”

Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there’s no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect.

[Turretinfan’s Negative Constructive Essay]

Negative Constructive – Perseverance of the Saints is Consistent with Scriptures
By TurretinFan

This debate is ultimately about whether the Reformed Doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” can be reasonably reconciled with three passages of Scripture. I’ll address each in turn and provide at least one reasonable alternative, thereby demonstrating that the passages can be understood consistently with that body of soteriology commonly called Calvinism. Afterwards, I’ll address miscellaneous points identified by JCT.

Matthew 5:27-30

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Matthew 5:27-30 is that it is teaching that regenerate people can sin badly enough that they will be cast into hell-fire. An alternative explanation is that Jesus is explaining that lusting after a woman is a sin of sufficient gravity to merit eternal damnation, and that consequently merely abstaining from physical acts of adultery is insufficient to fulfill the law of God. After all, if we repent and trust in Christ not only lusting after a woman but also the physical act of adultery will be forgiven.

Hebrews 4:9-11

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Hebrews 4:9-11 is that we do not have eternal rest yet, and consequently must keep on believing/working in order to obtain that. We agree that we do not yet have eternal rest, for that is a reference to heaven. Furthermore, the point of the passage is that since we have not reached the fulfillment of the Sabbath, we must continue to work. Nevertheless, as verse 9 indicates, the people of God have a future rest coming. JCT’s objection seems to confuse a condition of Christian life (to live on Earth is to work) with a condition for Heavenly Life (as though we receive heavenly rest not by grace but works). Verse 16 of the same chapter dispels this misconception.

Revelation 22:18-19

JCT seems to suggest that the only reasonable meaning of Revelation 22:18-19 is that people can only have a part in the holy city if they were regenerate. An alternative explanation is that those are being addressed who think they have a part. The elect will heed the warning, and the rest will be warned of what awaits them. After all, the command is – in essence – a command to believe the Scriptures. Those who willfully subtract from Scriptures refuse to believe what it says. Such an action is inconsistent with Faith in the Word and the Spirit.

Miscellaneous Issues

JCT acknowledges that some folks have interpreted warning passages in Scripture as entirely hypothetical. JCT responds that the “Key to understanding where the error lies in such a position is how they employ the terms ‘hypothetical’ and ‘possible.’ This is not the same as being unsure whether the consequences are actual possibilities or not: in the Calvinist view, such a result must be strictly speculative. Some will say it’s ‘possible,’ but not possible in a sense that it could ever come to pass, thus not a genuine possibility (since in their view, it will definitely never occur).”

JCT seems in this objection to confuse “will” with “could.” For example, it will not happen that genuine believers will eventually go to hell, but we could imagine how it may be that they could do so, if a different set of circumstances were present. For example, if genuine believers were not loved by God, God could let them separate themselves from Him. Objecting that such a description is “strictly speculative” or not a “genuine possibility” may or may not be accurate, but it is not a rebuttal.

JCT parodies the hypothetical interpretation this way, “‘Don’t do something God won’t allow, or He’ll do something He would never do,’ putting scripture through mind-boggling contortions to accommodate 16th century doctrinal silliness.” But the response is to turn to Genesis 15:8-18, where God in essence swears that he will do what he promises, or that he will be divided. One could parody this is as, “God promises not do something that he says he won’t do, or He’ll do something that he would never do.” Is that for the accommodation of “doctrinal silliness”? Surely not.

Indeed, JCT acknowledges that “It’s true that impossible and completely speculative statements are occasionally made in scripture, Jeremiah 31:35-37 comes immediately to mind, where one is used to express that God being unfaithful is as feasible as a man being able to measure heaven and earth.” JCT goes on to contrast these to the warnings discussed above, and properly so. These are not examples of hyperbole. Nevertheless, warnings for believers – even if they are warnings of dire consequences can have more than one purpose.

One purpose would be prophetic: you will do this, and you will fall. Another purpose, however, is pastoral: if you do this, you will fall. A pastoral warning can have use in the form of preventing the warned person from ever doing the “this.” The usual analogy is one’s child playing by the fire. We may properly warn the child that if they fall into the fire, they will be burnt to a crisp, without having the least intention of letting that happen. Why does JCT seem to want God from treating us like children?

JCT makes a final appeal to ineffectuality: “Calvinism, despite any doubletalk about God filling us with fear and trembling, effectively states that there’s no reason to fear such warnings because God will never allow such consequences to occur, making the word of God of no effect.” It is interesting that JCT would make this sort of claim. Yes, the fear of Calvinism is not the sort of servile fear in which man fears that he will do something that will separate himself from the love of God. No, it is a recognition of the power and majesty of the Most Holy God.

Sola Deo Gloria,

-Turretinfan

Source

Cross-exam, my questions
Cross-exam, TF’s questions
Rebuttal Essays

Answering Greg Elmquist’s "Four Unanswerable Questions"

I came across a writing some time back by Pastor Greg Elmquist called, ‘Four Unanswerable Questions,’ which I’ve seen copied and pasted by Calvinists on forums as evidence that the doctrines espoused in Arminianism could not possibly be true. I decided to examine each of these supposed unsolvable Calvinist conundrums for myself and find out if there was a scriptural and logical answer to them. I’ll be going over his essay, which will be in italics, and my thoughts and commentary will be in normal type.

Greg starts out,

“There are four lies being told in Orlando today.”

I’ve been to Orlando, I’m pretty sure I counted more than that; but Greg is about to add a few more to the list.

“Modern, man-centered, Christ dethroning religionist would have us believe…”

At least he’s not poisoning the well….he then goes on to tell what those lies are:

“God loves everyone;”

Oh! How awful!

“it is God’s will for everyone to be saved;”

Nooooo!

“Christ died for everyone;”

The horror! The horror!

“and the Holy Spirit draws the saved and condemned alike.”

Eeeeeeek!!! Hide the children (at least the condemned ones)!

“These are well established suppositions, rarely questioned for their truthfulness.”

For rather obvious reasons.

“To call them into question is to unmask the faulty foundation of a false gospel and kindle the wrath of those desperate to protect their traditions.”

Or possibly reveal the terrible logic Elmquist employs in trying to harass other Christians with his bizarre doctrine and incite widespread laughter as it is refuted without any difficulty. He then gets to the questions:

1) “What sayeth the Scripture?” “The Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:13). God’s love is a holy love. He can no more love unrighteousness than He can cease to be holy. God’s love is for Christ, in Christ, and through Christ. Everything outside of Christ is under the condemnation and wrath of God. He has loved His elect with an everlasting love, having chosen them in Him before the foundation of the world.
Question #1: If God loves all men, those who receive eternal life as well as those who suffer eternal damnation, what does the love of God have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for without the love of God no one could be saved, but God’s love for men does not preclude the fact that He requires sinners to receive Jesus Christ to be saved.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: God does hate unrighteousness, yet still does have love for sinners, else He could not love the elect while they were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

2) What does the Bible say about God’s will and salvation? “Having predestined us according to the good pleasure of His Will” (Eph. 1:5). “Having made known to us the mystery of His Will according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” “I will have mercy upon whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Rom 9:15-18). “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wills” (Jn. 5:21).
Question #2: If God wills for all men to be saved, what does the will of God have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for no one can come to Christ apart from the will of God. Yes God is willing that all be saved, yet is not willing to do so apart from Christ; and so He, foreknowing that not all would believe, did not choose everyone.

3) What do the Scriptures say about the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross? Did He die for all men? “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:14). “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). If Christ purposed to die for all men, did He not have the power to accomplish His purpose? God forbid! Did He die to make men savable or did He die to accomplish the salvation of a chosen people?
Question #3: If Christ shed His precious blood for all men, what does the work of Christ on the cross have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for Christ’s is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins, but receiving pardon by it is conditioned on faith.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: He cites scriptures that say that Christ died for the elect (which is obviously true), yet none of them say that Christ died for only the elect and none else. In his disgustingly biased proof-texting frenzy, he simultaneously ignores numerous passages that testify to the fact that Christ died for all men (1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:6, Hebrews 2:9). He also raises the old canard about Christ only making men savable, not factoring in foreknowledge.

Do the math: men now savable by the grace of God + foreknowledge that they will believe = accomplished salvation

4) What does God say about the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption? Are sinners dead (Eph. 2:1) in need of regeneration, or just sick in need of a little reformation? “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Cor. 3:6).
Question #4: If the Holy Spirit draws the saved and the condemned alike, what does the Holy Spirit have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: *SIGH* Everything, since no one can come to God otherwise. This has no bearing on the fact that some men resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) and refuse to believe.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: He makes an indirect appeal for the need to be regenerated before one believes, which is simply absurd. Grace is needed before one believes, yes, I believe that, but spiritual life comes by faith through the name of Christ.

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31)

“The Truth: Salvation is of the Lord!”

Thanks…I don’t think anyone is arguing that point.

“Don’t believe a lie, it will damn your soul.”

It can also make you into a ranting, paranoid dogmatist with awful critical thinking skills and no discernment for sound doctrine.

Elmquist’s supposed Gordian Knot is easily sliced with the sword of the Spirit. The logical fallacy that he consistently employs is assuming that if some salvific operation of God (His love, His will, the death of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit) does not irresistibly produce salvation, then it can have nothing to do with salvation at all, which is rather extreme all-or-nothing reasoning. His reasoning here is akin saying, “If suicide prevention counseling ever fails to prevent a suicide, then the counseling can have nothing to do at all with preventing suicides.” Such painfully oversimplified logic and excessively dichomatic thinking is the hallmark of cults everywhere, said mentality showing itself further in pastor Elmquist’s other teachings, such as that if you believe that you were saved as an Arminian (even if you’re a Calvinist now), then you aren’t really saved at all (What is the Gospel?, para. 4).

The Bronze Serpent Explained: A Monergist View of Divine Healing

And the LORD said unto Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (Numbers 21:8-9)

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

[Scene: The border of Canaan near the land of Midian, two Israelite men from the tribes led by Moses and a silent young woman all stand at a high point and look out over the promised land]

Zimri: Ah, finally on the border of the promised land!

Carmi: Yes, we’ve come a long ways.

Zimri: Now we get to enjoy the good part. Been quite a journey here, hasn’t it?

Carmi: Indeed. We’ve known nothing but the desert our whole lives.

Zimri: Yeah, the was was pretty dangerous too, but God’s been faithful to deliver us, even when we failed Him. Remember that time we all complained so much against Moses that God sent those vipers into the camp?

Carmi: All too well…

Zimri: But even then God’s mercy was amazing; when Moses put up that bronze serpent, all we had to do was look at it and God cured us. It was awesome, all God asked was that I look up and acknowledge my need for His help, and He healed me.

Carmi: But, what you are in effect saying is that you cured yourself.

Zimri: Cured myself? What are you talking about?

Carmi: I’m saying that you hold a man-centered view of divine healing, and lack vital understanding as to how God cured us.

Zimri: Vital understanding?

Carmi: Yes, when God delivered those He wished to from the serpents, He did so all of His own power, with no inherent cooperation from those bitten. This important teaching is commonly called the doctrine of snakes.

Zimri: You lost me. How did I cure myself?

Carmi: Looking up at the snake, in your beliefs, is something you did, and therefore you caused your own cure.

Zimri: That seems to be a bit of a stretch. God was the one who gave the cure, and commanded Moses to put up the bronze serpent, all he told us to do was look at it and-

Carmi: But looking at it was a work, it was something that you did.

Zimri: Wait, now looking is work? Remind me not to wake up on the Sabbath.

Carmi: Since it was you who effected the condition, it was in essence you who effected the cure.

Zimri: So you’re saying God just gave us the power to cure ourselves or something?

Carmi: Oh no, not at all. God had to revive you before you could look up at the snake at all.

Zimri: Revive me?

Carmi: Yes, you were actually already dead from your snake bite.

Zimri: Dead, like hyperbole ‘dead?’ Like a Genesis 20:3 ‘dead man?’

Carmi: No, literally dead.

Zimri: Like, “I am dead Horatio” dead?

Carmi: No, dead as in ‘physically decomposing’ dead, and therefore totally powerless to do anything but be a corpse.

Zimri: Uh, I don’t recall this.

Carmi: Of course not, you were dead at the time.

Zimri: Oh right, right.

Carmi: And because you were already dead from your snake bite, you weren’t capable of looking up at the snake, so you had to be brought back to life to do so.

Zimri: Well, I was certainly pretty delirious and weakened from the venom, so I have no problem buying that it was God who gave me strength to look up….

Carmi: No, no, God didn’t merely give you strength to look at the snake, He irresistibly changed you so you would both be capable and irresistibly drawn to look up at the snake.

Zimri: Changed me?

Carmi: By reviving you of course.

Zimri: Ah.

Carmi: It’s called the ‘irresistible snake.’ So you were literally dead and helpless, but God brought you back to life so you would be able and willing to look at the snake. See, it’s written right here, “…and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

Zimri: Um, isn’t that saying that the people who looked at the bronze serpent survived?

Carmi: No, it’s saying that those who lived, or rather were brought to life, looked on the bronze serpent.

Zimri: That sounds a bit backwards. It seems that our living was contingent on looking at the bronze serpent, and I distinctly recall feeling the effects of the poison subside when I looked at it, not before.

Carmi: Your mistake is a common one, but your being revived, cured, and looking at the serpent all happened at the same instant in time, it’s simply a logical necessity that your being revived came first. You have to study and think about it real hard for a long, long, long time before arriving at this important truth.

Zimri: I’m sure you do.

Carmi: Of course you being a Phinehasite wouldn’t understand it.

Zimri: A what?

Carmi: A Phinehasite. Followers of the beliefs of Phinehas, you know, Aaron’s grandkid – the priest.

Zimri: Oh, him.

Carmi: He holds to the heretical view that those bitten by the snakes weren’t yet completely, physically dead, but merely had the sentence of death working in them. Phinehas is under the delusion that he wasn’t irresistibly compelled to obey by being literally resurrected, but thinks that he somehow just ‘cooperated’ with God in performing the impossibly difficult task of looking up at the snake so that he could be healed! And since he believes that he had to make some kind of decision to look up (obviously a work meritorious beyond imagining), he is therefore robbing God of the glory in healing him! So anyone who believes that free will plays any role in divine healing is a Phinehasite.

Zimri: I barely know Phinehas, much less studied anything he wrote or said.

Carmi: Doesn’t matter, you still fall into that category. If you don’t believe in totally monergistic divine healing, then you’re automatically a Phinehasite of some kind. Of course, Phinehasism is really just semi-Nimrodism, and everyone knows that the Phinehasism eventually leads to either spirit channeling or sun worship, as that’s really what consistent Phinehasism amounts to….

Zimri: And I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Carmi: Hopefully God will reveal it to you and save you from your Phinehasite blindness. In fact, here’s a list of scrolls I recommend you read on the subject that will give you a better understanding of monergist divine healing and the Phinehasite error.

Zimri: So if God actually revived us so we could look at the serpent, then why did some people stay dead from the snake bites?

Carmi: Because God didn’t want everyone to look at the snake. God only intended that certain people look at it.

Zimri: Really? I didn’t get that indication at all.

Carmi: God’s ways are very mysterious.

Zimri: Yeah, but Moses invited anyone who was bitten to look at it.

Carmi: Yes, that was the ‘outward hiss’ but not the ‘effectual hiss.’

Zimri: The what?

Carmi: God only wanted certain people to be cured, so He made only a limited amount of antivenin,

Zimri: I wasn’t told this.

Carmi: -then He chose certain people to be cured and let the rest die.

Zimri: Ah, so He chose them because He knew they’d hear and respond?

Carmi: No, He chose them from eternity past based on nothing whatsoever about them, then after they died from the snake bites, He revived the ones He chose so that they would both have the innate desire and the irresistible unction to perform the action of looking up at the bronze serpent, thereby receiving a dose of the limited supply of antivenin that He’d prepared beforehand.

Zimri: Where exactly are you getting all this?

Carmi: I…it’s…it’s so elementary, even a child could see it.

Zimri: But, didn’t He say that anyone who was bitten could look and be cured?

Carmi: Oh He did, but that was God’s “I don’t really mean this, I just say stuff like this to relate to people” will talking. In God’s “super-duper-secret really, really I actually mean this” will, He didn’t really want everyone who was bitten to look at it, and hence wouldn’t revive them, which is why the antivenin was limited.

Zimri: ….This seems like a somewhat overly complicated system of beliefs.

Carmi: Well it has to be true, otherwise you must logically have cured yourself.

Zimri: Hmmmm…I see. So since the antivenin is limited, then what if I get bitten by another viper? Could God not cure me?

Carmi: That’s the best part. The fact that you were cured of your snake bite guarantees that you will make it into the promised land.

Zimri: Really?

Carmi: Yes, it’s like a divine seal of approval. To those who have been chosen and cured, God has unconditionally chosen to provide final entrance into the new land.

Zimri: I seem to recall Him listing some stuff we’d better not do, as well as what would happen if we disobeyed….

Carmi: Oh that’s just something God’s “I don’t mean this” will says to goad you into living right. It’s all up to His sovereign “super-duper-secret” will really.

Zimri: Hey, that kind of makes sense. I mean, He wouldn’t have cured us if He’d wanted us to die in the desert.

Carmi: Exactly. While being brought to life again will certainly make you want to avoid future snake bites, there’s no actual chance for you to fall short of entering, even should you run across every viper this side of the Jordan. You can rest in complete assurance that you will make it through.

Zimri: Oh wait, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the people die who had previously been cured.

Carmi: They were never really cured. The belief that they were actually cured stems not from objective observation, but the influence of biased Phinehasite teachings.

Zimri: But they were, you know, walking around with no apparent problems.

Carmi: God provided them with a temporary means to give the illusion that they were alive and had been cured, so that we and even they thought that they were, but the fact that they have failed to make it to the promised land demonstrates that they were never truly cured.

Zimri: How could they think they were cured, or even move around at all if they were already dead?

Carmi: That- …That’s a mystery.

Zimri: So if someone might be walking around like they’re perfectly healthy, but in reality still be poisoned, and dead no less, then isn’t it possible that you or I might not really be cured as well?

Carmi: Technically, yes, but unlikely; and if you aren’t truly cured there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, so you really shouldn’t waste time troubling yourself about such things.

Zimri: Wow, that’s a relief. I was kind of worried about bringing this Midianite chick back to camp with me. If I didn’t know for sure that God was going to preserve me, I’d be scared of what Phinehas might try and do.

Carmi: I for one find it highly doubtful that he was ever cured in the first place.

Zimri: You’re definitely right on that one. He is so man-centered. Come on Cozbi, let’s get to the camp. I’ll show you the Tabernacle.

Some Afterthoughts on The Challenge to Reformed Theology

In John Piper’s sermon The Doctrine of Perseverance: The Future of a Fruitless Field, he acknowledges that the consequences of the warnings in Hebrews do indeed speak of eternal damnation, and that all who believe themselves to be saved should heed the warnings (because the Bible says to, and because many who think they are saved are not), yet still asserts that the only ones who can actually fall away are unbelievers. He concludes that the purpose of the warnings is to keep us
from falling. So he effectively teaches that in an outward sense, the consequences of violating these warnings apply to everyone, but in a true sense, only the unredeemed are in view. A few problems here:

1. The consequences of the scriptural warnings I listed here can specifically apply only to those who are saved. One who is unsaved is already condemned to hell fire for not believing on the Son of God, so it is useless to tell him to avoid sin at all costs to escape it; one does not know Christ has already fallen short of His eternal rest, so exhorting him to be diligent in a faith that is not real is moot; and no unrepentant sinner has any part in the holy city or any like inheritance in God’s kingdom, making it futile to warn him under penalty of it being taken. These passages are not talking about never being saved, they’re warnings against falling away from our Savior. In short, if the result of not heeding the scriptural warnings is forfeiture of eternal life, then
in reality it logically applies specifically to those who possess it, making Piper’s defense untenable in these cases.

2. As far as God using absurd warnings as a means to preserve believers, if you really want to have some fun, start questioning the Calvinist to get to the bottom of the issue:


Synergist: Why does God warn us against falling away?

Monergist: As a means to keep us from falling away.

Synergist: But what if we don’t heed the warnings?

Monergist: That’s not possible, God will make sure we they take heed and obey.

Synergist: But if God is already making sure that we obey and keeps us from falling, then why does He still warn us?

Monergist: I told you, that’s one of the ways He keeps us from falling away.

Ah yes, God is warning us against a violation that He would never allow to occur with a sentence that He would never carry out to preserve people that He is already keeping secure. Obviously Calvinists are performing a ridiculous semantic dance in order to escape the obvious implications carried in the word of God. As my friend Ben Henshaw so succinctly put it: “If God does everything (causes us to believe and keep believing), then to warn them to keep believing is like warning someone hooked to a respirator to keep breathing.”

It’s pointless to say that warnings against falling from God’s grace apply only to those who aren’t in it, and it’s downright silly to say that God uses those warnings to preserve us if He’s the sole cause for our heeding them. And even if they were simply commands He wanted to be obeyed, then why tack on the consequence of being cast from His presence into hell fire if belief in conditional security is doctrinal error? I can’t even begin fathom the reasoning of Calvinists who think this way: “Yeah, that whole, ‘take heed lest ye fall’ thing; God would never actually do that, that’s just something He says to the rubes who lack assurance to keep them in line.” What utter nonsense. Could you imagine how badly they’d rake anyone else over the coals for employing such convoluted logic? Picture a Pelagian employing that kind of defense against Ephesians 2:8:

Pelagian: “Well, it’s not actually by God’s grace, it’s by faith inherent in man, it’s only a gift of God in the sense that He created man with that capacity. While it does mention grace in the context of salvation, texts like this aren’t meant to represent the standard soteriological model, for that would contradict the biblical doctrine total moral neutrality. Paul is not saying that salvation is by grace here, He is simply employing outward human terms to help safeguard the redeemed from becoming puffed up with pride, as it says, ‘lest any man should boast’….” They’d be all over him like Rosie O’Donnel on a buffet, yet they themselves selectively employ similar reasoning when it fits their doctrine.

It has also been suggested that God simply uses Revelation 22:19 as a “do not tamper” warning to those that merely think they are saved, apparently to scare them into believing they will lose their part in an eternal inheritance they never really possessed, thereby preserving God’s word from detractors. This view carries with it the same problems as the “God is trying to scare us into holiness” argument above: If we teach unconditional security as a central tenet of the gospel, then if some scripture-twisting false professor thinks he’s saved, he will certainly have no trouble believing that he is unconditionally secure if that is what is taught, and thus have no fear of tampering with God’s word, again making the warning in scripture of not even any practical effect by Calvinist tradition. Let’s face it, if you seriously believe such a serious warning to be merely a ‘scarecrow’ that God has placed up to keep people in line, then proceed to tell everyone that it is in fact only a scarecrow that would never in reality carry out the consequence written, then you are making even the hollow warning of no effect by your teaching. Call me crazy, but I for one prefer to believe God actually means what He says.

If we are to truly believe this nonsense that unconditional security is a vital element of the true gospel, and therefore of necessity make the belief in even the possibility of forfeiting salvation a seriously false doctrine, then we are also forced to conclude that in order to promote holiness and preserve itself, God’s perfect word instills a concept of false doctrine within the church via idle admonitions with preposterous consequences. Newsflash: God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), and I stand in awe at the sheer befuddlement of anyone that cannot recognize the obvious discrepancy there.