Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

An Introduction To Calvinism & Arminianism (Part 3)

This is part three of our series studying the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Please note that this is only a brief overview of a vast topic. A thorough discussion of this topic can (and often has) filled many books. At the conclusion of the series I will provide a list of helpful resources should you wish to pursue this study further.

Today we turn our attention to the “five points of Arminianism” which arose in response to Calvin’s teachings.

Jacobus Arminius (1559 – 1609) was born in The Netherlands and spent the majority of his life as a pastor in that country. From the beginning of his pastorate he came under fire for teaching theology that was contrary to Calvinism, which was already a well-established system of theology. He taught that human free will and God’s sovereignty could be reconciled and also denied the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

As Calvinism can not be understood without a proper understanding of man’s depravity, so Arminianism is dependent on understanding human free will. Arminians believe that God has given humans free will in all areas. Although the term “free will” is widely used, there are different understandings of it. The American Heritage dictionary defines it as follows (emphasis added):

1. The ability or discretion to choose; free choice.
2. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.

These definitions, though correct, do not expose the full meaning as it pertains to theology. For theological purposes the definition must be expanded. For a will to be truly free there must be must an alternative to what the person in question actually chose. A person who is presented with only one option does not truly have free will. Calvin taught that man is free to choose but only within the bounds of his nature. Arminius believed that this was not true free will. For free will to exist man must be able to of his own accord choose or reject God.

Free Will

Arminius taught that man’s fall into sin has not completely removed his ability to make a choice for or against God. Rather, man’s will is in a neutral state and is not able to choose only evil. The will is free to make a choice for either good or evil. In salvation, then, the Spirit draws people sufficiently and enlightens them enough that they can, of their own free will, choose salvation. However, He does not draw or enlighten them enough to force them into a decision. Developing faith is a human act and is man’s gift to God.

Matthew 18:12,13 - He rejoices if he finds one of the lost sheep.
Matthew 23:37 - Jesus longs to gather the people to Him but they are not willing.
Luke 15:11-32 - The prodigal son came to the realization of his depravity by himself.
John 3:16 - “whoever believes in Him” would seem to indicate we choose to believe in Him.
John 5:40 - You are not willing to come to Me so you may have life.
John 7:17 - If anyone chooses (wills) to do God’s will
Acts 2:38 - after their choice to be baptized they would receive the Holy Spirit.
Acts 16:31 - Paul and Silas told the jailer that if he were to repent and baptized he would be saved, seemingly indicating that he was given the choice of repentance.
Romans 10:9 - Free will is indicated in that we are told that if we believe with our hearts and confess with our lips we will be saved.

Conditional Election

Arminians teach that God’s election is based upon his foreknowledge that a person would choose to be saved. In the wide scope of eternity God saw those who would choose Christ and in response to this act of human free will, God in turn chose them and called them the elect. We see that election is conditional upon free will because God has to see that a person will make a free will decision in the future before He is able to impart salvation to that person. The decision to be saved, then, is ultimately a human decision and not an act of God.

Romans 8:29 - Those who He foreknew, He predestined.
Romans 11:2 - God foreknew His people.
1 Peter 1:1,2 - Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

Universal Atonement

When Christ died he took upon Himself every sin for every human being throughout time. This is not to say, though, that all humans are saved. Therefore, Christ’s sacrifice does not actually save individuals but only provides the potential for every individual to be saved. Christ’s death will only provide salvation when it is completed by a free will decision made by a human. A simple formula to express this would be, Christ’s sacrifice + Human’s free will choice = salvation. Salvation cannot be completed without both of the pieces being in place. Again we see that atonement is conditional upon free will, as humans are able to freely choose or reject atonement.

John 1:12 - Those who received him were given the right to become children of God.
John 1:29 - John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” not just the sin of the elect.
John 3:16 - God so loved the world, not just the elect.
John 12:32 - I will draw all peoples too myself.
Matthew 18:14 - It is not God’s will that any of His sheep should perish.
Romans 11:32 - So God might have mercy on all.
1 Corinthians 15:22 - As all fell in Adam so all are saved in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 - One died for all.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 - God desires all to be saved and gave His Son as a ransom for all.
1 Timothy 4:10 - God is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.
Hebrews 2:9 - Christ tasted death for everyone.
2 Peter 2:1 - Jesus “bought” even the false prophets.
2 Peter 3:9 - God does not will that any should perish, but that all should be saved.
1 John 2:2 - Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

Obstructable Grace

The fourth foundation of Arminian teaching is that God never forces salvation upon anyone. Though the Holy Spirit is instrumental in salvation, He does not force anyone into repentance. The Spirit merely woos people who are then free to choose for or against the gift of salvation. The process of salvation is this: The Spirit woos people. Man in his free will chooses to believe in Christ. Having believed, he then begins to exercise faith. As a result of these actions, the Holy Spirit regenerates him. Faith, therefore, precedes regeneration and is actually the cause of regeneration. Faith is what allows the Holy Spirit to do His regenerative work in the new believer. As with the other points we see that free will is fundamental.

Matthew 23:37 - Christ longs to gather Jerusalem, but they are not willing.
Luke 7:30 - The Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s will for themselves.
John 1:12 - To those who received Him who already believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.
John 3:18-21 - This would seem to indicate that works precede faith.
John 5:40 - We come to God and then are given life.
Acts 7:51 - You resist the Spirit as your fathers did.
2 Corinthians 6:1 - Do not receive the grace of God in vain.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 - Do not quench the Spirit.

Falling From Grace

Because man has free will and in the process of salvation can choose for or against God, it must then be possible to fall away from this grace. God can never impose His will upon us so that we lose our free will. It follows, then, that we must be free to accept or reject this grace at any time. This is a necessary conclusion since man must be as free to reject God’s grace and leave God’s kingdom, as he was to accept God’s grace and enter the kingdom. Again, we see that this belief is entirely dependent on free will.

Matthew 5:13 - Salt can lose its flavor (see also Mark 9:50).
John 15:1-7 - Vines can be cut off and burned if they don’t bear fruit.
Romans 11:22 - If we don’t continue in goodness we will be cut off.
2 Corinthians 11:4 - The people have fallen away and Paul tries to bring them back.
Galatians 5:4 - Paul says that those who have tried to be justified by the law have fallen from grace.
Hebrews 6:4-6 - The passage discusses how it is possible to fall away from God.
2 Peter 1:8-10 - It is possible to forget our salvation.
2 Peter 2:20-22 - It is better not to know the way of righteousness than to know it and turn from it.
Revelation 2:5 - God threatens to remove the church’s lampstand if they do not repent.

Tomorrow we will look at comparisons and contrasts between Calvinism and Arminianism.