Response to a Calvinist
Helen Setterfield, November 2009
A friend who is a Calvinist wrote to me that he was a little upset with my articles on Calvinism here. I asked him to show me where I was wrong. His points are in blue italics. My responses are in straight print.
First, I think the problem is with the definition of ‘death.’ Death means separation, not unconsciousness. When a person dies physically, he is separated from his body. The body may not be able to respond, but the person himself is quite conscious (or hell would have no meaning). Spiritual death, or the second death, is separation from God. In John 17:3, Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God and the Son. That means eternal death is NOT knowing them. The ‘know’ in this context is not an intellectual acknowledgement, but rather an intimate relationship – along the lines of Adam knowing his wife and she becoming pregnant. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He caused his soul and spirit to re-enter his body and healed the body from the effects of what caused his death. Remember the story about the rich man and the other Lazarus after death (Luke 16:19-31)? Both were entirely conscious although their bodies were probably well-rotted by that time. So death is not unconsciousness.
In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord invites the sinner “Come, let us reason together…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Who is the Lord talking to? Someone who is already saved? No. Someone who is deeply in sin, and the person is being offered a choice. This offer is totally meaningless if the person is not able to respond to the Lord.
In Jeremiah 29, the Lord tells the people of Israel, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”
Remember Jesus saying, “Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give your rest.” Are only those chosen from before the beginning of time those who labor and are heavy-laden? I sincerely doubt that.
About Paul. Paul was totally eager to protect the reputation and character of God. For THAT reason he was persecuting the Christians. Paul’s heart was totally for the God he knew from the Scriptures and had been taught in rabbinical school. He had also been taught that the Christian sect was heretical and therefore he was going to do his best to protect God’s holy reputation/name and stamp it out. God knew Paul’s heart and honored Paul’s devotion, even though it was involved in a misunderstanding about Jesus. So Jesus presented Paul with the truth of Himself and Paul responded 100%. The rest is history. There was no ‘mood’ about it, either way.
Please go back to John 6:26, at the beginning of the referenced passage in John. Jesus first tells the people the reason they are following Him is because of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and that they had their fill. In verse 27 He tells them, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…” The people then ask Him what are these works they must do, and look at Jesus’ answer: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So there is a ‘work’ they MUST do for salvation – believe. This is not a ‘work of righteousness,’ but, rather, giving up of having any righteousness of one’s own at all. It is putting one’s entire life in the hands of Christ. In verse 35, Jesus tells them plainly, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” He then talks about those the Father gives to Him, which Calvinists seem to take out of context, for in verse 40, we read, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
So the people the Father gives to the Son are those who have looked to the Son and trusted Him.
When did Jesus not pray for Judas? AFTER the betrayal. We do not know about before….
God does not want any one to perish – 2 Peter 3:9 -- but EVERYONE to come to repentance. Now either He wants that or He doesn’t. What we clearly have is that He will allow what He does not want. Why? Because we are given the choice, and He is omnipotent enough to be much, much bigger than choices we make. It is all under His knowledge and umbrella, but we are still allowed the freedom to choose.
The key to it lies, I think, in Jesus’ response as to what is the most important commandment, and He responds, ‘to love.’ If love were an emotion, it could not be commanded, whether toward God or toward man. So we are not talking about an emotion. Emotions are followers; they make lousy leaders. Love is clearly a choice – the choice to commit to care and to give up of oneself for the sake of another. God so LOVED the world that He gave……and the emotions felt on the cross were not terrific, I am sure, for either the Father or the Son. Jesus equated love for Him with obedience. Obedience is also a choice. “Choose this day who you will serve,” is a command that rings down through the ages. Who are you going to obey? In fact, even in Hebrews 12 we find that the children of God are disciplined, and that is clearly because we have made some wrong choices along the way. John tells us in his first letter that when we sin we must confess to God and receive His forgiveness. So we as saved people have a choice. Passages throughout the Bible indicate everyone does. Romans 1 refers to those who consistently choose against God – finally He will give them over to the desires of their hearts, as they are choosing the lie over the truth. In other words, they were not irredeemable until that point. They were not incapable of resisting the desires of their hearts until they were given over to them and God stopped presenting them with His truth in whatever way was best for each of them individually.
Does He know who will choose Him? Yes, He does. And that is where the problem for us mortals often lies. It is hard to cope with the idea that knowledge and forcing, or causing, are two different things. When my oldest son was about 7 he got a new bike. We lived on a hill and I told him not to take his bike out until his sister was awake from her nap and then I would take him to the flat ground of the schoolyard so he could practice on this new, ‘big’ bike. I warned him that if he tried riding down the hill before he practiced on the flat first, he would get hurt. I knew he could not handle it yet. But I never forced his choice. Proof? He rode the bike down the hill and crashed pretty badly, ruining his bike and making a mess of himself into the bargain. God knows each of us far better than we know our children, but that does not mean He is forcing any of our decisions. If He did, then our obedience, our love, would have no meaning whatsoever. Rewards and punishments would be absolutely meaningless and, what is worse, arbitrary. He gave us a sense of fairness, of justice, for a reason. He is not arbitrary by anyone’s standards who has any knowledge of Him at all.
The world is all. That is repeated in a number of ways through the Bible. For instance, Paul writes to Timothy, “I urge, the, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Remember in John 1 where it states that those who believe are given the right to become children of God? That is predicated upon their belief. Look at Romans 1, where God’s wrath is being poured out on those who consistently choose to reject God. Look at Jesus’ anger in Matthew 23. These people who choose in that direction become children of the devil. It is going to go one way or the other, depending on the heart of each man, which is what God judges. When Judas finally did the final betrayal, that was it. He had finished walking away from his Savior and no more prayers were to be prayed.
There comes a time for each man. Look at the Pharaoh of Moses’ day. Yes, God knew what the final result would be, and told Moses. But look also at the results of each of the plagues. At first, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It was not until over half way through that God finally, in effect, said, “Enough – THY will be done…..” and God finished the job. Remember before the Flood when God tells Noah He will not strive with man forever (Genesis 6:3)? Our upper lifespan limit is given then: 120 years. But the point is even stronger than that. The point is that there is a limit.
But think about something else here: Why would God strive at all if every man’s destiny was chosen before he was born? But we read God STRIVES with man. God does everything eternally possible for each person to encourage the right choice without forcing it. Each of us is truly and greatly cared for/loved by God (which is not the same as His approval!) to the extent of death on the cross to pay for every sin that has ever been or will ever be committed. Every man has, initially, the way cleared for Him to respond to God. But walk away, rebel, enough times, deliberately and with malice of forethought (if you will), and finally God says, “Enough.”
In John 1 we read that some can become children of God. The implication there, and elsewhere when Jesus is speaking to others (John 8:42-47), is that some can also become children of the devil. It is not a matter of being born that way, but of completely yielding to one choice or the other. So yes, some are children of the devil, by choice. And some are children of God, by choice. Works cannot do it – it is a choice and the works are the result of the choice.
You want to know something funny? Sheep and goats are the same kind of animal. It is exactly the same as our pet dogs: mutts, German shepherds, poodles, St. Bernards, chihuahuas -- they are all the same kind of thing. It is a matter of breeding, not intrinsic genetics. So that is not the answer, first of all.
Second, if you read Hebrews, you will find this, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (2:9) And then there is this: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (5:8). There is also this, “Unlike other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (7:27).
Jesus took the punishment for every sin ever committed or even thought. That part is finished forever for all. “It is finished!” That was the paving of the road. I grant you we cannot even walk it ourselves at the beginning. But that is not the point. The point is, do you WANT to walk it? If so, then the believer is born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, at that point, is then made capable of walking that road. And, as many have found, it is generally uphill!
Remember John 1:11-13? “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” His own – His people. HIS. They refused Him. They had that choice and they were His.
God is certainly not powerless to choose. He Himself chose what He would do. He has ALLOWED us to choose. Big difference! I could have made all my children’s choices for them for a good many years. But that would not have been love at all. Love meant I had to teach them what ‘consequences’ meant. They had to be allowed to choose, first little things and then more and more. That did not mean I – even as another human being and not God at all! – was powerless to choose for them. It meant I was teaching them by allowing them choices.
As far as the ‘elect,’ go, I did a study on that and traced every time that word was used in the NT. You see that essay under the initial one. The elect are the Jews – the elect is Israel.
I just finished quoting John 1:13 – it followed John 1:10-12, which is very important to remember.
Philippians 1:6 – read that in context (it is one of my ‘favorite’ verses, actually) – “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Paul does not appear to be talking about individual salvation here, but about their partnership in the Gospel – the good news of Christ. And that this good work, begun by Christ Himself, would not be left half done in the world but would be carried through to completion. The individual idea can certainly be applied here, but he is talking to the believers as a group in Philippi: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” Although this certainly can be applied individually, the indication is that he is talking to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons."
But yes, of course God began it: He is the Creator. He is also the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). He always knew. He had prepared. He paved the way for every person who has ever lived. So the question now is, which way does a person WANT to walk? Wanting to and being able to are two different things, but that is why God judges the heart. What is it you actually want?
I am most certainly not Arminian! It is a bit of a fallacy to say there are only Calvinists and Arminians in Christianity. Not at all! I will go straight Bible. I KNOW I have been saved by grace and not by works. I have no boast. It is all Christ. But my choice was to accept or reject. That is not a work, that is simply a choice. He did, has done, will always have done, all the work. I pray now that some of it may be through me, but that is still not me, myself, but simply Him in me.
In Titus, please check the Greek for verse 2:11. In many English translations there is a misplaced modifier. The Greek reads “For the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions….”etc. The Bible repeats so many times that ALL men have the offer of salvation, accomplished for them soley through and by Christ Jesus. But men are at liberty – a God-given liberty – to refuse it. Or to accept. The choice does not mean any person has done anything to deserve, earn, or help with his own salvation. Build me a house. I can accept or reject it. But accepting it does not mean I had anything to do with even hammering one little nail in place.
In Titus 3:4, we read that ‘when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." Go to Romans 2:4 – “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” If you follow His kindness it leads you to repentance. But you are not forced to follow His kindness – and so many do not! Then, the verse you referred to, Titus 3:5, states we are saved by His mercy and it states the process of salvation: through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
A man with an unredeemed heart will always TEND to choose evil. Please note what God says to Noah in Genesis 8:21 -- that, regarding man, "every inclination of his heart is evil from his youth." (Note: 'youth' is the correct interpretation, not 'babyhood' or 'childhood.' 'Youth' in the Hebrew culture began in the early to mid-teens and ended at age 30.) An inclination is different from some kind of magnetic, irresistable force. Our our entire legal system is predicated upon the idea that this tendency, this inclination, can be resisted! People do not always choose what their fallen nature wants. There are some remarkable instances all around us of unredeemed people sacrificing themselves for others – BECAUSE, USUALLY, THEY THINK THEIR WORKS CAN SAVE THEM! And so they struggle. Paul put it so vividly in Romans 7 – the struggle between the flesh and the mind's choice, which could not prevail over the flesh until saved by Jesus Christ. Look at his passage again:
There is the condition of the unredeemed man. Wanting what he cannot achieve and being subjected mercilessly to the frustration of the war within himself. This is far different from the Calvinist interpretation of what being ‘dead in sin’ means. Paul states quite clearly what he means by it here in Romans 7.
Note how chapter 8 starts:
“Therefore, there is no no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, BECAUSE THROUGH CHRIST JESUS THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE SET ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.”
THERE is your point of transformation. But before that, Paul shows very clearly that the unredeemed man is quite conscious of God’s law and wants to conform to it, but can’t.
So, contrary to Calvinist doctrine, the unredeemed man is not unconscious of God's law or person and quite able to respond to it -- at least until he has refused so consistently that God finally calls a halt to the striving. The Bible clearly states that Jesus died for all people and in payment for all sin for all time. Thus, no one goes to hell because of sin, although we all deserve it because of sin. But that debt was paid and now, just as Jesus says so clearly in John 3:
"Because he has not believed..." not because he has sinned.
Paul also makes it clear in Romans 7 that the person dead in sin -- separated from God because of sin -- has a horrid war going on inside himself, so that he cannot do the good he wants to do. Paul goes on to say that only through Christ is there a resolution to this war, and only through the gift of the Holy Spirit is the person set free from the law of sin and death. The Old Testament states that all are told to choose, to seek, and even invited to reason with God Himself.
You cannot pick and choose verses to fit a theory or a theology. It is essential that Bible be allowed to explain itself. And it does.