Can Christians Lose Their Salvation? A Brief Discussion on 1 John 2:19

Calvinism teaches that we cannot fall from grace once we have been saved by God. The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following in chapter 17, section 1:

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This teaching is known as “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved, always saved.” Calvinists believe that losing your salvation is evidence that you were not truly saved in the first place (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 788), and they cite 1 John 2:19 to support this claim:

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

However, when we read this passage closely, we come to realize that it does not make reference to people who where seemingly saved and subsequently fell from grace, but rather it refers to antichrists who never believed and confessed Christ as the Son of the living God. Reading verses 18–23 reveals the true intent of John’s words:

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Notice that John says in verse 19 that the antichrists that were among the Christians were not of them. That is, they were deceiving the people by pretending they were Christians. However, eventually they would depart from the group, and thus, all would see that they truly were not followers of Christ. The antichrists were people who denied the Father and the Son (vv. 22–23). They did not believe in Jesus Christ and were infiltrating the church. John talks more about them in his second letter: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” John wrote to Christians to warn them of those who would bring a different doctrine than the one they had heard (2 Jn. 10).

Christians today can learn from John’s letters in regards to the beliefs of our present society. There are several groups that deny the deity of Christ or even his existence. We must guard ourselves against their claims and continue to spread the word that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Without his sacrifice, there can be no salvation. We must also beware of the false doctrines taught by Calvinists. The Scriptures are clear on matters of salvation and teach that if we practice sin, even as Christians, we can indeed fall from grace. In his letter to the church of Galatia, Paul explains that those who attempted to be justified by the Mosaic law had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). Additionally, the Hebrews writer exhorts Christians to be careful that they do not fall short of the grace of God by defiling themselves with bitterness (Heb. 12:15). Just with these two passages we learn that losing our salvation is possible and that we must be careful not to practice those things that would separate us from God.

 

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An Analysis of Romans 5:12-21

In his letter to the Romans, Paul proclaims that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. Therefore, if you believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are made righteous (or just) by your faith. It is within this context that Paul explains the typological association between Adam and Christ in Romans 5. Verses 12–21 are normally used to support the claim that human beings are born sinners and that our sin nature is due to Adam’s sin. This doctrine is called original sin. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the guilt of Adam’s sin has been transferred to us throughout the generations (Chapter VI, Sections III and VI):

“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.”

Although the Reformers claim that we are now born sinful (See The Covenant of Works: Do This and Live written by Derrick Brite), Romans 5:12–21 does not teach that we today are guilty of Adam’s sin. What we learn from this passage is that, like Adam, we are all sinners (Rom. 3:9-12,23) and that we suffer the consequence of sin, which is death (Gen 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15). Additionally, through the death of the one Man Christ, we are all made righteous when we believe (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:18).

Paul’s statement in verse 12 shows that sin exists in the world today because one man, who was in the world, sinned. That is, God created this man on the earth, and then this man sinned. Voila! Sin is in the world. Some take this further to say that his sin, or the guilt of his sin, was passed on to subsequent generations; however, that conclusion is false. The consequence of his sin was death (Gen. 2:17). Therefore, Paul explains that since we all sin, we also suffer death (Rom. 5:12): “…and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”

I believe one of the errors that teachers of original sin make with Romans 5:12–21 is that of equating sin with death or believing that both sin and death transferred to us. However, when we properly analyze these verses, we see that it is impossible to replace the word “death” with “sin.” Verse 15 says, “[b]ut the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Christ is being compared to Adam. Adam’s sin brought death to all in the same way Christ brings eternal life to all. Paul’s discussion is dealing with death versus life, not sin versus life. Notice that verse 16 says, “and the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned.” The phrase “that which” refers back to “death”, not “sin.” It would not make sense to say the following: “And the gift is not like [sin] which came through the one who sinned.” This sentence negates the dichotomy of death versus life that is presented in verse 15. It also conflicts with verse 17: “for if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Once again we see that it is the consequence of sin –death– that reigns through Adam, and not sin itself.

Now, some will use verse 19 to further prove their doctrine of original sin: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners….” Notice, however, that the verse ends saying “so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Proponents of original sin make the unnecessary conclusion that the guilt of Adam’s sin was passed on to all without any disobedience committed on our part. We would have to make the claim then that Christ’s righteousness was also transferred to us without any obedience on our part. Ezekiel 18:20ff proves that claim to be false. The father’s sin or righteousness is never transferred to the son. Individuals reap the consequences of their own actions (Ezek. 18:20,26-28).

20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

26 When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

The guilt of Adam’s sin is not transferred to us. We are guilty because we choose to sin. God determined that the consequence of sin would be physical death, but there is also a second death brought about by sin (Rev. 21:8) – a spiritual one. However, we have the opportunity to be righteous through Christ if we choose to turn away from our sins in order not to suffer that spiritual death.

By Grace (God’s Part) Through Faith (Man’s Part) – UPDATED

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:9-10)

God offered salvation to all mankind according to his grace and by the death of Jesus Christ even before the beginning of time. No work of man could have brought about salvation since mankind had not been created at the time God devised his plan. However, salvation is not by grace only; it is by grace through faith. Some say salvation depends solely on God. If this affirmation were true, we would have to conclude that God has grace and faith, which is impossible. He is omniscient – all knowing – and thus, does not have faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. God does not have hope because he sees and knows everything. Romans 8:24 says, “[n]ow hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for that he sees”? Man is who has faith, and therefore, we conclude that man must appropriate God’s grace through faith: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is a gift of God that we obtain through our faith. We cannot be saved without faith because it is impossible to please God without it. We must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The word of God teaches that, although salvation is a gift of God, man has a part to play in order to be saved because faith is a requirement that must be fulfilled by man.

If man is saved through his faith in God who has offered his grace, then we need to know what faith is. As I mentioned earlier, according to Hebrews 11:1, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence or assurance in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, for example, the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God commands us to do something, although we do not understand it completely or see the connection or how it is possible, we still have to do it in order to please him. Therefore, faith is not just the mental process of believing; it involves taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are given many examples of people who manifested their faith in the actions that they carried out: by faith, Noah prepared an ark; by faith, Abraham obeyed and offered up Isaac; by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; by faith, Jacob blessed each of his sons and worshipped; by faith, Joseph gave instructions; by faith, Moses suffered affliction with the people of God, forsook Egypt, kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of the blood; by faith, the people of God passed through the Red Sea by dry land; by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled seven times; by faith, the harlot Rahab did not perish because she received the spies with peace. All of these people obeyed God and took action. They had obedient faith, not inactive belief (cf. Rom. 16:26). All of these people did not necessarily understand what they were doing or why they did it. There were even some that did not want to do the things that they were commanded to do or laughed about it. We can take Sarah as an example of this. In Genesis 18, Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a son, and she was later confronted about it. However, moving to chapter 21, we see that she did indeed conceive and give birth to Isaac, which shows that she took action in carrying out God’s plan. Sarah had doubt in her heart, but she did what God commanded, thus showing her faith. This is a great lesson for us in that even when things don’t make sense to us, when we obey God’s commandments, we have the assurance that he will do what he has promised (Heb. 11:1). I also believe that not fully understanding is part of God’s plan in showing that his wisdom is much higher than ours, and therefore, we cannot boast in our knowledge or in anything that we do. 1 Corinthians 1:20-29 says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

This passage teaches, first, that God is much wiser than man. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. It also teaches that God used the foolishness of this world (or what we think is foolish) to bring salvation to those who believed. What I understand from this is that our faith does not come from the fact that we see something and so we believe it. Our faith comes from the evidence, that is, what is produced by that something. The accounts of Naaman and of Jericho confirm this idea. What people believe is foolish is what actually saves us, and God did it that way so that we could be saved by our faith in him.

Now, some will say that God creates faith in us because Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We have to understand Hebrews 12:2 in its context. When you go to verse one, you’ll see that it begins with “therefore”, which is a word that mean “for that reason” or “in that case.” “Therefore” requires us to go back to Hebrews 11 in which, beginning at verse 4, there is a long line of people who showed their faith in obedience to God. They are the cloud of witnesses to which the author of Hebrews is referring in 12:1. Now, jumping down to Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.” The question is what exactly does “author” mean. It does indeed mean “creator” in certain contexts such as in Acts 3:15; however, in this verse, considering the whole context starting from Hebrews 11, it means “founder”, “pioneer”, or “line-leader.” This last meaning really gives us the true idea because he leads the line of all the faithful men and women mentioned in chapter 11. That is why the author exhorts Christians to look to Jesus because he is the leader of faith and he carried out faith to completion, thus he is the “perfecter” or “consummator.” “To consummate” means to complete or to carry out to completion”. Christ was the ultimate faithful one because he carried out the will of the Father, never wavering and never committing any sin. Notice that chapter 12 is focused on endurance and discipline in the faith. The idea is that we have to endure in putting aside all sin and not grow weary in the work of the Lord because Christ did exactly that. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8) in order for us to have salvation. We can look to Jesus as the ultimate example of faithfulness to God.

But don’t the Scriptures teach that all we have to do is believe? In John 6:29-40 Jesus teaches that we must believe in order to have eternal life. However, in Matthew 7:21, he teaches that the one who does the will of his Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. In John 14:12, he teaches that whoever believes in him will also do the work he does, and even greater works (he’s talking to the disciples here, but we also learn from this). Later, in the same chapter he teaches that if you love him you will keep his commandments. Jesus commanded us to believe, and in believing, we keep his commandments. There are things that Christ has commanded us to do, along with believing, that pertain to our salvation. Now, if God creates faith in us or puts his faith in us, why does he need to command us to have faith or believe? He actually wouldn’t have to command us to do anything. Psalm 119 is a great chapter that describes the word of God. Verse 160 says the following: “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” That is to say, the totality of his word and every single thing he says and commands is truth, not part of it – all of it. If this is true, then we should strive daily to obey his word in all parts that pertain to us in this Christian era, not so we can boast, but because this is simply what he has commanded (cf. Luke 17:10) and we trust him. Jesus said, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). So, I know that if I have obedient faith, God will give me the crown of life, not because I deserve it, but because, by his grace, he has put a plan into place in which, if I choose (on my own free will), I can do the things required of me to be saved.

There is no doubt that God has already done the work necessary for us to be saved. However, he has given us the responsibility to accept it. God gave us free will to choose what is right or wrong. If God creates faith in us, that contradicts this basic principle. If God does not wish that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9), everyone would be saved because he would create faith in everyone. We understand from Acts 10 & 11 that he is not a respecter of person. Just because God wills for us to do something, doesn’t mean that we humans will follow along. He does not force us; we make the decision to be conformed to the image of Christ or not. We make the decision to harden our hearts or not. If God were forcing us to do these things, he wouldn’t be a just God because he would arbitrarily granting salvation to some and condemnation to others. Ezekiel 10 teaches that God is sovereign and just. Every good deed that we carry out is done in Christ because we choose to submit to his authority, not because he forces us to. There will come a day when he will make every knee bow to him (Rom. 14:11). Romans 14:12 says that each of us will give an account of himself to God. We won’t give an account of God. We are not going to tell God that he put faith in us. The sinner is not going to blame God for not putting faith in him. He is going to give an account of HIMSELF, not of God. If God is going to judge us (Rom. 14:10), and he expects us to give an account of ourselves, we can only conclude that we are going to be judged on our choices, which we have made on our own free will, according to our discernment.

Since faith is understood as obedience to the commandments of God, we must know what God’s commandments are concerning salvation. We learn about salvation by hearing the preaching and teaching of the gospel or by studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11; Rom. 10:17). The message of the gospel is expressed in simple terms. God manifested himself in human form, and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. Although he lived just like us, he fulfilled all righteousness and committed no sin (Matt. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The very people he came to save crucified him unjustly, and his blood was spilled in order for man to receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16). This sacrifice was an act of grace, which is God’s part. Now, we must do our part and appropriate that grace through faith by being obedient to the commandments of God. We must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:8-9), repent of our past sins (Acts 17:30-31), and be baptized or immersed in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16). As a result, we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord adds us to his church (Acts 2:38,41,47; cf. Matt. 16:18). When we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation revealed in the Scriptures.

Many reject the plain and simple teachings of the Bible and manipulate God’s word in order to formulate their own false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They deceive themselves (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13) by believing that they have no role in their own salvation. Logically, this kind of doctrine takes all the responsibility off of them. Whether they are saved or lost would not be their fault, but rather God’s. They state that man is saved by grace through faith without understanding what faith truly is. They also deny the essentiality of baptism, and repentance for that matter, in the plan of salvation. However, when one studies the Scriptures with an open and honest heart, it is difficult to deny that God has devised a plan based on his matchless grace and man’s obedient faith.

A Review of “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10”

The five-point Calvinist doctrine has permeated several denominations. According to Jonathan Merritt’s article “The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’”, there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinism in America, and the adherents to this doctrine have been called “neo-Calvinists.” The five points of Calvinism are represented with the mnemonic device TULIP: T –Total Hereditary Depravity, U – Unconditional Election, L – Limited Atonement, I – Irresistible Grace, and P – Perseverance of the Saints. I have been working on a series of posts in which I refute the Calvinist approach to the concepts of predestination and election, showing that the doctrine conflicts with basic truths found in the Bible concerning God’s righteousness and man’s free will. Reformed Baptist James Smetanin, an author at The Reformed Alliance, recently published an article titled “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10.” It is part of a series in which the author explains the true interpretation of particular texts that are often pulled out of context in order to accommodate a personal experience or theological belief. I believe it’s a great idea because, as the author rightly points out, all too often Christians are not aware of the implications of a verse when the surrounding context is considered. However, the problem is that the conclusion of the essay is meaningless within the framework of Calvinism.

The text discussed is Isaiah 41:10 (ESV): “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Smetanin argues that, although one may find comfort in this passage in times of fear, the context reveals that the intent of the verse is not to console, but rather to warn all people of the judgment of God. A fear concerning one’s soul is what is of concern, not the fears of this world. The author gives an interpretation of the passage beginning at verse one and ending at verse nine. My intention is not to comment on his exegesis of the text. What I take issue with is the exhortation that follows. He points out that the verses deal with sin, redemption, and judgment, and that there is urgency for people to repent and to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. A person that believes in the five points of Calvinism have the understanding that God has predestined certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. There is nothing that one can do to change their condition, as it has been determined before the foundation of the world. The author affirms his belief in this doctrine in warning those who oppose God and his people: “They will have no chance of redemption, as God has already determined their fate.”

Smetanin (and any Calvinist for that matter) has no room to make an exhortation of repentance to any man, since they believe that their fate has been determined and sealed even before God created the earth. What is the sense, then, of calling people to repent if they have no chance of salvation? Aren’t they depraved to the point that God himself has to call them personally to turn from their wickedness? If an alien sinner studied the Bible from a Calvinist perspective and believed it, they would come to the conclusion that they have two options: repent or remain a sinner. However, the problem is that the decision really isn’t theirs, it’s God’s. If they realized this, then what exactly would they have to do? Nothing! They would just need to wait until God does the calling, and he may never call because it just probably wasn’t meant to be. Sorry.

That is not the plan of salvation that is taught in God’s word. Christ came to this earth as the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:14) to die for the sins of all mankind (John 3:16). His gift of eternal salvation is not limited to a select group of people; it is for all those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-10). You must hear the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:17); that he was crucified, buried, and raised by God on the third day (Matt. 27:37 – 28:6). After you hear the gospel, you must believe it (Acts 16:30-31) and repent of your sins (Acts 2:38). Then you have to confess before men that Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt. 10:32; Matt. 16:16) and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). We are not the ones who work in baptism (Titus 3:5), but rather it is God who works to make us new creatures in Christ (Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:12). He forgives us of our sins, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and adds us to the church of Christ (Acts 2:38,47). Once you have come into a covenant relationship with God, you must continue to live faithfully, and at the end, you receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). There is no one aspect of this plan that is more important than the others. The sum of his words is truth (Ps. 119:160), not faith alone, not grace alone, not baptism alone. Every single part of God’s plan to save mankind is essential.

God bless you.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #3

Predestination and Salvation

The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we do not study God’s word to come to an understanding of it, we cannot believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), and therefore, there is no salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). That is why it is important to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When studying God’s word, we must understand passages in terms of the immediate context, which are the verses before and after, the context of the chapter, the context of the book, and the overall context of the Bible. Additionally, we need to know the meaning of words and how they are used in the Scriptures. In this series of posts, I am dealing with the sovereignty of God and the will of man as they relate to God’s plan of salvation. I have discussed the importance of not allowing a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to contradict the basic principles of God’s character and man’s nature. The Calvinist view of concepts such as predestination and election is in opposition to the righteousness of God and the free will of man. It conflicts with the Scriptures due to an incorrect interpretation. One of the misinterpreted passages is Romans 9:20-24. These verses have been used to prove that certain individuals have been predestined to salvation, and others have been predestined to condemnation. The issue is that this belief is due to either not analyzing the verses within their context or completely misunderstanding the context. In this post, I will discuss Romans 9:20-24 and resolve the contradictions presented by Calvinist theology.

As I mentioned, it is important to understand the meaning of words used in the context of the Scriptures. The verb “to predestine” is used in several verses of the Bible (see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11), but contextually, it has nothing to do with the Calvinist view of predestination. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it is a translation of the word proorizó, which is the combination of pró “before” and horízō “to establish boundaries”. That is, it means “to limit in advance” or “to determine beforehand”. Some synonyms found in different Bible translations are “to predetermine” or “to foreordain”. We could take 1 Corinthians 2:7 in three Bible translations as an example of the use of proorizó by Paul in discussing the plan of salvation that was determined by God before the beginning of time. These translations illustrate a clear meaning of the word – to determine before. No other definition can be derived.

King James Version: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory”

New American Standard Bible: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”

English Standard Version: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory”.

The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans is rich with doctrinal topics that are outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the main issues that the early church dealt with was the fact that Jewish Christians were binding the Law of Moses on newly converted Gentiles. They taught that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Paul responds to this false teaching in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia by revealing to them the great mystery of the gospel (Rom. 11:25). He explains in Romans 1 – 3 that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and that they could not be freed from sin by works of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. The only means by which a man could be justified was through the death of Jesus Christ, which was offered by God as a gift and appropriated by man through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). Justification is attained by faith apart from works of the law because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 28-30). For this reason, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). As Paul continues his discussion, he focuses on the role of his kinsmen, the Jews, in the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:1-5 ESV):

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The Jews had rejected Christ and demanded his crucifixion (cf. John 19:6). Although Paul felt great sorrow for his race, the rejection of Christ and of the gospel by the Jews was part of God’s plan, which was spoken forth by the Prophets (cf. Isa. 53). God knew that the Jews would not accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and he used that rejection to offer salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 56:8; cf. Jn. 10:16). The book of Acts reveals the fulfillment of God’s promise in the salvation of several Gentiles, such as Cornelius in chapters 10 and 11 and Lydia and the Philippian jailor in chapter 16, just to name a few. Paul then says in Romans 9:20-241:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The Calvinists use this passage to prove their view of predestination. Based on verse 22, they claim that God has prepared certain people for destruction and others for mercy, which is false according to the context. This passage refers to the fact that God used the rejection of the Jews in order to save the Gentiles. Verse 22 says that God “endured with much patience”. That is, he abstained from punishing the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:25), who were steeped in sin. Paul referred to them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. The word “prepared” is used in the original Greek text as a verb that is expressed with the meaning of doing something to oneself (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Therefore, we understand verse 22 to mean that the Jews prepared themselves for destruction by hardening their own hearts. They stored up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5) by not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-4). In doing this, they served as God’s vessels in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which were not only the Gentiles but also the Jews who believed. Reading chapters 10 and 11 helps to further comprehend God’s plan.

The Jews were God’s chosen people. He always intended to save them, and he secured that promise by making covenants with their forefathers (e.g., Gen. 6:18, 15:18). However, he incited jealousy in them by turning to other nations, and he was justified in doing so because Israel was a disobedient people (Rom. 10:18-21). Paul then explains that, although they stumbled, it was not so that they would fall. That is, God did not predestine them to be completely destroyed or lost. These same vessels of wrath would still have the opportunity to be saved (Rom. 11:11-15):

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

It is clear in this text that Israel’s trespass brought salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, would make Israel jealous in order that they also would seek salvation. In this way, God grants salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, the whole world (11:25):

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…

God was loyal to the covenant that he made with Israel’s forefathers (11:28-29): “28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses teach us that God keeps his promise. He has not revoked the gift of salvation. All you need to do is accept it by being obedient (Rom. 16:26).

These chapters most certainly reveal the everlasting wisdom, love, and mercy of God (Rom. 11:30-36). They also show that he does not show partiality towards men and would never predestine specific individuals to be saved or lost. What he predestined, or determined beforehand, was a plan. His plan involves an election, which I will discuss in the fourth part of this series. I will argue that God’s election as taught in the Bible is different from the type of election taught in Calvinist theology.

Footnotes

1. Since it deals with election, Romans 9:6-19 will be discussed further in part 4 of this series. Predestination and election are closely related.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #1

The Character of God and the Nature of Man

This post is the first of a series on the importance of man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. My interest in this topic was sparked by various conversations and bible studies that I have had with people that agree and disagree with the notion that each individual has a role to play in his salvation. Man’s primary goal in this life should be to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). If we expect to be where the Father is when we part from this world, we must rightly divide his word in order to know what we must do to be saved (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17). There are several doctrines on salvation that do not align with God’s word. One of the most prevalent is Calvinism. Calvinistic theology is summarized in five main points that are represented with the mnemonic device, TULIP: T- Total Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, P- Perseverance of the Saints. The basic idea that underlies this doctrine is that man has no role to play in his salvation, and that God does all the work. This theology involves the concepts of predestination and election, which are found in the Scriptures. However, the Calvinistic approach to the interpretation of these concepts produces false doctrine because it contradicts basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man. I believe that in order to understand the topic of salvation, we must know who and how God is and how he has created mankind. Therefore, in this first post, I will explore passages from the Scriptures that reveal this information to us.

The only way to know God is by reading his word. He has revealed to us his character traits so that we know how he deals with his creation. I believe that the most important trait to know about God is that he does not change who he is. We learn this from Malachi 3:6, “for I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (English Standard Version). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). There is no variation in him (Jas. 1:17). When we accept this, we know that whatever we learn about his character is just as true now as it was in former times.

The Scriptures teach that God is sovereign. The psalmist says in Psalm 115:3 and 135:6 that the Lord sits in heaven and does as he pleases. No one can direct the Spirit of the Lord. No one can teach him or make him understand (Isa. 40:13-14). He is the only Sovereign One, King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15-16). God is also righteous and just. He is a faithful God who does no wrong (Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:11). He is also a jealous god, forbidding all other gods and idols (Deut. 4:23-24). The Scriptures also teach that God does not and cannot lie:

19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it (Num. 23:19 ESV)?

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2 ESV).

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Heb. 6:17-18 ESV).

Additionally, we learn in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that God is not a god of confusion, but rather, a god of order. There is no division in him, and he does not teach conflicting ideas in his word. Some other important features of God’s character are that he is patient, merciful, loving, and gracious (Eph. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). However, he is also wrathful and vengeful against disobedience, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 10:29-31). God is light, and in him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).

The other necessary part of understanding salvation is knowing how God has created human beings. The basic truth about mankind is that God has created us upright and perfect; however, we stray away and seek to do our own will (Eccl. 7:29). God has made us in his own image (Gen. 1:27, 5:2; 1 Cor. 11:7) and has given us the free will to choose our own paths. This concept is made clear in the words of Moses and Joshua. In Deuteronomy 30:19, when Moses pronounced the covenant that the Lord made with the people at Moab, he told them to choose between life and death. Joshua also told the people in the renewal of the covenant in Shechem to choose whom they would serve (Josh. 24:15). We are encouraged to choose God’s will. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13); however, our selfish ambitions lead us to do our own will. When we do our will and not the will of God, it alienates us from him because of our hardened hearts and evil actions (Eph. 2:12, 4:18; Col. 1:21). It makes us his enemy (Rom. 5:10). The only way to be saved is by being reconciled to him (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18), and the only way to be reconciled to him is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Col. 1:20,22; cf. Acts 4:12).

All of our bible studies should be guided by these basic truths, but it is particularly important to keep these in mind when we study salvation. We need to be sure that we follow the Scriptures in this matter because the consequences are costly. In upcoming posts, I will refer back to these principles as I continue to explore man’s role in God’s plan of salvation. There will be various references to Calvinistic theology, particularly concerning predestination and election, as I believe the Calvinistic interpretation of these concepts conflict with the basic principles about the character of God and the nature of man.

A Brief Note on Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The foreknowledge of God in Romans 8:29 simply means that God knew something before the beginning of time. This particular text shows that he knew before time those who would love him, which are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15-21; 2 John 1:6). He predestined those who love him to be conformed to the image of Christ. “Predestined” means that he has a destiny for all men to be like Christ, that is, to be Christians. This idea of predestination differs from that of Calvinistic thought in which the passage is interpreted as if there were a specific group of people elected to be saved and another group to be lost. The Bible clearly teaches that ALL men have been predestined. John 3:16 says, “[f]or God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The term “world” refers to the inhabitants of the earth, and not just some, but all. We know that God gave his only son for all of us because 2 Peter 3:9 says that he does not wish that any man should perish but that ALL come to repentance. God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through his son (John 3:17).

However, although he destined us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless like Christ (Eph. 1:4), only a few decide to go along with God’s plan. Many are called, but because of their unrighteousness, few are chosen (Matthew 20:16, 22:14). That is why it is important that we work out our soul salvation (Philippians 2:12). We are called to obey, and in that obedience, we are saved (2 Thess. 1:8). Think about it this way – the Israelites were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7; Deut. 4:20, 7:6, 14:2); however, they chose to live according to their own desires, not following the law that God had given them (Jeremiah 9:13ff):

13 And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, 14 but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. 16 I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”

God gave them the freedom to choose between him and other gods. Unfortunately, in many instances, they desired to worship other gods in spite of the fact that they were God’s chosen people. The same happens today in Christianity. God has chosen all of us, not just some of us, and he predestined a plan, which is the gospel. This plan of salvation was in the mind of God before the world began (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9); it is the great mystery that has been revealed to us (1 Tim. 3:16). He manifested himself in the flesh as Jesus Christ and died for the sins of all mankind so that we could have the opportunity to be reconciled with him (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 5:10-11; Eph. 2:11-18). Now he has left it up to us to choose to obey him (Rom. 16:26). Unfortunately, many will turn away from God and decide to not.