A Telling and Ironic Tweet by John Piper on “Waking up in the Morning” as a Believer

Calvinist John Piper recently gave the following Tweet:

 I fall asleep quietly confident that I will be a believer in the morning not because of my free will but God’s free grace. 

This is an obvious attack on Arminianism and those that reject Piper’s Calvinistic presuppositions, though it is misplaced.  While Arminians do believe that our will plays a part in our continuing to trust God and remain a believer, it is inaccurate to suggest that Arminians believe our wills are the only factor.  Our wills must be continually empowered and enabled by God’s grace in order for us to continue to trust, obey and remain in Christ, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Thankfully, God has provided us with everything we need in order to continue to trust in Him and strengthen our faith so that we will not “stumble.” (2 Peter 1:2-11).  But it is also true that God’s empowering us to believe and continue to believe can be resisted.  While we cannot believe or continue to believe unless God empowers us, we are still capable of walking away and resisting the abundant grace He provides.

Piper seems to see this fact as some sort of reason for insecurity.  But that is not the case at all.  It is similar to the security that would accompany any relationship that involves a level of commitment.  Marriage is a prime example.   I acknowledge that I need to guard and protect my marriage by the choices that I (freely) make that will either strengthen that relationship or weaken and harm it.  I must concede that it is possible for me to neglect that relationship, even to the point of infidelity.  It would be presumptuous to assume such a thing were not possible.  However, I don’t live in fear and terror and insecurity over my marriage, always thinking about how it might not last, and I certainly don’t go to bed at night fearing that I might wake up and no longer love my wife or want anything at all to do with her.

Does Piper really think that those who fall away go to bed believers and suddenly wake up “in the morning” as hardened unbelievers?  It is hard to even imagine such a case.  Such a scenario presents a rather silly, simplified and unrealistic way of speaking about  someone leaving the faith.  Nobody who falls away just wakes up one morning an unbeliever after having gone to bed a believer.  The road to unbelief is gradual, at least to some degree, and it typically involves many (free) choices along the way.   But of course, since Piper rejects the possibility of apostasy from genuine faith, he can only hold that deluded hypocrites can go to bed thinking they are saved and that their faith is real only to apparently wake up in the morning in a more honest frame of mind, finally embracing their unbelief instead of clinging to their false fleshly hypocritical faith that was never real in the first place.  And that leads us to the most problematic difficulty in Piper’s trite little Tweet: As a Calvinist, John Piper can have no assurance that he is saved when he goes to bed or assurance that he will be saved when he wakes up!

Calvinists, like Piper, believe that those who have been truly regenerated will inevitably persevere to the end in saving faith.  But how does one know that he is regenerate?  The only true test is to persevere to the end in saving faith.  If one fails to persevere, that person only reveals that while he may have thought his faith was real, it was only a case of self deception, or even worse, divine deception.  John Calvin called this divine deception “evanescent grace”.  It was his answer to the problem of so many real life cases of those who lived for many years seemingly loving and trusting in God and producing godly fruit, only to eventually fall away and abandon the faith.  According to Calvin, God gave such people a delusion that made them think they were saved, and even feel like they were saved, only to eventually remove this fleeting grace and reveal that they were just deluded hypocrites that God had never regenerated and whose faith, while it seemed very real to them, was not real faith at all.  For a more detailed look at Calvin’s evanescent grace and the way that Calvinism undercuts Biblical salvation assurance, see the first link given at the end of this post.

So for Calvin and Piper, confidence of perseverance is tied up in being regenerate, and it is not at all clear how one can be sure she is regenerate unless she perseveres (to the end) in the faith (a problem of circularity that effectively kills assurance).  So the bigger problem for Piper is that he cannot be sure that he will wake up every morning as a believer because his faith may, in fact, be spurious.  The only way that he can have confidence that his bedtime faith is not spurious and that he will wake up each morning as a [true] believer is if he in fact wakes up each morning as a [true] believer.  So he can have no real confidence at all that he will wake up tomorrow morning, or any other morning, as a believer.  In short, he is guilty of wishful thinking and nothing more. Again, the main problem for Piper is how he can know that he is even going to bed a true believer and not a deluded hypocrite.   There is simply no way to be sure of this if Calvinism is true.

The irony is obvious.  While the Arminians that Piper wanted to discount can have significant salvation assurance while going to bed and in day to day life, Piper’s theology effectively undermines and makes such assurance impossible and, in so doing, nullifies the promises of Scripture that we can indeed know that we presently have eternal life (1 John 5:13).  While the Arminian could rightly say what Piper says in his tweet, John Piper cannot.

For more on the problems with Calvinist assurance in contrast with the strong basis for assurance that Arminians possess, see the following posts:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton 

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance and Anxiety?

An Important Admission on Salvation Assurance from Prominent Calvinist C. Michael Patton

Excerpt:

It may surprise you to know that just about every contact I have had with people who are doubting their salvation are Calvinistic in their theology. In other words, they believe in unconditional election. These are the ones who believe in perseverance of the saints. These are the ones that believe that we cannot lose our salvation! Yet these are the ones who are doubting their faith the most…Isn’t this ironic? I have never had a call from an Arminian (or any other believer in conditional election) about this. In my experience, it is only Calvinists who doubt their faith in such a way with such traumatic devastation. Why? (Doubting Calvinists)

This article is interesting in a lot of ways and should be carefully considered by all Calvinists.  I have always maintained that Calvinist doctrine undercuts Biblical Assurance.  Patton finds assurance in his present belief (though he admits that assurance is not total).  However, Calvinist doctrine makes present assurance impossible, while Arminian doctrine fully comports with that possibility:

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

An Ironic And Telling Tweet by John Piper on Waking up in The Morning as a Believer 

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance, and Anxiety?

[some of the material below was recently added]

Not only that, but the Calvinist cannot even have assurance of final salvation as he cannot be certain that his faith will endure to the end until it in fact endures to the end.  Only when his faith endures to the end will it prove to be a genuine saving faith.  Since the Calvinist cannot know that his faith is genuine till he endures in that faith till the end, he cannot have even present assurance of salvation as mentioned above.  But the Arminian has a strong basis for present salvation assurance.  Not only that, in knowing that God desires his salvation and will give him all the power he needs to continue to trust in Him, the Arminian has a strong basis for assurance in final salvation as well.  A commenter in one of the posts linked to above, put the matter well when he wrote,

But I would add that Arminians do have substantial assurance of future final salvation, simply not absolute or unconditional whereas Calvinists, as you point out, can have no present assurance and therefore no future assurance whatsoever and be consistent with their own doctrine. In everyday life, people have substantial assurance of future benefit which is nonetheless conditional on their continuing to meet the condition for that future benefit, for example continuing to consent to receive it. So Arminians can have solid assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation, which is contingent on them continuing to meet the condition, which is faith. Put another way concerning future salvation, we have full assurance of future salvation on the condition of faith. And wonderfully, God promises true believers the ability to persevere in faith and that nothing can tear them away from him. So with present salvation we have the absolute assurance that God will enable us to persevere unto final salvation and that God is for us. He simply does not gaurantee that he will *make* us persevere. Arminian theology gives far more assurance than Calvinism: In Arminianism, full assurance of present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation (i.e. full assurance on the condition of faith) vs. in Calvinism no assurance period.

Now it is important to note that many Calvinists have assurance *despite* their theology. But the important point is that it is despite their theology, which puts their theology at odds with Scripture, which teaches that we can know that we are saved….let me restate one of my points in stronger language: in everyday life, assurance of a future benefit is almost always conditional on at least the continuing free consent of the receiver of the benefit. Hardly anyone ever thinks of such assurance as minimal or meaningless. It is simply a given that receiving a future promised benefit remains contingent on consenting to it. Here’s an illustration: if one is on a train that the company assures will get you to your destination (and it has never failed a customer), one can have assurance that one will arrive at the destination (and assurance is accordingly greater with the reliability of the one promising the result; in salvation it is God, so assurance is certain). But that does not mean that one cannot decide to jump off the train. The company’s assurance to take you to the destination does not include forcing you to stay on the train. So saying Arminians don’t have absolute, unconditional assurance for final salvation verges on being a red herring or perhaps irrelevant instead. It is not the type of assurance people ever normally have with respect to future promised benefits. We have seen that Calvinists don’t have such assurance from their theology anyway. But it is good to underscore the very real and profound assurance of future salvation that Arminian theology gives in harmony with biblical teaching from which it is draw and that Calvinistic theology can never deliver. [link to comments]

As noted above, a believing Calvinist could still have salvation assurance based on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that their fundamental doctrines negate the Biblical basis for salvation assurance.  But as Patton’s post reveals, it can serve to put the knowledgeable Calvinist in great tension between what the Holy Spirit might be communicating to him and what are the unavoidable implications of the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.

Does Believing Apostasy is Possible Lead to Insecurity, Lack of Assurance, and Anxiety?

Not if it is understood properly (Biblically).  Here are some short comments from a discussion on the topic:

Visitor: Why should someone who has no more condemnation fear [falling away] on a regular basis? It makes no sense to me…

Such a fear is a healthy concern so that such a person will remain in Christ where alone there is no condemnation. It isn’t the type of fear that is suppose to be anxiety producing. Maybe that is the problem with how you are seeing things. For example, if I have no concern (or fear) at all over the possibility that I might at some point commit adultery on my wife, then I would probably not be careful not to look too long at attractive women, or thumb through magazines that I shouldn’t. If I had no concern (or fear) over the strength of my relationship with my wife, I wouldn’t make the effort to love her and do things for her that she appreciates. I wouldn’t invest in our relationship which would inevitably weaken it, possibly even to the point of breaking up. But such “fear” is not the same as a constant anxiety. Still, that fear is very important. I love her and know she loves me, but I also know I am weak and susceptible and need to be on guard (i.e., “don’t be arrogant”). It’s the same with God. We can know that God loves us and love Him too, but if we have no concern to keep that relationship strong and no understanding that despite our love, we are weak and susceptible in the flesh, we would not strive to overcome the flesh through His Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we need to live in anxiety or constantly worry that we will fall away. You may think that is how Arminians live, but that is not how I live and it has not been the experience of so many more like me who share my view.

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You can read the entire exchange in the comments section of this post.

1 Corinthians 15 and the Claims of Calvinism

Calvinism as a system claims that God reprobated a large segment of mankind so that they can never be saved. [1] It further claims that the atonement is for this reason limited only to the elect who alone will benefit from the atonement and be saved (with no possibility of falling away).  In such a system Jesus died only for the sins of the elect.  If this is the case it seems that many passages of Scripture are disingenuous in commanding all people everywhere to repent and believe on Christ when repentance is impossible for reprobates and Christ did not die for them anyway (For more on that see here).

If Calvinism is to be consistent in these claims it cannot allow for a person to rightly tell someone that Christ died for them.  The best one can do is say that if they repent and believe, Christ died for them [2] or that Christ died for sinners (meaning “some sinners” but not necessarily the sinner they are presently speaking to) or that Christ might have died for them, or something similar [3].  Therefore, consistent Calvinists say it is wrong to tell the unsaved that Christ died for them [4].  This may seem shocking enough to most Christians, but Calvinists today are often claiming further that the Bible never gives us an example of anyone telling unbelievers that Christ died for them.  It is with this claim in mind that we turn to our text:

 1CO 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

1CO 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

1CO 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

1CO 15:4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (NASB, emphasis mine)

Paul is recounting to the Corinthians the content of the gospel message as Paul first preached it to them.  The need for this reminder is made clearer later in the chapter where we discover that some are denying the resurrection and by extension are denying the gospel that Paul preached.  Paul makes it clear that the message as he describes it here is the message he first brought to them “of first importance”.  This gospel message includes three main components.  The first is that “Christ died for our sins” followed by the fact that Christ was buried and then rose again on the third day, all of which happened “according to the Scriptures”.  This is the specific content of the gospel message as Paul first delivered it to these Corinthians.  They “received” this gospel by faith and are currently standing on these truths delivered to them by Paul when he first preached this specific gospel message to them.

We can draw several conclusions from what Paul says to the Corinthians in this passage.  The one that most concerns us at present is that the initial message of the gospel to the Corinthians prior to their receiving (by faith) the message Paul preached is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”.  The rest of the gospel message about the resurrection reinforces this central truth.  We know this because Paul later explains to them that if Christ is not raised then their faith is worthless and they are “still in [their] sins” as a result.  Therefore, the central message of the gospel, according to Paul, is that “Christ died for our sins”.  The resurrection is no less important in that it gives ultimate verification to the primary message of the gospel, Christ’s death for the forgiveness of sins.

But does Paul say that Christ died only for the sins of the elect?  To the contrary, Paul’s initial message to these unsaved Corinthians was that “Christ died for our sins.”  The natural way to understand Paul’s language here is that Christ died not only for Paul’s sins, but for all of their sins as well.  This is the message they needed to receive in order to be saved.  In accepting the truth by faith that Christ died for their sins, they received the forgiveness that results from Christ’s death to all that believe.  So here we have a clear example of the gospel message being preached to unbelievers and the central message of that gospel being not that Christ died for the elect, or that Christ died for sinners (meaning “some” sinners), but that Christ died for “our” (everyone’s) sins.  This is, according to Paul’s own words, the content of the gospel message delivered to them “as first importance.”  Paul is now admonishing them to remember that message that they received (that Christ died for them) and to continue to stand on that message, less their faith prove to be “in vain”.  But if it is unclear whether Christ died for them, how then can they be called on to stand firm on that truth?

Suppose we take Paul’s words to mean Christ died for “our” (the elect’s) sins [5].  That would be a most unnatural way to read the text.  Beyond that, it is hard to imagine how they would appropriate that message.  Is it by believing that Christ died for the elect alone that they are saved?  Surely not.  They could believe that Christ died for Paul and others that at least appeared to be elect (see note #3 below) without believing that Christ died for them in particular.  Indeed, according to Calvinism there is no way to know if Christ died for us until we repent and believe (and even then we cannot know for sure that Christ died for our sins until we persevere to the end [death or Christ’s return] in faith, see note #4 below).

But believe what?  According to Paul it is that Christ died for our sins.  That is the preeminent message of the gospel and it is a message that is grossly at odds with the claims of Calvinism [6].  We can’t trust Christ to save us if Christ did not die for our sins [7].  We can only trust that Christ might have died for us, though the odds are against it (see note #1 below)

We will now take a moment to examine the first part of Paul’s message as it has further relevance for Calvinism in that it seems to plainly contradict the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance:

1CO 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

1CO 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  (NASB, emphasis mine)

In verse one Paul makes it clear that he is addressing those who received his initial gospel message that Christ died for their sins and was buried and raised again.  Not only did they receive this message, but they are presently standing on that message and as a result will be finally saved, with one important qualifier: they must continue to hold on to that truth in the faith that they initially received that truth in.  In other words, if they turn from the truth of that initial message that they received and deny the resurrection, they would in turn be denying the very truth that will ultimately save them.  In such a case their initial faith in the death and resurrection of Christ will prove to have been in vain, since it did not continue.

This is problematic for Calvinism in two important ways.  First, Calvinism asserts that true faith will always endure because God will preserve that faith and cause the believer to persevere in that faith Himself.  So if one receives the truth of the gospel and stands on that truth he will certainly continue to stand on that truth to the end.  If one does not continue he never really stood on that truth to begin with and never truly received that truth to begin with.  But this is at odds with the way Paul speaks of the matter.  Paul does not doubt they received the message; nor does Paul doubt their present commitment to the message.  Paul only questions whether they will continue in that message or turn aside to deny the resurrection, an indispensable part of the message initially received.

If Paul believed that those who fall away never believed in the first place we would expect him to end with “unless (otherwise) you never really believed to begin with” or something similar.  But instead Paul simply points to the fact that in abandoning the faith one will not attain to the object and hope of that faith once exercised since he has turned away from the very message that will ultimately save him.  Therefore, their faith, while it truly existed for a time, will prove to be “in vain” since it does not continue to the point of fully receiving the promise of the gospel- final salvation.

We see similar language in Romans 11:16-24.  After describing election in the context of the ancient olive tree (which represents God’s covenant people beginning with their identity with the patriarchs and ending with their identity with Christ, the final and supreme Head of the covenant), Paul goes on to warn the Gentiles who have entered the new covenant through faith in Christ and have been grafted into the people of God as a result, that they must be careful not to be arrogant over the Jews who have been broken off from the olive tree as a result of their rejection of Christ, the final and supreme Head of the covenant.  The problem for Calvinism is that Paul describes these Gentiles as believers who have been grafted into God’s chosen people and who are presently standing by faith.  There can therefore be no doubt that Paul is speaking to saved individuals who are presently enjoying the blessing of the new covenant through faith union with Christ.  The specific language makes this indisputable,

Ro 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,

Ro 11:18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

Ro 11:19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”

Ro 11:20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.

Ro 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Ro 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

Just as in 1 Corinthians 15 we find Paul telling those that he describes as presently saved and enjoying the benefits of salvation that they can yet be “broken off” from the people of God and the salvation that belongs to them alone if they do not “continue” in God’s kindness through faith.  Again, if the Calvinist accounting of perseverance were true, we would expect to find Paul telling them that they would have never been in the olive tree and have never believed in the first place.  However, Paul says exactly the opposite; describing them as true believers who can be broken off from a tree they are presently attached to, enjoying all the benefits of God’s elect people in Christ Jesus. [8]

Conclusion:  We have found that Calvinist claims about limited atonement and inevitable perseverance are severely challenged by the language of 1 Corinthians 15.  We have also found that the Calvinist claim that it is unscriptural to tell sinners that Christ died for their sins is inaccurate, as we have Biblical precedent in Paul’s initial gospel proclamation to the Corinthians that “Christ died for our sins.”  We have also examined a few possible counter arguments and found them to be severely problematic given the context and specific language employed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

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[1] If Jesus is correct that “few” in contrast to “many” enter through the narrow gate unto salvation (and I assume Calvinists would agree that He is correct), then we must conclude that God has reprobated the vast majority of humanity “for His glory” (Matthew 7:13, 14).  Somehow, it would then seem that reprobation must bring God more glory than election unto salvation.  It should also be noted that when I speak of God reprobating people, it could be conceived as a direct action of God or as a more indirect action, as in “passing over” the many that will as a result be left reprobate.  I agree with Wesley and many others that this amounts to a distinction without a difference, or as John Wesley notes after carefully dissecting the claims that passing over is very different and less offensive than direct reprobation, it is “the self same thing.” (See Wesley’s famous sermons, Predestination Calmly Considered and On Predestination).

[2] This would probably seem to most to be the inverse of what the Bible claims and what we should tell unbelievers about the Gospel- that because Christ died for them, they should repent and believe.  Peter actually says exactly that in his second sermon in the book of Acts (For a more detailed study of that passage see here).

[3] In such a scheme Calvinist parents can have no real assurance that Christ died for any of their children or that God even loves their children in a saving way (God may instead “hate” them in reprobation as He did Esau).  Nor can a Calvinist parent tell their children that Christ died for them or that God loves them in any meaningful way.  Calvinist Erwin Lutzer tries to claim that Calvinists can have strong assurance that their children are elect, but that claim is easily refuted given the fundamental premises of Calvinism (for more on that see here).

[4] But really it is unclear how a Calvinist could even tell someone who appears to be a saved believer that Christ died for them as they may yet fall away and, by Calvinist assumptions, prove that they were never saved or elect to begin with.  Calvinism severely undercuts Biblical assurance in many ways (for more on that see here).

[5] Another possible Calvinist explanation would be to claim that Paul was speaking of them as they presently were in saying that Christ died for “our sins” since upon their believing Paul could now say that Christ had in fact died for them.  But this would be an extremely awkward way to understand the text since Paul is recounting his initial message to them and admonishing them to continue to believe it as they first received it.  Not only that, but as noted above, even if they appeared to believe, Paul could not say with confidence, according to Calvinism, that Christ died for them until they demonstrated their faith was genuine and saving by persevering to the end.  But isn’t it true that even in Arminianism many might not have genuine saving faith?  Indeed it is, but that would not change the fact that Christ died for them since in Arminianism Christ died for all, even those who will never believe.  So Arminianism would still be fully in harmony with Paul’s gospel message.

[6] Again, we find the same basic gospel message in Peter’s second sermon recorded in Acts 3.  For details concerning that message see my post, Provisional Atonement Part 3: The Integrity and Justice of God in the Gospel Offer.  But even if the Bible nowhere showed anyone preaching the message that “Christ died for your sins” it is everywhere implied, especially in those passages which command all to repent and believe on the message on the basis of Christ’s death along with those passages which use universal language in describing the extent of the atonement, of God’s love or desire for all to be saved.  There are many things that believers speak about in ways that the Bible never directly does.  For example, the Bible nowhere describes the Trinity as we often explain it to those who have questions about the Trinity (as God in three persons, or One eternal Being existing in three persons, etc.).  However, we can confidently say such things based on what the Bible does say, even if the Bible does not use that specific language.

Furthermore, the Bible only records a few accounts of the gospel message being preached to sinners and we should not assume that there were not many other ways the message was articulated in the hundreds or thousands of other times the gospel was preached to unbelievers.  And thankfully, we have in 1 Cor. 15 clear evidence that Paul indeed preached to unbelievers that Christ died for their sins (since, in that context, “ours” naturally includes “yours” as well as “mine”).

[7] A Calvinist could possibly answer this by pointing out that in Calvinism God must cause us to have faith irresistibly and would only cause those that Christ died for to believe that Christ died for them.  But this still does not address the resulting disingenuous nature of the offer of salvation throughout Scripture or the specific language that Paul used in presenting the gospel message to the Corinthians as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15; neither does it address the difficulty inherent in the fact that only a faith which perseveres to the end can be considered genuine in Calvinism (see note #4 above).  There again, the Calvinist has no solid grounds for believing that Christ died for them at all since he may yet fall away and prove that his faith was not genuine after all and that Christ did not die for him, though he thought he did.  Only the Arminian view allows for us to accept the straightforward language in Scripture concerning the gospel offer and the nature of the gospel to be received, that Christ died for all and there is therefore forgiveness of sins available for all (Acts 3:19-26).

[8] We should further point out that if Paul’s warning to these believers can never attain or actually happen since God will inevitably preserve them in the faith, then it is nonsense for Paul to tell them to “be afraid” lest they are broken off as a result of not continuing in the faith.  Paul speaks to them as true believers joined to God’s elect people and for that reason, according to Calvinism, they have nothing to fear since it is impossible for true believers to fall away. Everything in Paul’s language points us towards the real possibility of apostasy and away from the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.  For a detailed study of several Scriptures which contradict the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance, see my series here.

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

I hope to do a few posts on Erwin Lutzer’s[1] book, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians.  One might expect that such a book would look to lessen division and ease tension between Christians, but it seems that Lutzer’s purpose is more to present certain divisive doctrines and explain why his views of the doctrines are correct.  Many of the issues center on the major doctrinal disagreements between Catholics and non-Catholics and as a non-Catholic I agree with Lutzer’s general assessment against Catholic dogma.  However, Lutzer’s book is not limited to the divisions between Catholics and non-Catholics.  Lutzer also examines doctrinal controversies within protestant Christianity and one of these main controversies centers on the debate concerning Calvinism and Arminianism.  Unfortunately, Lutzer does not set himself apart from the many Calvinist authors who misrepresent Arminianism and the history of the controversy in an apparent attempt to paint Calvinism as orthodoxy and Arminianism as a sort of unfortunate heresy left over from the protestant break with Catholicism.  I hope to take a closer look at many of Lutzer’s claims and arguments in a series of posts.  This post, however, will simply examine an important difficulty with Calvinism that Lutzer rightly identifies along with his proposed solution.

In dealing with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election Lutzer ponders the problem of evangelism in Calvinism.  He concludes that Arminians are really no better off than Calvinists with regards to the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of evangelism in their theological system (more on that in a future post), as well as why one can supposedly have confidence in his or her elect status in Calvinism even though the decree of election is secret (for serious problems regarding salvation assurance in Calvinism see this post).  He then shifts to an interesting question and takes only a paragraph to dispatch the concern with what he seems to think is a sufficient solution.  He writes,

God’s choice of those who will be saved appears to be neither random nor arbitrary.  He planned the context in which they would be converted.  That is why I have never wondered whether my children are among the elect.  Since they were born into a Christian home, we can believe that the means of their salvation will be the faithful teaching of God’s Word.  God’s decision to save us involved planning where we would be born and the circumstances that would lead us to Christ.  Election is part of a total picture. (The Doctrines that Divide, pg. 217, italics his)

The person I borrowed Lutzer’s book from wrote “very comforting” in the margin next to this paragraph.  But does Lutzer’s solution really offer enough certainty to provide a Calvinist with any real comfort concerning the eternal destiny of their children?  I don’t see that it possibly can given fundamental Calvinist assumptions and the way that they have traditionally handled certain passages of Scripture to support unconditional election.

Lutzer seems to be suggesting that if one is born in a Christian home, that person will grow up to hear the gospel and be converted.  Is that really what he thinks?  Surely he is aware of cases where children have grown up in Christian homes under godly Biblical teaching and yet rejected God and lived and died as unbelievers.  It seems to me that there have been many Atheists who grew up as children of ministers[2].  Indeed, in Calvinism the “means” or “context” is never enough.  The reprobate can hear the gospel a thousand times and will never believe it.  In fact, God has made it impossible for him or her to believe.  While the proper means and context may be a necessary ingredient in Calvinism, without an irresistible regenerating act of God no amount of means or context can ever avail.  How can Lutzer assume that because his children are being placed in a context where they can receive the means of conversion that conversion will necessarily follow?  He can’t if Calvinism is true.  Sadly, if one of his children is among the reprobate no amount of context or means can help that child.  Context and means cannot change a decree that was made by God from eternity.  Context and means cannot help a reprobate who will forever be denied the regenerating grace of God in accordance with an unchangeable eternal decree.

To be perfectly frank, what right does Lutzer have to even hope that his children are elect when reprobation supposedly magnifies God’s glory?  What if God wants to magnify His glory by reprobating one of Lutzer’s children?  In such a case Lutzer’s hopes would be in stark contrast to God’s desire to magnify Himself and His glory through the reprobation of one of Lutzer’s children.  Perhaps God wants to display His “mercy” and “love” in one child by contrasting His electing love of the one child with His reprobating hatred of the other child.  Perhaps this reprobation will help the elect child to better recognize and revel in God’s mercy and grace and thus magnify God’s grace and mercy in that elect child in such a way that would not have been possible had the other child been elected as well (or perhaps this reprobation will serve to help Lutzer better appreciate His own election as well).  Such thoughts are hard to even write, yet these are the unavoidable implications of what Calvinists regularly teach concerning God’s grace and supposed reasons for reprobating most of humanity.[3]  But even beyond that we have a traditional Calvinist proof text that flatly contradicts Lutzer’s claims,

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac.  Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad- in order that God’s purpose in election would stand: not by works but by him who calls- she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)

This is the primary Calvinist proof text for unconditional election and this passage completely undermines Lutzer’s claims.  Esau and Jacob were born to quite possibly the godliest family on the planet at that time.  They grew up under godly teaching and instruction.  Yet, despite all of that, according to Calvinism, Esau was hated by God from the womb and this hatred is supposedly to be equated with the eternal decree of reprobation.  If the first born son of Isaac can be a hopeless reprobate (despite his father’s love for him over his supposedly unconditionally “elect” son), then why can’t one of Erwin Lutzer’s children likewise be a hopeless reprobate despite the context and means of being brought up in a godly environment?  In fact, if we can learn anything from this, God might very well reprobate the favorite child of the parent for His good pleasure and for the sake of somehow magnifying His grace and mercy in the elect.  Again, such things are hard to even contemplate, yet these are the fundamental underlying assumptions of Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election.

Another example would be the sons of Eli the priest.  Not only had these children been brought up by a godly father (probably one of the most godly men in Israel at the time), but they had also been brought up in the ministry.  Despite this, both of Eli’s sons became so wicked that God put them to death[4].  What better context and means could they hope for than to be the children of a father who was devoted to serving God daily?  One might argue that the fault lied with Eli’s failures as a father, but who among Christian fathers has not fallen short?  If the “means” and “context” includes perfect parenting skills, we are all in trouble, including Erwin Lutzer.

The simple fact is that Calvinism can provide no such comfort to Lutzer or any other Christian parent.  Nor can Lutzer really explain how God’s choice of one over the other is not ultimately “arbitrary” or “random”.  Simply talking about means and context doesn’t explain how God’s choice to elect and save some from the mass of equally depraved humanity is not arbitrary.

Calvinists typically claim that God’s choice is not arbitrary even though there is nothing to differentiate the one who is chosen and the one who is reprobated.  After all, both were depraved God haters prior to God’s choice (according to traditional infralapsarian Calvinism).  That is why the choice is considered unconditional.  Nothing in the person or about the person (like faith) conditions God’s choice.  Calvinists might try to solve this problem by claiming that the reason is hidden in God and we cannot know it.  It seems random and arbitrary to us but we can supposedly be sure that God has a good reason for choosing one and reprobating the other, even if there is absolutely nothing in or about either person to condition the choice[5].  Perhaps this provides the key to the only possible comfort Calvinist parents can have.  While Calvinist parents cannot have comfort that all (or any) of their children will be elect, those parents can at least take comfort in the fact that if God did reprobate any (or all) of their children, He had a very good secret reason for doing so.[6]


[1] Erwin Lutzer is the senior pastor of the historic Moody Church in Chicago

[2] One need only check out a few atheist websites to find several who came from Christian homes.

[3] It has become increasingly popular for Calvinists to claim that God can only be ultimately glorified and His attributes fully displayed by reprobating the greater part of humanity in order to help the elect fully appreciate and understand God’s mercy and grace towards them.  In such a scheme the eternal torment of the reprobate is to a large degree for the sake of the elect that they might somehow see God in a greater light and love Him more.  This concept was popularized by Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards and has been reintroduced with great support by contemporary Calvinists like John Piper.  Such a scheme also seems to make sin and reprobation necessary for Gods’ attributes to be fully displayed, threatening His holiness and quite possibly His aseity as well.

[4] 1 Samuel 2:12-34

[5] Likewise, Peterson and Williams assert that unconditional election should not be considered arbitrary while failing to explain why this should be so, preferring instead to punt to mystery: “But why must God’s sovereign decision to love some be considered arbitrary?  All deserve wrath; none deserve his grace [which is precisely why it seems arbitrary].  He freely chooses to bestow saving grace on billions of undeserving sinners.  That is not arbitrary; the Bible itself teaches that election is the result of God’s love and will [but this only begs the question that God’s love and will is not arbitrary in election, the very issue in dispute].  His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” (Why I am Not an Arminian, pp. 65, 66- bold emphasis and brackets mine)

[6] The typical Calvinist retort to such things is to claim that the Arminian system creates the same difficulties.  Even if this were the case it wouldn’t change the fact that Calvinists like Erwin Lutzer are offering hope and certainty that the fundamental tenets of Calvinism cannot provide (and flatly contradict).  Still, Arminianism does fare better as parents can be assured that God indeed loves all of their children and truly desires their salvation, hearing prayers and continually revealing Himself in accordance with those prayers and His desire for them to be saved.  While Arminians do not believe that God does such things in a way that guarantees results (i.e., God works resistibly and not irresistibly), Arminians are in a far better position to reveal God’s love to their children since there is no doubt that God truly desires their salvation and Christ certainly died as a provision of atonement for them.  In contrast, consistent Calvinists cannot even truthfully tell their children that Jesus loves them in any meaningful way or that Christ showed His great love by dying for them.  Indeed, God may hate them just as He hated Esau and have no desire to save them.  Likewise, Christ may not have died for them at all.

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 3: Who’s Really Holding the Daisy?

We will now begin to explore chapter 2 in Craig Brown’s book which he titles The Tulip and the Daisy.  In this chapter we will be treated to many mischaracterizations of Arminian theology in order to paint it as unbiblical heresy while holding up Calvinism as pure gospel truth.  Mr. Brown states his goals for the chapter as follows:

In order to show what Reformed Christians believe and why, this chapter will compare and contrast the doctrinal systems of Calvinism and Arminianism, and provide Scripture references that support the truth [i.e. the "truth" being Calvinism].  We will look at each of the five points of Calvinism, which are summarized by the acronym TULIP, and the Arminian response. (Arminians also have a flower, the daisy, because their doctrinal system says, in effect, “He loves me, He loves me not.”)  (pp. 23, 24)

So we are immediately off to a bad start with the title of the chapter being The Tulip and the Daisy and the snide remark, “Arminians also have a flower, the daisy, because their doctrinal system says, in effect, ‘He loves me, He loves me not.’”  This is extremely unfortunate for a book whose stated goal is to clear up misunderstandings concerning the doctrinal system of Calvinism.  Apparently, Mr. Brown couldn’t figure out a way to clear up misunderstanding concerning Calvinism without grossly misrepresenting Arminianism.  His statement about the Arminian flower being the daisy comes on the heels of the complaint,

The doctrinal system known as Arminianism has totally or partially taken over most protestant denominations.  This is due not to a latent superiority in Arminianism but mainly to a misunderstanding of Calvinism.  For instance, it is sometimes said that Calvinism denies man’s responsibility, makes man God’s puppet, or removes God’s love from the Bible.  These statements are not true.  (pg. 23 emphasis mine)

Neither is it true that Arminianism has a flower called the daisy because their doctrinal system amounts to “He loves me, He loves me not.”  Does Mr. Brown believe that  Arminians will gladly accept such statements concerning their system of belief as accurately reflecting that system?  I can’t image that he does.  So why on earth does he feel the need to take such childish cheap shots right after complaining about how Calvinism is so often misunderstood and misrepresented?

But I think it would do us well to examine the claim that the Arminian flower is the daisy for the reasons that Mr. Brown sets forth and see if perhaps the daisy better represents Calvinism than Arminianism.  Does the Arminian really hold to a system of belief that says, in effect, “He loves me, He loves me not.”?  Hardly.  Maybe Mr. Brown has forgotten that it is the Arminian that insists that John 3:16 means exactly what it says when it tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Perhaps he forgot that Calvinists have traditionally tried to limit God’s love expressed in John 3:16 and other universal passages to the elect alone.  

So according to Arminianism God loves everyone, and so it would be rather strange for an Arminian to say, “He loves me, He loves me not” since only the Arminian, even in the face of doubts and spiritual struggles, can cling to the Biblical promise that God loves him and truly desires his salvation.  This is not the case for the Calvinist as the Calvinist cannot be sure in the face of such struggles that God is indeed on his side since these doubts and struggles may, in fact, be revealing the true nature of the Calvinist as a reprobate exercising nothing more than a false faith, as Walls and Dongell point out with regards to the practical difficulties involved in pastoral counseling for Calvinists,

Calvinism deprives those struggling with their faith of the single most important resource available: the confidence that God loves all of us with every kind of love we need to enable and encourage our eternal flourishing and well being.  Again, Calvinists cannot honestly assure people that God loves them in this way without claiming to know more about God’s secret counsels than any human being can know. (Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 201)

But Mr. Brown seems to particularly have perseverance in mind while making this statement (though he never bothers to clarify what is meant by his reference to the daisy) since most Arminians believe that true believers can yet forfeit salvation by later abandoning the faith.  But this doesn’t bode well for Calvinism either since in Calvinism the only true test of genuine faith is its endurance (perseverance) to the end.  So one can never be sure, in Calvinism, if his or her present faith and relationship with God is genuine, until the moment of final endurance (dying in the faith).  The Calvinist’s faith may yet fail and prove that he was never really saved in the first place and his entire Christian experience was little more than a futile fleshly endeavor that he falsely believed was real.  The Arminian, then, actually has a stronger doctrinal foundation for salvation assurance than the Calvinist as I have argued previously in my post, Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance.  I concluded that post with the following observation,

Despite the claims by Calvinists that their doctrine of inevitable perseverance gives them a more solid footing than the Arminian with regards to salvation assurance, we have seen that Arminian salvation assurance better comports with the Biblical data and avoids the need to construct strange doctrines like that of Calvin’s “evanescent grace.”  In the final analysis the Arminian doctrine of perseverance supports the Biblical reality that one can have present assurance of salvation while the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance falls alarmingly short in the same area.

I think we can safely conclude that Mr. Brown has misrepresented and misunderstood the Arminian doctrinal system and his statement that the daisy fairly represents Arminianism as a system of “He loves me, He loves me not” is simply false.  We have also seen that the daisy might, ironically, fit comfortably in the hand of the Calvinist based on the doctrinal teachings of Calvinism as a whole.

Go to Part 2

Go to Part 4

Perseverance of the Saints Part 13: Salvation Assurance

We now come to the important topic of salvation assurance.  Calvinists have often claimed that Arminians do not have solid ground for assurance because Arminians do not hold to inevitable perseverance.  The Calvinist assumes that if one cannot be sure that they will indeed persevere in the faith, then that person cannot possibly have assurance of salvation.  This is partially true.  The Arminian acknowledges that one cannot have infallible assurance of final salvation.  But the Arminian also believes that the Bible gives no such assurance either.  Rather, the Bible gives assurance of present salvation only.  This assurance is based on present faith and reliance on the merits of Christ’s blood.  As one trusts in Christ he can rest assured that he is in saving union with Christ.  So long as one trusts in Christ he can have assurance of salvation.  We can see this truth expressed well in 1 John 5:11-13,

And this is the testimony: God has given us [believers] eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has [presently] the Son has [presently] life; he who does not have [presently] the Son of God does not have [presently] life.  I write these things to you who believe [presently] in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have [presently] eternal life.

We see that life abides in the Son and only those who presently “have” the Son “have” the life that abides in Him.  This is how John assures his believing audience that they can “know” they have eternal life.  Those who presently “believe” in Christ’s name are those who are assured life in Him.  This, of course, reminds us of the passage in John 15 concerning the Vine and the branches.  The branches enjoy the life of the Vine (Christ) only as they “abide” (remain, stay, continue) in Him.  As they remain in Him by faith they receive the spiritual life that resides in Him alone.  If they cease to remain in Christ by faith (i.e. become unbelievers), they are cut off from Christ and the life that resides in Him alone.  As one remains in Christ he will produce fruit which gives further assurance of salvation as one cannot possibly produce fruit outside of Christ for “without Me you can do nothing.”

So the Bible gives strong assurance of present salvation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  but, as we have seen in this series, it offers no guarantee that one who is presently believing will infallibly endure to the end in that faith.  The Calvinist may perceive this to be a weakness in the Arminian doctrine of salvation assurance but it proves to be an even greater weakness for the Calvinist given his doctrine of inevitable perseverance.  The Calvinist likewise insists that one must persevere in faith to attain final salvation.  The problem for the Calvinist is the rather obvious reality that many who put faith in Christ do not endure in that faith until the end.  Many who ultimately fall away have impressive track records of loving, trusting, and serving Christ, and very often have produced godly fruit for many years.

The Calvinist is forced to insist that such “apostates” were never true believers in the first place.  They are forced to conclude that the faith, love, and service of such seemingly godly individuals were nothing but a ruse from beginning to end.  They are forced to question the integrity of those who abandon the faith and yet claim that they once trusted Christ with all of their hearts and loved God dearly.  They are forced to call them liars and vile hypocrites who may have “thought” they trusted Christ and “thought” they loved Him but were simply deluded and never experienced true faith or genuine love for God.  All of their godly fruit was nothing more than the works of the flesh that only seemed to bear testimony of a genuine relationship with Christ.

We must wonder then how these true believers who stand in judgment of these apostates and boldly proclaim that their faith and love was not genuine can be certain that their present faith and love is real.  They have no problem conceding that the apostate may have truly “thought” their faith and love was genuine despite the fact that it wasn’t.  How then can they be sure that they are not likewise deceived by their present faith and love for Christ?  Perhaps it only “seems” real to them.  How can they be sure that their faith and love for Christ will not someday fail, thereby proving that their faith was never “real” and they were never “really” saved to begin with, but merely a deluded hypocrite all along?  It is common for Calvinists to speak of those who were convinced that their faith was real when in fact it was not,

In the past, dear reader, there have been thousands who were just as confident that they had been genuinely saved and were truly trusting in the merits of the finished work of Christ to take them safely through to Heaven, as you may be; nevertheless, they are now in the torments of Hell. Their confidence was a carnal one; their “faith,” no better than that which the demons have. Their faith was but a natural one which rested on the bare letter of Scripture. It was not a supernatural one, wrought in the heart by God. They were too confident that their faith was a saving one, to thoroughly, searchingly, frequently, test it by the Scriptures, to discover whether or no it was bringing forth those fruits which are inseparable from the faith of God’s elect. If they read an article like this, they proudly concluded that it belonged to some one else. So cocksure were they that they were born again so many years ago, they refused to heed the command of 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Prove your own selves.” And now it is too late. They wasted their day of opportunity, and the “blackness of darkness” is their portion forever. (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews- Emphasis his)

[Notice also how Pink mentions a "day of opportunity" as if the reprobate can possibly have such a "day of opportunity" given the eternal irrevocable nature of their reprobated state.]

So the Calvinist cannot even have assurance of present salvation as he can never be sure that his faith will in fact endure to the end until it actually endures to the end.  It may yet fail and the Calvinist must admit to this.  Therefore, they cannot possibly know “now” that their faith is real and that salvation is truly theirs.  Their faith may be false since the only infallible test of genuine faith, according to their doctrines, is the test of ultimate and final endurance.

John Calvin recognized this difficulty and tried to address it with a doctrine that many Calvinists today find embarrassing.  But Calvin is to be commended for being honest with the reality of those who fall away after many years of impressive testimony and service to God.  He recognized and tried to grapple with a serious problem in his theology that many Calvinists today simply pretend isn’t real.  His solution: “Evanescent grace.”  Calvin proposed the idea that God sometimes gives the reprobate a grace and subsequent faith so similar to that of the elect that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference.  He says that “experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.” He calls this “an inferior operation of the Holy Spirit” by which God “illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace.”  The Lord apparently gives the reprobate this temporary grace so that He might better…convict them, and leave them without excuse.”

Calvin tried hard to make a valid distinction between the faith produced by evanescent grace and the faith produced in the elect by genuine regeneration.  For instance, he noted that the reprobate do not “truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith” and that they “never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow, rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals forgiveness of sins in the elect only.”  “Still”, he says “the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.”  He also states “that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition.”

Much more could be quoted.  In this last statement we find some interesting points.  Calvin mainly points to the difference being that the faith of the elect endures while the “faith” of the reprobate will “never attain to the full result or to fruition.”  The difference again being that the gracious, yet “inferior”, work of the Spirit in the reprobate eventually “vanishes in those who are temporarily impressed” which gives evidence that such grace was only “evanescent” while “In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end.”  So for all his trying Calvin never really solved the difficulty.  We can see this in the fact that genuine faith only proves genuine if it endures and that the “faith” of the reprobate is “affected in a way similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.”  So one cannot possibly know if his present faith is genuine and salvation within his possession since it is conceded that the reprobate “in their own judgment” have the same faith as the elect, and until that faith “perseveres even to the end” it may yet prove to be the result of divine deception upon the reprobate; an inferior work of the Spirit, thebetter to convict them, and leave them without excuse.”

At one point Calvin seems to say that the “faith” of the “reprobate” does not produce fruit, “that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition” but later contradicts this when he says,

I therefore deny that [reprobates] either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but in the process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. (All quotes were taken from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:11,12, translated by Henry Beveridge, pp. 478, 479, Emphases mine)

So the reprobate may for years produce fruit while merely experiencing the vanishing affects of evanescent faith.   While Calvin tries hard to assure the “elect” that their faith is superior to the false faith of those under evanescent grace, no assurance can be found in the face of such statements.  There is just no way for one to possibly know that his faith is real until he endures in that faith to the end.  Therefore, there is no ground for assurance of salvation until the “end” in Calvinism.  This is the “inevitable” result of the doctrine of “inevitable” perseverance.  While the Arminian can at least have present assurance of salvation, the Calvinist cannot even have that.  The Arminian finds further assurance in the Biblical truth, denied by Calvinists, that God truly desires the salvation of all men and has made provision for the salvation of all in the atonement.  We must acknowledge that both Arminians and Calvinists deal with times of spiritual struggles and doubts.  What assurance can be found during these times?  Walls and Dongell point out the pastoral challenges presented to those who counsel believers in such struggles:

Calvinism deprives those struggling with their faith of the single most important resource available: the confidence that God loves all of us with every kind of love we need to enable and encourage our eternal flourishing and well being.  Again, Calvinists cannot honestly assure people that God loves them in this way without claiming to know more about God’s secret counsels than any human being can know. (Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 201)

They then go on to quote another passage from Calvin in which he speaks of temporary illumination for the reprobate and conclude,

What is truly remarkable here is that persons who receive this partial and temporary illumination appear for a time to be truly elect but in fact aren’t.  They are deluded by a false hope.  This dreadful possibility is what haunts Calvinists who struggle with the assurance and certainty of salvation.  Times of moral failure and depression can be construed as evidence that one is not chosen after all and that God is hardening one’s heart for not responding more faithfully to his grace….Calvinism lacks the clear warrant to speak the most liberating word of encouragement for persons struggling with their faith and doubtful of God’s attitude towards them- the unqualified assurance that God loves them and is for them! (ibid. 203)

Arminians and Calvinists have much common ground with regards to the doctrine of salvation assurance.  Both traditions believe that assurance can be gained through fruit bearing and the inner witness of the Spirit.  Both traditions believe that assurance is based on a confidence in the merits of Christ’s blood and union with Him.  Both traditions believe that one should examine himself and his lifestyle to be sure that his faith is presently focused on Christ and the merit of His blood.  But the Calvinistic doctrine of inevitable perseverance actually serves to undercut much of these Biblical markers of salvation assurance.  One cannot know that his faith is presently genuine as one’s faith can only “really” be proven genuine if it endures to the end.  One cannot be sure that the inner witness of the Spirit is not an “inferior” work of the Spirit which will eventually prove to be evanescent.  One cannot even find assurance in the seeming fruit that is being produced in his life as such fruit may eventually prove to be less than genuine, regardless of how real it presently seems (and according to Calvin one might even produce genuine fruit for several years while under the influence of evanescent faith).

Both Arminians and Calvinists must grapple with the reality of false professors like those described by Christ in Matthew 7:22, but Christ makes it clear that such false professors did not do the will of the Father and were in fact “evil doers.”  Christ is not speaking of those who live many years in faithful and loving service to God who yet abandon the faith. Arminians can easily assimilate such persons into their theology (since they believe that true believers can fall away) while the Calvinist is forced to create problematic doctrines like “evanescent grace” which only serve to undermine salvation assurance.  The Arminian can also easily accept the many passages of Scripture which comport with this experiential knowledge of true believers falling away from the faith and accept the warnings against falling away as serious and profoundly meaningful.

And finally, the Arminian can have a present assurance of salvation that the Calvinist cannot have while being consistent with his doctrines.  This fully comports with what Paul says in 2 Cor, 13:5,

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you- unless indeed you fail the test.

Paul clearly says that we can know now whether or not we are “in the faith”.  We can “examine” and “test” our present faith to see if it is in fact genuine.  This simply is not true of Calvinism since the only infallible test of genuine faith is its ultimate endurance to the end.  Therefore, one cannot possibly know for certain “now” that he is genuinely “in the faith” contrary to Paul’s plain words.

Despite the claims by Calvinists that their doctrine of inevitable perseverance gives them a more solid footing than the Arminian with regards to salvation assurance, we have seen that Arminian salvation assurance better comports with the Biblical data and avoids the need to construct strange doctrines like that of Calvin’s “evanescent grace.”  In the final analysis the Arminian doctrine of perseverance supports the Biblical reality that one can have present assurance of salvation while the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance falls alarmingly short in the same area.

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