HT: Dale Wayman
Category Archives: Calvinist proof texts
How can a dead person believe unless God first makes him alive? This is a question that is asked by Calvinists. Ephesians 2:1-9 states that we are dead in sin, that we are saved by grace, and that we are made alive in Christ. And there are many other passages that state we are dead in sin. Given that a physically dead corpse can’t do anything, how can a spiritually dead person do anything like believe? Could Lazarus raise himself from the dead? Of course not!
The implication here is that a corpse can’t do anything. A corpse can’t consent to being made alive, and so therefore it must be God who makes us believe. So says the Calvinist.
How does the Arminian come to a different conclusion? It’s important to start by noting that we strongly agree with what scripture teaches. Humanity is dead in sin. We are saved by grace. We are made alive in Christ. We can not believe in Christ unless God first gives us the grace to enable us to believe.
The disagreement is over the Biblical definition of what spiritual death entails, as it relates to our relationship with God. Being spiritually dead does not mean that we are corpses that have no spirit and make no decisions, as the Calvinist implies. Instead, being spiritually dead means that our sins have hardened our hearts and have separated us from God. To “be dead” in this sense is to be separated from Christ, and to not desire to be reconciled with Him. To be alive in Christ is to love Him and to be in relationship with Him. Our sins keep us separated from God and we are dependent on Him to initiate the reconciliation that enables us to believe.
The Calvinist mixes a non-religious understanding of physical death with the Bible’s definition of spiritual death. The Calvinist is defining spiritual death as a corpse with no spirit, like Lazarus was before Jesus raised him from the dead. But a spiritually dead person is not the same as a physically dead one. Prior to God’s grace, a non-believer does not seek God, but he is still physically alive, still has a spirit, and still makes decisions. After God begins to draw the non-believer through grace (and He draws everyone), then the non-believer is enabled to believe.
This kind of death (separation) first took place after the fall of Adam and Eve. After they sinned they did not immediately die physically, but they were immediately separated from God. The first thing they tried to do was to hide themselves from God (Genesis 3:8).
Speaking of non-believers, Paul describes spiritual death in Ephesians 4:18-19:
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Notice that in this passage the non-believer is not a corpse unable to make decisions. Non-believers are “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
Jesus also describes death this way twice in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15). Speaking to the servants the father says “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” To his older son the father says “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
In the parable the son was not a corpse. He was able to make decisions, including the decision to go home. Yet, the father still said he was dead! That’s because the son was separated from relationship with his father, and was dependent on the generosity of his father in order to be reconciled. The same is true of us in our spiritual death and separation from our Father.
Jesus describes the concept of separation and its effects in John 15:5-8
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
We are alive in Christ. Separated from him we can do nothing. When we are spiritually dead, it means that we are hardened against God, and are not in relationship with Him. We are dependent on His drawing grace that enables us to believe.
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galations 4:7
Adoption (huiothesia) is a term that the apostle Paul uses several times in his letters. The Greco-Roman concept of adoption is different than the English concept. In English we use adoption as an action verb. For example a father “adopts” a son. The Greco-Roman concept of adoption refers to something that sons receive. Sons are not adopted. Rather, sons receive the adoption (Gal 4:1-7). This conceptual difference of what adoption is can contribute to a misunderstanding of certain Biblical passages. In the context of the Arminian / Calvinist debate, the meaning of adoption directly relates to our interpretation of Ephesians 1.
In English we associate adoption with parents taking a baby into their family. The baby is “adopted”. He is an outsider prior to adoption, and a son after adoption. However, Huiothesia refers to the standing of someone who is ALREADY a son. Adoption is the right of a son. Adoption is the “inheritance”, “promise”, or “reward” that the son receives as an heir. A father makes promises to his children. These promises are the adoption. Huiothesia is not synonymous with salvation (entrance into the family). Rather, it is the promise of God received by those who are believers in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:22-27).
The reward of the adoption occurs now and after death. This can be seen in Romans 8 (bold mine):
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” -Rom 8:15 (NASB)
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. -Rom 8:23 (NASB)
Observe in Romans 8:23 that Paul speaks of believers who wait for their adoption. There is a distinction between believing and the adoption. Conversely, sonship (having the legal rights of a son) doesn’t guarantee that the son will apply and benefit from those rights. This can be seen in Romans 9:1-5 (bold mine)
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (NASB)
Here Paul refers to the nation of Israel – his brothers. Israel has the rights of the adoption, but is failing to apply and benefit from those rights. Again, we see Paul treat adoption as a position rather than an action.
Now, let’s take a look at Ephesians 1:5-6. It is my contention that understanding the Greek concept of adoption takes away the Calvinistic flavor that is sometimes attributed to the passage (bold mine):
In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (NASB)
This could be accurately translated as follows:
In love He predestined us [believers] to receive an inheritance as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In other words, God doesn’t arbitrarily adopt particular humans to join his family. Rather, He promises believers an inheritance as His sons in Christ Jesus.
In conclusion, adoption is a standing that believers have as sons in Christ Jesus. The Pauline concept of adoption is best understood as the position of a believer. It is not an action.
(I’m currently reading Hodwinked and Happy by Daniel Gracely. He gets credit for exposing me to this concept of adoption. Along those lines, here is a good article on adoption by T. Pierce Brown that Gracley also quotes in his book. Brown goes on some tangents about baptism and the NIV, but it is good read nonetheless.)
We noted the following: The election described in Romans 9 is for the human ancestry of Christ (9:5). Jacob and Esau are nations (9:11-13). Pharaoh is a parallel to the nation of Israel (9:14-17). Pharaoh was used by God to proclaim his name to the world (9:17). Israel depended on their works instead of believing in Jesus (10:1-4). Anyone can be saved by confessing and believing that Jesus is Lord (10:9-13). God genuinely desired to save Israel, yet they resisted his grace (10:16-21).
In the opening of Romans 11 we see that God still loves Israel, even though they have been disobedient. In addition, not all of Israel has turned away from God. Some have remained faithful. Others have become faithful. Paul gives himself as an example (11:1-6).
Also discussed is the election and hardening of Israel:
What then? What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened…(11:7)
The “hardening” here is not by arbitrary decree. Rather, Israel has been hardened by God because of their disobedience. The hardening is also not without purpose. Through it the Gentiles have been shown mercy. Importantly for Israel, the hardening is not a permanent condition. Salvation is available for them too. They have not stumbled beyond recovery.
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
In Romans 11:13 Paul makes a transition from Israel to addressing Gentiles. He gives an analogy of some branches being cut off and other branches being grafted in. Salvation is now available to the non-Jew. Israel has been “cut off” due to their disobedience, and the Gentiles have been “grafted in” as a result. Importantly to Arminians, Paul makes it clear that we can lose our salvation through unbelief. We should not take our current standing for granted. Just as Israel was cut off, so we can be too.
Romans 11:17-21 (bold and parenthesis mine)
If some of the branches have been broken off (Israel), and you (gentiles), though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 1do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they (Israel) were broken off because of unbelief, and you (gentiles) stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
There is still good news for Israel. If they do not persist in disbelief, they can be grafted back into a relationship with God. Since they are the original branches, it is more all the more natural for them.
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. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
Mercy for All
Paul closes his argument in Romans 11:28-32. He concludes that Israel will be saved in the end, because God is faithful to keep his promises. God has mercy on all of us! This conclusion is the opposite of what Calvinism teaches.
Romans 11:28-32 (bold mine)
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
Romans 9-11 is very unfriendly to Calvinism when read in context. Consider the following:
- God wants everyone to know who he is (9:17).
- Anyone can be saved (10:9-13).
- Grace is resistible (10:16-21).
- Hardening is not arbitrary, it is a punishment for transgression (11:11).
- The accepted can become rejected (11:22).
- The rejected can become accepted (11:23)
- God has mercy on all (11:32).
Isn’t it interesting that Paul concludes his argument by stating that God has mercy on us all? The whole point of Paul’s argument throughout Romans 9-11 is that our God is faithful! He is good. He is genuine. He keeps his promises. He is merciful to Israel. He is merciful all. Amen to that!
Recap of Romans 9
In the previous two posts (1,2) we looked at the context of Romans 9. It addresses the question: Has God broken his promises to the Jewish people? We noted that Jacob and Esau (9:11-13) were nations, and that the election described was for the human ancestry of Christ (9:5). We observed that both Pharaoh and Israel were chosen by God to proclaim his name to the world, and that God showed mercy to Pharaoh (Exodus 9:13-16).
More to the story: Romans 10 and 11
Typically, Calvinists are only interested in a portion of Romans 9. However, Romans 9, 10, and 11 are one argument. Romans 10 and 11 teach a very non-Calvinistic view of faith.
The opening of Romans 10 shows that Paul still has Israel in mind. We now learn why not all of Abraham’s descendants are God’s children (first addressed in Romans 9:6). It is because Israel is depending on its own works, instead of the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. God offers salvation to everyone who has faith in Jesus and calls on his name.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
How are we saved?
Salvation and justification are presented in Romans 10:9-13. To be saved one must confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. Importantly, anyone can be saved.
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Amen! No wonder the Calvinists never go on to read Romans 10. There is nothing here about “secret decrees” or the elect being zapped with faith. Instead we see that it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Irresistible Grace Refuted?
In Romans 10:16-21 the Calvinistic teaching of “Irresistible Grace” is contradicted by the word of God. God genuinely desired to save Israel. Not only that, Israel heard and understood the message of Christ. Yet they still resisted.
Romans 10:16-21: But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
God desired for Israel to accept Christ. In fact it states that God was holding out his hands to them all day long. Israel heard the good news, and they understood the message. If “Irresistible Grace” was true they would have been saved. But Israel did resist. They remained disobedient and obstinate.
Next up: Romans 11.
I’m doing a series to address the major Calvinist proof texts: Romans 9, John 6, and Ephesians 1.
Recap of Romans 9 (part 1)
In the previous post we looked at the context of Romans 9: Has God broken his promises to the Jewish people? He has not. We also noted that Jacob and Esau (9:11-13) were nations, and that the election spoken of for the patriarchs is in regards to the human ancestry of Christ (9:5).
Romans 9:14-17 – What’s up with Pharaoh?
Paul has been speaking of Israel. Pharaoh is referenced because he provides a parallel to the Jewish nation. Both Pharaoh and Israel are used by God to accomplish His purposes, despite their disobedience. The way God deals with Pharaoh in Exodus is similar to the way he later deals with Israel.
The Israelites had been disobedient throughout their history. They had broken their covenant with God. However, God showed mercy to them over and over again. Why? Because he wanted to make his name known to the world. He had decided to accomplish this through the offspring of Jacob.
Recognizing the parallel (Israel / Pharaoh – both disobedient, both shown mercy to accomplish a purpose), let’s look at Romans 9:14-17 (bold mine):
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
This passage parallels Exodus 9:15-16 (bold and parenthesis mine):
(God speaking to Pharaoh through Moses) I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up (have spared you) for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.
To raise up means “to spare”. Pharaoh deserved instant death, yet God spared him for a time. Sometimes God spares the least deserving, because by doing so he is able to accomplish his greater purpose of revealing and reconciling himself to the world.
In the process God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Was this unjust? Not at all! If God arbitrarily and capriciously hardened Pharoah from birth, that would be unjust. However, the accounts don’t indicates this. The hardening was an act of judgment against a man who had committed much evil, and had positioned himself against God. Calvinists sometimes imply that God “made” Pharaoh wicked. Pharaoh was already wicked. God didn’t need to control Pharaoh like a puppet to “make” him do evil things. He knew of how Pharaoh would respond in different situations (Exodus 7:10-13). He had no need to violate Pharoah’s will in the process.
When a matador waves a red flag in front of a bull, he doesn’t need any magic to get inside the bull’s head. He already knows what the bull will do.
What was the purpose of God’s interaction with Pharaoh? Proclaiming His name in all the earth! Understanding that God showd undeserved mercy to Pharaoh (and later Isreal) changes the focus of Romans 9:22-24 (parenthesis mine):
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath (Pharaoh, Israel) —prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
God loves the world. He wants everyone to know who he is. God showed mercy to both Israel and Pharaoh when they didn’t deserve it, so that his name would be known. Morover, He acted justly and fairly in all of His dealing with both.
Who are you oh man to talk back to God?
Romans 9:19-21 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
This has nothing to do with unconditional election or reprobation. Rather, the Jews of that time were making the argument that they ought not to be condemned for doing evil if their evil brought glory to God and helped accomplish his purposes. This is similar to the question that Paul addresses in Romans 3:5-8 (bold mine):
But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—”Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.
Israel freely committed evil actions contrary to what God desired. And they rejected the means of salvation that God had provided (they rejected Jesus). If Israel (or anyone) acts in a way that God does not prefer, God still has the right to use their actions to further the advancement of his kingdom. This in no way clouds the character of God, because he did not determine the disobedience in the first place. In the case of Israel he did everything possible to cultivate their obedience (Isaiah 5). It follows then that Israel has no grounds to talk back to God. This is Paul’s point.
Next up: a look at Romans 10.
I’m doing a series to address the major Calvinist proof texts: Romans 9, John 6, and Ephesians 1.
Calvinism is a philosophy based upon exhaustive determinism (that God controls us like puppets). George Bryson summarizes Calvinism as follows: “You will be saved or damned for all eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity.” (1)
Inevitably, the first passage Calvinists turn to is Romans 9. They argue that the passage teaches unconditional individual election – that God determines to save specific individuals. Those whom God has chosen will certainly be saved. Everyone else is without help and without hope. Calvinists teach that God passes over the larger part of mankind (Pharaoh and Esau are examples). These individuals are decreed to be vessels of wrath (9:22). Calvinists believe that God does not intend for most to be saved, nor does he provides means for them to be saved.
The background for Romans 9: Has God broken his promises?
During early church history (and now) most of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus. This grieved Paul deeply. The question being asked was: Has God broken his promises to Israel? If the Jews don’t believe, does this mean that God’s promises are untrue? Has God failed to keep his word? This is first asked in Romans 3:3 “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?“
The answer to the question is no. God is not unfaithful. He has not broken his promises to the descendants of Abraham. Paul explains why in detail in chapters 9, 10, and 11. His scope is identified in the opening of Romans 9:1-5 (bold mine):
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
The Jews of that time thought that God had unconditionally elected them to salvation by their birthright as children of Abraham. Paul was showing this is not the case. He says, hey look! Not all of Abraham’s descendants are God’s children (9:6), only those who have faith are (9:32).
What about Jacob and Esau?
Romans 9:11-13: Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might 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.
The passage is about the nations of Jacob and Esau (Israel and Edom – see Genesis 25:23). The election in scope is not salvation of the individual. Rather, it is for the human ancestry of Christ (Romans 9:5). Jacob was elected to be a forefather of the Savior. Jesus came through the line of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
A parallel situation occurs with Isaac and Ishmael. This is addressed in Genesis 21:12-13 (also mentioned in Galatians 4:21-31 and alluded to in Romans 9:7): “But God said to (Abraham), “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maid servant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Isaac was blessed in a special way that Ishmael was not. Jacob was blessed in a special way that Esau was not. Isaac and Jacob were forefathers of Jesus! This does not mean that Ishmael and Esau were not blessed at all, or that they were eternally hated and dammed by God. God loved both of these men. He made promises to both. In fact, both became nations. And they may both be in heaven today. However, God elected to bring the Savior through the line of Isaac, and Jacob. That was his right as God.