Calvinism Vs. Arminianism

Did we choose God? Did God choose us? Is it predestination or free will? These are questions that have been asked for hundreds of years. Two theologians especially have their names associated with these questions- John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. These two men lived during the time in church history we call the Reformation, which started with Martin Luther. Calvin was born in 1509, 26 years after Luther. He is considered a second-generation reformer. Luther gave birth to the Protestant Reformation when he nailed the 95 theses to the Wittenberg castle door in Germany, breaking with the Catholic church. Calvin built on this legacy. In 1536 he published the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is the clearest, most readable doctrine that the Reformation Age produced. He worked on elaborating this work all his life, but the main doctrines remained essentially the same. Jacob Arminius was born in Holland in 1560, four years before Calvin’s death. He studied Calvin’s works and while studying and teaching the book of Romans, he came to believe that salvation was a matter of faith. After his death, his followers formed five articles of faith and presented them to the State of Holland in the form of protest. These five points go against the five points of Calvinism. This is a much-simplified version of the history, and there are many resources on-line if you want to do a more in-depth study of the history. I just wanted to briefly cover the men behind the theology before we get into the points of Calvinism and Arminianism.

I’m going to list the five points of each, with the verses that each uses to support that doctrine.

Calvinism Point 1

Total Depravity of Man– Man is touched by sin in all that he is. He is completely fallen. Because of his total depravity, he will never turn to God by his own free will. Some of the verses used to support this are Jeremiah 17:9 (our hearts are deceitful); Mark 7:21-23 (our hearts are full of evil thoughts); John 3:19 (people loved the darkness rather than the light); Romans 3:10-12 (no one seeks God or does what is good)… there are more verses, but this gives the general idea.

Arminianism Point 1

Human Free Will (Also known as Partial Depravity)- Man is depraved due to the fall, but man can come to God and accept salvation. Although people are fallen, they are still capable of making the decision to follow Christ based on the grace that God bestows to all people. The verses used to support this are: John 3:16-17: For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 John 3:36: “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.”

Calvinism Point 2

Unconditional Election– God chooses us because of who he is, not because of anything we have done. Nothing in any person makes them worthy of election. It is strictly by the grace of God that anyone is elected. Verses that support this are Ephesians 1:4 (He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world); Romans 9:11,16 and 2 Timothy 1:9 (this election is not based on any foreseen faith or works of an individual); Ephesians 1:11 (this election is according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will); John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4 (God chose the elect because he decided to bestow his love on them); and Isaiah 43:7 (this was for his glory).

Arminianism Point 2

Conditional Election– God chooses those whom he knows will already choose to believe. It is man’s free-will decision to accept Christ as Savior that is the basis for his/her salvation. Verses used to support this are Jeremiah 1:5 (He knew us before he formed us in the womb); and Romans 8:29 (those he foreknew, he also predestined).

Calvinism Point 3

Limited Atonement– Christ bore the sin of the elect, not everyone who ever lived. This one is the most complicated (and most controversial) of the points, so I am going to use CARM’s website to explain this one. Theirs was the easiest to understand, and the one I have been using for the verses for the Calvinism points. According to their article on the Five Points on Calvinism:

  1. Christ’s blood was sufficient for all, but not all sin was imputed to Christ. Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover all people. But the sufficiency relates to his divine value which is different than our legal debt. Sin is a debt (Matt. 6:12 with Luke 11:4) since it is breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4). In limited atonement, Calvinists are saying that there was a limit to whose sins were imputed to Christ in a legal sense. They are not denying the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to cover all people. Instead, they look at the legal aspect of the sin debt. Peoples’ sin debts were transferred to Jesus (1 Pet. 2:24) and were canceled on the cross, not when we believe (Col. 2:14). Therefore, legally speaking, those canceled sins cannot be held against the sinner because their quality of being a debt has been canceled by being paid on the cross (John 19:30Col. 2:14). If the debt is canceled, it does not exist and cannot be held against the debtor/sinner. Therefore, Christ only legally bore the sins of the elect even though his blood was sufficient to cover all.  Also, consider 1 Sam. 3:14 which says, “Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Arminianism Point 3

Universal Atonement– Also known as unlimited atonement. This doctrine stated that Jesus died for everyone. It does not mean that everyone is going to be saved though. The belief is that Jesus died on the cross for everyone and that anyone can be saved by simply believing in him. Verses that support this are:

1 John 2:2- He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

John 1:29-The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Titus 2:11-For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…

Calvinism Point 4

Irresistible Grace– the idea that the elect cannot resist the grace of God and will be regenerated. We cannot thwart the will of God to save us. Verses that support this are:

Proverbs 21:1- A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand:
He directs it wherever he chooses.

Romans 9:18- So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Arminianism Point 4

Resistible Grace– this doctrine teaches that the grace of God can be resisted until it is quenched; when God’s grace begins to draw us to conversion, we can choose to say no and reject Christ. Verses used to support this are: Hebrews 3:15- As it is said:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.

1 Thessalonians 5:19- Don’t stifle the Spirit.

Calvinism Point 5

Perseverance of the Saints– Once saved, always saved. Those that leave the faith were never saved to begin with. Verses to support this are:

John 6:38-39- For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day.

John 10:27-28- My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

1 John 2:19- They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.

Arminianism Point 5

Fall from Grace– the teaching that a person can be saved then lose their salvation. Verses that support this are:

Galatians 5:4- You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.

Hebrews 6:4-6-For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away. This is because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding him up to contempt.

If you take the first letters of each of the Calvinist doctrines, it spells TULIP, so if you have seen that in reference to Calvinism, that’s all it is. There are many people who hold to only some of the points of Calvinism, so you might hear them referred to as a three-point Calvinist, or a four-point Calvinist. The one thing I want to emphasize here is that this is not a salvation issue. You will find excellent theologians on both ends of this argument. You will find many that are somewhere in the middle! Both predestination and election are biblical teachings. If you find yourself getting too caught up in the argument for one side or the other, you are missing the point entirely. One blog I read put it best. We are never going to understand an infinite God with our finite mind. Our job is our responsibility for evangelism and faithfulness to our Savior. Amen to that!

Because there is so much language about predestination and election in this chapter, I wanted to cover this topic. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to Ephesians!

Grace be with you!

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