3 – Arminianism As an Arminian

Arminianism, too, sees man as depraved. His nature is corrupted because of original sin—a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve. But it differs from Calvinism in how it understands the depths of these effects. Calvinism believes an unsaved man is completely incapable of even responding effectively to God’s call to salvation unless God has already chosen that unsaved man and has already sovereignly changed his heart so he believes. Arminianism sees man as able to respond to God’s call while still in his lost state. In the second chapter of Romans it says, “to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom. 2:7). The Arminian’s understanding is that if people respond to the truth of nature and conscience, God will reveal Himself in a way they can understand.

The passionate side of Arminianism sees a compassionate God who desires that all should be saved. “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…” (1st Tim 2:3-5).

“The Lord…is longsuffering toward you, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2nd Pet. 3:9). He offers salvation freely to all who grasp hold of it by faith, much as a drowning man takes hold of a life preserver. When the lost fully understand what the Bible says about their lost condition, they must call on the God who offers them deliverance from death (Acts 17:28). Those whose hearts are convicted and drawn by the Holy Spirit should not pride themselves on how smart they were to take hold, as if in doing so they have done a good work in earning salvation. They should be overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to gain a gift of eternal life that they clearly do not deserve.

In the first part of the book of Romans, Paul speaks to the issue of those few who do seek God, and the vast majority of people who don’t.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God…[They] changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind… (Rom. 1:18-23, 28).

God…Will render to each one according to his deeds” eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil (Rom 2:6-9).

For the Arminian then, the sense of the first two chapters of Romans is that people have the ability to understand who God is from nature and from conscience. But there are only a few who respond to this light of conscience and seek God. And because these few do seek Him they gain eternal life. These are the ones who eventually do receive Christ as savior when they hear the Gospel. The implication, from the Arminian view, is that God “foreknew” them—knew from eternity past who would fit this description—and predestined them to be conformed to the image of Christ on the basis that, in the course of time, they would really want Christ anyway (Rom. 8:28-29). On the other hand, the Arminian believes that the reason most do not respond to the grace of God is because “men [love] darkness instead of light because their deeds [are] evil” (John 3:19).

Arminianism sees the power for men to come to saving faith in Christ in the form of what is commonly called “prevenient grace.” For example, when John Wesley spoke about prevenient grace, he meant “the grace of God which operates before our experience of conversion. It is [the] term for the grace of God…while we were still sinners (Rom. 8:5-8).”7

For the Arminian then, prevenient grace is the method God uses in the hearts of men to bring them to an awareness of their condition and their need for salvation. The Arminian sees God imparting grace before the point of salvation to enable those who seek God to respond to His revelation through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. By trusting Christ to do for them what they could never do for themselves, they are saved because they believe. As the first point of Arminianism states, “The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God. It is man’s contribution to salvation.”8

Since the Arminian believes this grace is available to everyone, he also sees the atonement as potentially available to all, but it only becomes effective when those who are lost accept it by faith. The Arminian would usually believe Ephesians 2:8-9 means: “for by grace you have been saved, through faith and that [salvation] is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, so that no one can boast.”

Further, since God allows man the opportunity to respond, He also allows mankind the opportunity to resist His grace. This is the only logical conclusion for the Arminian. The invitation is to all, and yet some respond and others do not. God’s grace must therefore be resistible. Finally, some passages of scripture indicate to most Arminians that someone once saved can later reject the grace given to him and walk away from the God who redeemed him, thereby relinquishing his salvation. Among many, consider these as the most obvious ones.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to an open shame.

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed; whose end is to be burned (Heb. 6:4-8).

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:26-29,31).

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Pet. 2:20-21).

Even though some Arminians may not emotionally embrace the idea, the Arminian theology of salvation also recognizes that the atonement is limited. The universal call of the Gospel means that the atonement has potential for all, so it is not limited in extent. But it is the real choice of each lost sinner throughout time that determines who will be saved in the end. So it is, therefore, limited in effect (since all are not saved). God “elects” some from eternity past, but only because He foreknows—knows beforehand—who will respond to the Spirit’s promptings throughout the course of time and respond to Christ.

Ultimately then, for the Arminian, the atonement is seen as being effective for all, but only effective in providing potential for salvation. It requires a response of faith in the heart of the sinner to actually save anyone. For the Calvinist, even the faith to believe is given by God sovereignly as a part of the gift of salvation, and the atonement is effectual, but only for the elect. Only those sovereignly bestowed this gift of faith will believe on Christ in the course of time and be saved, because only they have been foreordained in God’s omnipotent decree to do so. From the Calvinist’s perspective, no one else will believe.

>>> Next: Chapter 4