I had a conversation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. He’s a Southern Baptist who, as so many of them do today, holds to four of Arminius’ five points. Fortunately, his thinking is inconsistent enough to affirm “eternal security.” But he told me a relative of his was sharing some scripture with him that was beginning to persuade him to believe that a believer just might lose his salvation (“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!!”) if he refuses to confess his sin. While he already believes that man is fallen, but not so fallen that he can’t do any good accompanying salvation, God’s election of him is conditioned on his decision to receive Christ, Jesus died to make everyone in the world “saveable,” and that, just because the Holy Spirit may be the divine source of faith, and may have awakened you to your need for Christ, that doesn’t mean you have to receive him, my poor friend was in danger of becoming a consistent, five-point Arminian. Now, we just can’t have that!
The saving grace of the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists is that they haven’t fallen so far from their Calvinist heritage that they’ve enmasse denied the truth that once God has regenerated you, you can “fall from grace” and lose your salvation. They are saved from five-point Arminianism by their logical inconsistency. Of course, it is consistent with a self-centered worldview. Many believers may be offended by the total depravity of the sinner, the sovereignty of God in his unconditional election, the particular redemption of Christ, and the effectual call of the Holy Spirit, because that’s not fair to whomever God was pleased to leave to receive justice, but they’re certainly not offended when the grace over which they’re ultimately sovereign is promised to keep them for eternity! Oh, the blessed consistency of the self-centered four-point Arminian. His focus on his sovereignty and his benefit may be consistent, but his soteriology is definitely (no pun intended) inconsistent.
I attempted to share with my friend some truths from the book of Romans that affirm the Southern Baptist doctrine of “eternal security,” and argued that it goes along with another truth of which he may not have been familiar; namely, the four and a half points of Calvinism to which he currently objects!
I jotted down a short outline of the book of Romans, a survey of the doctrines of grace in each section of the book, and a “moral” or application which underscores his security in the light of the justification which was unconditionally and effectively applied to him. Thought I’d share them with you for your edification and, if need be, scrutiny. Please share with me your thoughts. What did I miss? Did I cover the bases thoroughly enough? Did I strike out? You be the judge.
One of the best ways to get election and eternal security straightened out, and God’s absolute sovereignty over both, is to study the book of Romans. The book of Romans is primarily concerned with the doctrine of justification by faith. If you notice the general outline of Romans, that condemnation and justification are two objective opposites, all the rest falls into place.
Romans 1-3 Condemnation in Adam
Romans 4-8 Justification in Christ
Romans 9-11 Justification and the Jews
Romans 12-16 Living in the Light of Justification in Christ
1-3 Condmenation is our natural state from conception, imputed to us because of our covenantal relationship with God in Adam;
4-8 Christ came as the last Adam to keep the Law, which Adam failed to keep, and to thereby earn eternal life as a man, that his righteousness may be imputed to all whom God has foreknown (defined as, “The Father’s savingly loving the elect before creation”), predestined (defined as, “The Father’s appointing the elect to obtain salvation”), called (defined as the Holy Spirit’s effectively applying the benefits of Christ’s redemption to the elect), justified (defined as “the Father’s declaring believers righteous in Christ”), and glorified (defined as, “The believers’ ultimate conformity to the image of Christ, morally and physically”). Paul applies our justification not only to our initial repentance toward God and faith toward Christ, but to the elect’s whole life of repentance and faith.
9-11 Paul raises and answers the question of God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, considering the fact that Gentiles now predominate in “the Israel of God.” Paul’s answer is that God’s Israel are not those who are genealogical children of Abraham, but all who share Abraham’s faith by the sovereign, electing mercy of God, whether Jew or Gentile;
12-16 After eleven chapters of solid theology on the objective doctrine of justification by faith and lays the foundation for the believer’s subjective experience of progressive sanctification, Paul now gets “practical.” In view of the mercies of God (in other words, in view of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ), Paul beseeches his readers to present themselves as living sacrifices, to exercise the gifts God has given each for the good of the many, gives a list of marks of the true Christian, appeals to us to submit to authority, to fulfill the Law through love, to refrain from judging brothers in Christ, to avoid offending brothers in Christ, or influencing them to violate their conscience and sin against God, to do all as eternally justified believers in the light of Christ’s example, looking forward to the mutual hope shared by believing Jews and Gentiles.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedienc of faith–to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27)
Allow the objective fact of justification to reassure you in the face of the fact of your subjective failure to be perfectly obedient now. Even though you fail, because of your justification, you walk according to the Spirit, have your mind set on the things of the Spirit, are under grace and free from the condemnation of the Law. And that’s the truth (raspberry)!
postscript: for a great sermon by John Piper on the doxology which closes the book of Romans, and how God strengthens believers, not by anything apart from the gospel, but by the gospel itself (and, like Luther, may I add, the gospel alone–solus benedictus? Somebody help me out with my Latin for “The Gospel Alone”!) click here. There you go, Bob, this post makes me first loser!
I agree that these not-quite-Arminian-but-definitely-not-Calvinists are not consistent. They have no problem with God overruling free will in the hearts of those who are saved. They pray for God to increase their faith and love, to give them a burden for lost souls, to help them hate sin. And, as you point out, they glory in God’s preserving them from apostasizing from the faith.
Shouldn’t it seem odd that while God can overrule free will for the saved, he can’t do that for the unsaved? I mean if even the saved need God’s help to continue believing, why wouldn’t the unsaved (who are certainly “more depraved”) need God to overrule their free will to grant them faith?
Having said that, I would want to stress (and I think you’d agree) that just because someone believes in all five points of Arminianism does not mean they are unsaved, or even that they have repudiated the gospel, necessarily. They may be confused about proper theology, yet still trusting God fully for justification by grace alone through faith alone. And on that fifth point, there is much in the NT that would possibly lead one to see that people could apostasize from faith. Actually that position might be safer than the “once saved always saved” mantra that can lead to such excesses as free grace theology where you can live a life of blaspheming Jesus’ name to God’s face and still enter Heaven’s pearly gates. I think it is a wrong position, it does not take into account 1 Jn. 2:19 or Jesus words in Matt. 7 “I never knew you”, for instance. But given their thoughts on election, it would not be strange to see no problem with one being “regenerate” yet not elect. Just wanted to clarify that we believe the theology is dangerous and wrong, but not necessarily damning. We can have true Christian fellowship with five point Arminianites, I would think.
God bless you richly today in Jesus Christ and on account of his merit alone,
I didn’t intend to convey the idea that I deny that 4- or 5-point Arminians are saved. Of course, you are correct in all that you state.
Furthermore, I find your observation interesting that those whom I call “inconsistent 4-point Arminians” glory in God’s sovereignty to overrule the will of believers to prevent them from apostacy, etc., while they deny this sovereignty of God in relation to the unregenerate and unbelieving.
I don’t mean to imply you meant that. I was more thinking of just clarifying that we don’t believe that of Arminians. I agree that their theology has incredibly bad results, and I am against it.
Yea, that observation you liked is tied into the whole “Arminians pray like Calvinists” idea. “Lord, please save so-and-so…”