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Free Will? Liberal Christianity. Punished for Sins We Commit After We Become Christians? Tertullian and the Montanists, Part 1

by Karl Kemp  
4/11/2015 / Bible Studies

All quotations were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. I am using straight quotation marks ("), hyphens (-) instead of dashes, no footnotes, and a few other things like this because some of the internet sites where I post these articles require it. Cf., e.g., means "compare, for example."

This article started with what happened in a class I was teaching. I started the class by asking the question, "Do we have free will?" I mentioned that this is a very important question when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture and that this is one of the topics where we desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. All of the people in the class said they believe in free will. That didn't surprise me. We should believe in free will, but we need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches here. We must put all the emphasis on what the Bible teaches.

((For the record, I didn't find any places where the New Testament (NASB) uses the words "free will" in any relevant sense, or "freedom of the will," or any places where it speaks of our choosing salvation. The NASB does use the words "free will" in Philemon 1:14, but in that context Paul wasn't saying anything about salvation. He was just telling Philemon that he wanted him to WILLINGLY, not under compulsion, answer his request and not hold anything against Onesimus. The Greek Dictionary in the back of the UBS Greek New Testament gives "willing" as the meaning for the Greek adjective used here ("hekousios, a, on"). The KJV translated "willingly"; the NKJV and Amplified Bible translated "voluntary." Philemon 1:14 is the only verse in the New Testament that uses this adjective.

There aren't any places in the New Testament that speak of our choosing salvation. (In one sense we do choose salvation, but much more must be said.) The New Testament does, however, speak often of God's choosing us (cf., e.g., John 15:16; Rom. 11:5; 1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9; and 5:13), but it also makes it clear that we must repent and submit (by faith) to His call to salvation in the gospel and cooperate with His saving, sanctifying grace on a continuous basis. God takes the initiative (sending His Son to die for us; sending the gospel to us, one way or another; drawing; convicting; revealing; etc.), but we must respond (by faith) to His saving grace in Christ.))

I went on to say that since mankind is fallen and in spiritual death there is substantial bondage of the will. We are, therefore, dependent on God's enabling grace to become believers, and after we become born-again believers we are dependent on the enabling grace of God to think right in our hearts and live in the righteousness and holiness of God with the victory over sin. I was surprised when there wasn't unanimous agreement with what I said. For one thing, Calvinists and Arminians, though they disagree on some of the details, agree that we are dependent on the grace of God to become Christians and to live as Christians.

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, high creations of God, and given authority on the earth, but they were dependent on God too. We were created to be dependent on God. Being dependent on God is a good thing (but pride doesn't like it) since He is totally good and infinitely powerful and competent in every way. There is a very big difference between God (the Creator) and us (the created), and there still will be a very big difference (but less of a difference) between God (very much including God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) and us after we are glorified and begin to reign with Him. He is deity; we aren't and never will be. Adam and Eve (and the same truth applies to us, their offspring, and to the angels) were not created to be independent of God. Even before the fall Adam and Eve could not function as they were created to function apart from their right relationship with God and (to mention one super-important thing) the spiritual life that He made available to them on a continuous basis. After we are glorified we still will not be able to function as we should independent of God and the things He makes available to us (by His grace). God is the only source for spiritual life, physical life, truth, real love, righteousness, holiness, divine order, etc. We are, and we always will be, dependent on God and His grace. That's one reason we worship Him, and we always will.

SOME PASSAGES FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT DEMONSTRATE THAT WE COULD NOT BECOME TRUE CHRISTIANS APART FROM THE GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST. (This is of crucial significance since our faith must be based on God and what His Word teaches): See what Jesus said in JOHN 6:44, for example, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." ((God draws, reveals, convicts, limits what the devil can do against us, etc., but that is quite different than His giving us saving faith. God doesn't give us saving faith. We must begin to respond to and cooperate with His grace, and we must continue to cooperate with His grace with faith to the end of the race. Our sovereign God has set up new-covenant salvation in a way that requires our serious input from the beginning to the end. We must continually respond to and cooperate with His saving, sanctifying grace in Christ through faith, but this does not detract from the fact that we are 100 percent dependent on the grace of God for our salvation and we must give Him all the glory for our salvation forever. (See my "A Paper on Faith" on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching].) )) LUKE 10:21, 22, "At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, 'I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent [to those who are proud, not humble, and who won't accept the idea that they need to be saved, etc.] and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well pleasing in Your sight. (22) All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is but the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." (Also see Matt. 11:25-27.) JOHN 6:65, "And He [Jesus] was saying, 'For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." ACTS 16:14, "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple, a worshipper of God [a Gentile who was attracted to the God of Israel (the God of creation; the God of the Bible) but who had not become a convert to Judaism.], was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." It is also true, according to the New Testament, and important for us to know, that Christ died for all, and all are called to repent and submit to God the Father, His Son, and the gospel of new-covenant salvation (cf., e.g., Acts 17:30, 31; 1 Tim. 2:1-7; and 1 John 2:2). We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! We cannot dismiss or explain away the passages that don't fit our theological viewpoints, but this is often done by Christians; we need to modify what we believe if it doesn't line up with the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.

THE NEW TESTAMENT ALSO EMPHASIZES THAT WE ARE DEPENDENT ON THE SAVING, SANCTIFYING GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST TO THINK RIGHT AND LIVE IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS OF GOD WITH THE VICTORY OVER SIN. (Calvinists and Arminians agree with this point, but the Arminians typically put more emphasis on the call, enablement, and requirement for Christians to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God with the victory over sin. Holiness churches typically are Arminian, and they typically follow the teachings of John Wesley): See, for example, JOHN 15:5 ("I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing"); EPHESIANS 2:8-10 (( (This passage deals with our becoming Christians and living as Christians.), "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [[better, "and this," which refers back to our salvation, not back to the word faith. The NASB has a note in the margin, "I.e. that salvation"; for one thing the word "faith" is feminine in the Greek and the word "this" is neuter; Paul would typically have used a feminine "this" if it referred back to the word "faith." I'll quote the Amplified Bible on this verse: "For it is by free grace (God's unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation) through your faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves - not of your own doing, it came not through your own striving - but it is the gift of God."]] not of yourselves [not "out of/from (Greek preposition "ek") you (plural you)"], it is the work of God [more literally, "out of/from God is the gift (of salvation)"]; (9) not of ["out of/from" (ek)] works [works that we have done apart from the grace of God in Christ], so that no one may boast [We cannot boast in ourselves for receiving a gift that was infinitely costly to God.], (10) for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works ["Works" of righteousness are required, works that the grace of God enables us to do.], which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them [God calls, enables, and requires us to walk in them, but He certainly doesn't force us to walk in them]." (These verses are discussed in my "A Paper on Faith," for one place.) )); ROMANS 8:1-14; GALATIANS 5:16-25 (( (These super-important passages from Romans and Galatians are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" and my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both books are available at A large number of other passages from the New Testament, and some from the Old Testament, could be listed here too.) For one thing, the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in all born-again Christians through the grace of God in Christ (Rom. 8:9), enables us to think right in our hearts and to live right. (On thinking right by the Spirit, see, for example, Rom. 8:5-8 and Eph. 4:23 with the translation that the apostle Paul intended for Eph. 4:23, "be renewed by the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] in your mind [or, "in your thinking/way of thinking"; Greek noun "nous"]." The apostle had just said in Eph. 4:17 that a big part of the problem was that non-Christian Gentiles walk "in the futility [or vanity, emptiness] of their mind [or, thinking/way of thinking (Greek "nous")]." If you think wrong in your heart, you will live wrong. Thinking right in your heart includes loving and being submitted to the God of creation, the God of the Bible, the God of salvation, the God who will judge all people.

All the "fruit of the Spirit" that the apostle Paul mentioned in Gal. 5:22, 23 (the fruit that is manifested in the hearts and lives of true Christians that is produced by the indwelling Spirit of God as we walk by the Spirit) is one more confirmation that the godly lives of Christians come by God's grace. Everything the Spirit does in us and through us comes by the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ. The New Testament makes it clear that we will not think right in our hearts, walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, manifest the fruit of the Spirit, etc. if we don't cooperate with the saving, sanctifying grace of God through faith, based on what the New Testament teaches, on a continuous basis.)); PHILIPPIANS 2:12b, 13 is a very important passage for this study: "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who is at work in you, both TO WILL [my emphasis] and TO WORK [my emphasis] for His good pleasure." The idea isn't that we are passive and God wills for us, but that He enables us to will that which is right as we walk in accordance with His Word by grace through faith. This obviously doesn't mean that we will automatically always will what is right or do what is right; we must always cooperate with God's grace through faith. We are called to walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis and not sin (cf. Gal. 5:16), but that doesn't mean that all Christians walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis. We sign a contract when we become Christians, agreeing (for one thing) to always walk by the Holy Spirit, but that doesn't mean that all Christians walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis. A walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over all sin, is far from being automatic. We must make it a top priority to aim at this target (by grace through faith)!

As I Mentioned, I Was Quite Surprised When There Wasn't Unanimous Agreement (in the class I was teaching) To What I Said Regarding Our Dependence On The Enabling Grace Of God In Christ To Become Christians And To Live As Christians. Some people have more bondage to sin than others, but all of us are dependent on the enabling grace of God for salvation from the beginning to the end. Satan, the evil angels, and the large number of demons work on a consistent basis, to the extent that God permits, trying to keep non Christians from God and the truth, and in bondage to sin and darkness, and trying to get true Christians separated from the truth, righteousness, and holiness that they do have.

We are dependent on the enabling, saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ to live in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God after we become born-again Christians because the flesh (the old man who wants to continue in sin) exists, along with the demons and the world whose god is the devil. The NIV often translates the "flesh" as the "sinful nature."

I'll include two relevant excerpts from the notes in the "Fire Bible: Global Study Edition" ( Copyright 2009 by Life Publishing International; published by Hendrickson; the notes and articles in this study Bible were written by Donald C. Stamps [now deceased], who was an Arminian; the NIV is used in this Bible). I picked this reference because several people in the class I was teaching use and respect this study Bible. These excerpts say exactly what I said about these two serious limitations to our will being (fully) free.

I'll quote two paragraphs from the note under "God's Grace" on page 2100, "God gives a degree of grace as a gift (1 Cor. 1:4) to unbelievers (i.e., those who do not yet know or have not accepted Christ) so that they may be able to respond to his message and mercy and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 2:11; 3:4)." And "God gives grace to believers (i.e., those who choose [see the preceding sentence] to accept and follow Christ) so they can be 'set free from sin' (Rom 6:20, 22), 'to will and to act according to his good purpose' (Phil 2:13; cf. Tit 2:11-12; see Matt 7:21, [see] note on obedience as a gift of God's grace [My second excerpt will be taken from the "note" referred to here). God's grace also helps believers to pray (Zech 12:10), to grow in their relationship with Christ (2 Pet 3:11), and to communicate the message about Christ to others (Acts 4:33; 11:23) [and to do the other things that God requires us to do]."

This second excerpt is on pages 1692, 1693, under the words, "Does The Will Of My Father" of Matt. 7:21. I'm not quoting the entire note. "The obedience to God's will demanded by Christ is an ongoing condition for salvation; it does not save us, but is a response and a result of true salvation. Yet, it is still God's power and grace (i.e., undeserved favor, love and help) that enables us to live by his standards. ... Because of the gift of God's power and grace [His power is included in the grace He makes available to us] we are capable of doing God's will and living right as we follow Christ with all our heart (Eph. 2:5). ... God always gives us the strength and ability to obey him and overcome sin. ... Yet God's gift of grace...does not cancel the need for action on our part [for our faith which cooperates with God's grace and we obey God; God's grace is not irresistible]. ... We are always free to reject God's grace.... ...." We are free to reject God's grace (He doesn't force us to cooperate with His grace), but we are not free to walk in His righteousness and holiness on a continuous basis apart from His grace.

As I Mentioned, Calvinists And Arminians Agree That We Are Dependent On The Enabling Grace Of God To Become Christians And To Live As Christians. (I'm speaking of Calvinists and Arminians who believe the Bible is the Word of God and the truth; which includes believing that we are totally dependent on the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus; that we must be born again; that we are dependent on the grace of God to be saved, which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit; and that God must be given all the glory for our salvation forever, etc. Those who don't respect the Bible as the Word of God (that came as revelation from Him through His chosen spokesmen) but believe it is packed with error (which is typical for liberal Christians, some more than others) are liable to believe almost anything and reject almost any foundational doctrine of Christianity, including such foundational truths as the virgin birth, the atoning death and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the existence of angels and demons, and the reality of miracles.

(( (This double parenthesis that briefly discusses liberal Christianity goes on for nine paragraphs.) All evangelicals need to be aware of this super-serious problem. Many readers will be shocked to learn how far liberal Christianity deviates from the foundational teachings of the Bible, which follows their lack of respect for the truthfulness of the Bible. One reason this is important for us to understand is that liberal Christianity is very influential in many parts of the world, including large numbers of universities, seminaries, and denominations, and they communicate their ideas throughout the world to all who will listen. We need to be careful who we listen to. Some are more extreme than others, extreme looking at it from an evangelical Christian point of view. (Two primary characteristics of evangelicals are that we believe the Bible is the Word of God and that we must be born again.) I'm not an expert on liberal Christianity, but this topic was discussed quite a bit in the conservative, evangelical seminary I attended back in the late 60s and early 70s (Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis).

I remember reading the viewpoint of Rudolf Bultmann (AD1884-1976) in the library at seminary back about 1970 ("Kerygma and Myth; A Theological Debate," first published in 1953); it was hard for me to believe. He was a German Lutheran (much liberal theology got its start in Germany more than a hundred years before Bultmann); he was highly respected by many liberal Christians in his day; many considered him to be the king of the Christian theologians. I had some firsthand experience with this fact about 1970 when I took a class at Concordia Theological Seminary (Missouri Synod Lutheran) in St. Louis. (It was the only class I took there. It was convenient for me to take a class in beginning Hebrew there.) At the time I took that class there was a crisis taking place at the seminary between the conservative Christians and the liberal Christians (I didn't know about the crisis taking place when I signed up for the class), which led to a split with the conservative minority gaining control and the liberals (the majority of the teachers and students) leaving to start their own seminary (Seminex) not long after I took that class. That description is oversimplified. For one thing, I don't believe it would be fair to say that all those who left would be classified as liberal Christians, or to say they didn't have any legitimate complaints. Anyway, the reason I mentioned this is because I was able to see firsthand that many of the liberal Christians there boasted of Bultmann, and I heard the expression there that he was the king of the Christian theologians. While I was there I had the opportunity to go to the chapel service once. It was interesting. The speaker, a professor who had a lot of authority at the seminary and who was one of the minority conservative Christians there, preached on the reality of the devil. It was clear that he was preaching about the reality of the devil because he realized that large numbers of the faculty and students didn't believe in the devil. That is a widespread viewpoint among liberal Christians. You cannot have much (if any) respect for the Bible and believe the things that liberal Christians believe. Some are more liberal than others.

Bultmann held a viewpoint that would have been more extreme than some liberal Christians, and he was more honest than most to openly say what he believed (liberal pastors, for example, realized that many of the people in liberal churches were not ready to hear pastors deny the virgin birth, miracles, angels, etc.), but he was just part of a movement that had been going on for more than a hundred years. Bultmann stated in his book that I mentioned that modern man, with our modern, enlightened and scientific viewpoints, can no longer believe in angels and demons, miracles, the virgin birth, the atoning death, or the bodily resurrection of Jesus. (However, those things are at the very heart of what biblical Christianity is all about.) Those things (and he listed quite a few other things) are myths (things that are not literally true), which we must remove by demythologizing the Bible. I'll give another example of supposed myth from page 4 of Bultmann's book: "We can no longer look for the return of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven or hope that the faithful will meet him in the air (1 Thess. 4:15ff.)."

I'll quote a few sentences from the one and one-half page article, "What is liberal Christian theology?" from the internet site "In liberal Christian teaching, which is not Christian at all, man's reason is stressed and is treated as final authority [not the Bible]. Liberal Christians try to reconcile Christianity with secular science and modern thinking. In doing so, they treat science as all-knowing and the Bible as fable-laden and false. ... Whether a person is saved from sin and its penalty in hell is no longer the issue; the main thing is how man treats his fellow man. 'Love' of our fellow man becomes the defining issue. ...." And we are supposed to learn from the liberal theologians and the world (not from the Bible) what love means, where love means, for example, that you don't tell anybody that what they are doing is sinful. That would be intolerant and not loving from their point of view, but that isn't real love; ultimately it hurts the people they are "loving," because sin is real and we are all going to stand before God to be judged at the end of this age.

I'll briefly list some of the things that this article states about key viewpoints of liberal Christianity (I'll add a few details to what this article says): hell isn't real; the Bible isn't inspired; the virgin birth didn't happen; there was no bodily resurrection of Christ; there were no "supernatural" miracles; no atoning death (a loving God wouldn't send people to such a place as hell); "most of the human authors of the Bible are not who they are traditionally believed to be, For instance they believe Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible [far from it]"; Daniel did not write the book of Daniel and the "prophecies" in the book of Daniel do not include any actual, true prophecy from God (there is a widespread viewpoint among liberal Christians that the Bible does not include any actual, true prophecy from God); the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the apostle Paul did not write many of the epistles attributed to him; etc.; the Holy Spirit doesn't exist and there is no new birth; King David did not exist; etc.; I trust you can see that we have a very serious problem here.

I'll also quote several sentences from the eight-page article, "Liberal Christianity," in Wikipedia (on the internet). I won't include the endnotes. "Liberal Christianity, also known as liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century onward. ... ...'liberalism' from the start embraced the methodologies of Enlightenment science as the basis for interpreting the Bible, life, faith and theology. [The Enlightenment, according to "Webster's New World Dictionary," is "a mainly 18th century European philosophical movement characterized by a reliance on reason and experience rather than dogma and tradition and by an emphasis on humanitarian political goals and social progress." We do need to abandon dogmas and traditions that are wrong, and there are many of them.]

The word 'liberal' in liberal Christianity originally denoted a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture according to modern philosophic perspectives (hence the parallel term modernism) and modern scientific assumptions, while attempting to achieve the Enlightenment ideal of objective point of view, without preconceived notions of the authority of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma. Importance was laid upon 'scientific' interpretation of the text.... ... Eventually, liberalism abandoned objectivity as a goal, as modern philosophy came to be dominated by philosophic perspectivism and moral relativism [for example, sometimes adultery is good; there are no moral absolutes]. ...

[I'll quote part of the first paragraph under the heading "Liberal Christian exegesis," which continues for a page and a half.] ... The style of Scriptural hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements, but instead an anthology that documents the human author's beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing - within a historical or cultural context. Thus, liberal Christian theologians do not claim to discover truth propositions [revealed by God] but rather create religious models and concepts that reflect the class, gender, social, and political contexts from which they emerge. ... Thus most liberal Christians do not regard the Bible as inerrant [far from it], but believe Scripture to be 'inspired' in the same way a poem is said to be 'inspired' and passed down by humans.

[I'll quote two last sentences from this article.] Liberal Christianity in America has experienced a decline in membership of 70% - from 40% of the American Christian population to 12% - between 1930 and 2010. Conversely, the evangelical denominations have grown greatly in size, and the Catholic Church has seen more modest gains." (This is the end of the nine paragraph rather brief, but quite important, discussion of liberal Christianity.) ))

We will continue this study in Part 2.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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