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Free Will? Liberal Christianity. Punished for Sins We Commit After We Become Christians? Tertullian and the Montanists, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
4/12/2015 / Bible Studies
We continue this study here in Part 2.
BRIEF DISCUSSION OF AUGUSTINE AND THE CALVINISTS AND ARMINIANS. Augustine, who was followed to a significant extent by the Calvinists on this topic, said that when it comes to salvation free will is irrelevant. Augustine (AD354-430), in his later viewpoint, wrongly said that we are so fallen that we have no capacity to cooperate with God's saving grace or to have faith (he said that we have free will, but that we are free only to sin), and so God chooses (elects) some people and (irresistibly) works faith in them. Augustine overstated the effects of the fall. (Pelagius, his opponent, seriously understated the effects of the fall.) Augustine also wrongly included the idea that if we contributed anything to our salvation (including beginning to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith) it would detract from the fact that we are saved by grace. However, the fact that we must cooperate with the saving grace of God in Christ and submit to the gospel by faith does not conflict with the fact that we are saved 100 percent by grace: See Rom. 4:16, for example: "For this reason [since we could not be saved by the Law], it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace...." Everything that we receive by faith comes entirely by grace; we do not earn/merit salvation in any of its aspects by faith. That which is freely given (a gift) is no less freely given because it must be received. A drowning man cannot boast in himself for taking hold of a life preserver.
Augustine included the idea in his later viewpoint that since our salvation is all of God there is no way that the elect could fail to become Christians. The "I" of the Calvinistic TULIP stands for "Irresistible Grace," which means that the ones God has chosen (elected) are not able to resist His saving grace. The "U" of the Calvinistic TULIP stands for "Unconditional Election," which means that God's choice of one and not another has nothing to do with differences between people because all are "Totally Depraved," the "T" of the TULIP," which includes the idea that we are all total zeros when it comes to being able to cooperate with God's grace or to have faith. The "P" of the Calvinistic TULIP stands for the "Perseverance of the Saints," which means that the saints (the elect) will persevere and be saved when the end comes. That doctrine of Augustine is the source for the widespread doctrine that true Christians cannot lose their salvation. I have an excerpt in my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" from a Calvinist scholar who states that the doctrine that we cannot lose our salvation "was first explicitly taught by Augustine." The early Christian Fathers believed that we can lose our salvation. It is true that mankind has fallen to such an extent that we are dependent on the grace of God to be saved, but I don't believe the Bible backs up the idea that we are so fallen that we cannot begin to cooperate with God's grace or have faith. The "L" of the Calvinistic TULIP stands for "Limited Atonement," which means that Christ didn't die for all people, just for the elect. (Some Calvinists - four point Calvinists - reject the "L.") Although some passages fit the "L" idea OK, I believe Acts 17:30, 31; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; and 1 John 2:2 suffice to refute that idea. I don't agree with any of the letters of the TULIP.
I Love The Calvinists, and I know that large numbers of them are making it a high priority to live for God in His truth, righteousness, and holiness. I was saved through Calvinists and grounded in the faith through Calvinists, and I graduated from a Calvinistic seminary with an MA in Biblical Studies. However, after I began to study these things (for the most part before I started going to seminary in 1969), it became clear to me that though Calvinists have so many things right, they are wrong (they miss the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches) in the places where they followed Augustine's later viewpoint. I have discussed these things in papers on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching): Especially see my "A Paper on Faith"; "Once Saved, Always Saved?"; and "Romans Chapters 9-11" (Augustine and the Calvinists lean heavily on some verses from these chapters in Romans). I also recommend my foundational paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism."
I never did accept the "T" "U" "L" or the "I" of the Calvinistic TULIP (I was never seriously confronted with the need to believe in them; most of the Calvinists I have known didn't put much emphasis on them, if any, but I realize that some Calvinists do emphasize them, including some seminary professors), but I totally accepted the "P" (once saved, always saved) the first year or two after I became a born-again Christian. Every Christian I knew for quite a long time believed that doctrine. It took me a while, and it was difficult, but when I began to seriously study what the New Testament teaches on this topic I had to change. (See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?") We need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this topic, as on every topic, but this is a very important topic that can significantly affect the way we think and live. I put a priority on trying to give the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this topic in that paper; I'm not trying to win an argument; I'm trying to please God and be a blessing to the Body of Christ.
Most of the Calvinists I have known were not abusing the doctrine once saved, always saved. For example, they wouldn't tell a "Christian" who was accepting unbiblical teachings and/or yielding to living in sin that all is well and there is no need to be overly concerned because we know that you cannot lose your salvation. They would call for repentance, and they often say that those Christians who abandon the truth or persist in obvious sin must have never become true Christians. (I believe the New Testament makes it clear that born-again Christians can lose their salvation. See my "Once Saved, Always Saved?") However, many Christians are abusing the doctrine in our day: Some Christian leaders even go to the extreme of teaching that those who have become Christians cannot lose their salvation even if they stop having faith in Christ, or no matter what sins they are living in. (I give a significant example of a very prominent Christian leader who teaches this in my "Once Saved, Always Saved?")
God certainly doesn't want any true Christians to fall away, quite the opposite, and He warns us and provides the grace for us to stay faithful, and He won't let us be tempted beyond what we are able (1 Cor. 10:13), but I believe the New Testament makes it quite clear that we can fall away. (God's will isn't always done. For one thing, He doesn't will the sin of Christians, but He, in His sovereignty, leaves much room for us to sin; He lets us be tested.) Similarly, God doesn't just give us faith to become Christians or compel us to become Christians (see my "A Paper on Faith"). God must receive all the glory for our salvation since we are saved by grace, but we must cooperate with His grace before we become Christians, and we must cooperate with His grace by faith on a continuous basis (in accordance with His Word) after we become Christians.
I Love The Arminians Too, and I know that large numbers of them are making it a high priority to live for God in His truth, righteousness, and holiness. They are named after Jacobus Arminius (AD1560-1609). Arminius was a Calvinist (named after John Calvin, AD1509-1564), but he began to see that some of the teaching of the Calvinists missed the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. The Arminians reject all five points of the Calvinistic TULIP. (Actually, the Calvinists came up with the TULIP in reaction to what the Arminians were teaching.) As I mentioned, I don't agree with any of the five points of the TULIP.
Speaking of the Calvinist and the Arminian teachings in general, I believe the balanced truth is between the Calvinists and Arminians, but closer to the Arminians. I don't believe the Bible answers every question or reveals exactly where the balanced truth is, but God has revealed all we need to know. One thing that Calvinists and Arminians (and other Christians) need to be aware of (and seriously deal with) is that when you are reacting against what some other Christians believe, it is very easy to go too far in the other direction. Heated debates tend to make both sides overstate their positions. This happens a lot throughout the Body of Christ on many different topics. Also, the Arminians went beyond what Arminius taught as some Calvinists have gone beyond what Calvin taught. IF WE AREN'T VERY CAREFUL, TRYING TO WIN AN ARGUMENT AND TO DEFEND OUR TURF BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE WILL OF GOD AND THE BALANCED TRUTH OF WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES. For one thing, it is rather easy for sincere born-again Christians to walk in the flesh (in the old man), instead of walking by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, which we are called, enabled, and required to do (cf. Gal. 5:16). This is a very serious problem. Church history has demonstrated that it is rather easy for Christians (even sincere, true Christians) to come up with wrong interpretations of the Bible; it is rather easy to sin. I have observed over the years that many, or most, Christians are not looking for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, because, for one reason, they think they have it already.
The Arminians typically put more emphasis on the super-important topic of holiness and victory over sin than the Calvinists, and their teaching is better on this topic. For one thing, Arminius wrote a 200 page paper showing that the apostle Paul was not saying in Rom. 7:14-25 that Christians cannot have the victory over sin in this life, and he is followed by most Arminians. Arminius rightly said that Paul was speaking of a non-Christian in those verses. Most Calvinists believe that Paul was speaking as a Christian in those verses. That wrong interpretation, which did not originate with Calvinists, has done tremendous damage to Christianity.
(( (This double parenthesis goes on for six paragraphs.) I discussed Romans chapter 7 in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," and to a greater extent in my recently published e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin," which serves as an introduction to the paperback book. Both books are available at amazon.com. And I discussed the interpretation of Romans 7 in some detail in a paper on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). It is quite significant that I have not been able to find any Christian writers until after AD 400 who understood Rom. 7:14-25 to teach that Christians cannot walk with the victory over sin. If any such writers exist they were a rare exception to the very dominant viewpoint. The early Christian writers did a much better job teaching that Christians are called, enabled, and required to walk with the victory over sin than the church of our day.
Let's briefly discuss what it involves to believe that the apostle Paul was speaking as a Christian in Rom. 7:14-25. This is a very serious matter! It is no wonder that this erroneous interpretation has done so much damage! I believe this is an impossible interpretation! I do acknowledge, however, that a large number of very sincere, born-again Christians who are making it a priority to live in accordance with God's Word have accepted that wrong interpretation. For one thing, it is difficult to not accept teachings that have been part of your denomination (movement) for hundreds of years. (Martin Luther and John Calvin, for example, both misinterpreted Rom. 7:14-25.)
The apostle Paul could not have said of himself as a Christian, "I am of flesh, sold [better, "having been sold"] into bondage to sin" (Rom. 7:14b). Paul went on to demonstrate what he meant by being a slave of sin in Rom. 7:15-24 and part of verse 25. For example, in Rom. 7:20, 21 he said: "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. (20) But if I am doing the very thing [sin] I do not want [because I am a slave of sin, having been sold into bondage to sin], I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." Paul was speaking here, as he was in 7:14, of a person who was a slave of sin, having been sold into bondage to sin.
Being a slave of sin (having been sold into bondage to sin), by definition, is a totally different matter than a Christian falling into an occasional act of sin, for which acts they are quick to repent. You can't be a slave of sin (having been sold into bondage to sin) and be a Christian. Christians must be slaves of God and His righteousness and holiness (see Romans chapter 6, for example). I am not saying (and the New Testament doesn't teach) that if born-again Christians are not walking with the total victory over all sin that it demonstrates that they are not true Christians, but we need to be quick to repent if we should sin, and we must make it a top priority to walk with the victory over all sin by the saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ. That is the Christian ideal, and we must be aiming at that target. All sin, if it really is sin, is a serious matter.
The apostle wasn't saying in Rom. 7:20 that the person he was speaking of (a person under the Mosaic Law [see Rom. 7:14a, 16]; not a Christian) wasn't guilty for sinning, but HE WAS EMPHASIZING THE PITIFUL STATE OF BEING A SLAVE OF SIN. Throughout Romans chapter 6 the apostle spoke of the fact that we were slaves of sin but now we have been set free from being slaves of sin; now we are slaves of God and His righteousness. PAUL'S WHOLE PURPOSE IN ROM. 7:14-25 WAS TO EMPHASIZE THAT ALL MANKIND (INCLUDING THOSE UNDER THE LAW) NEED TO BECOME CHRISTIANS SO WE CAN BE SET FREE FROM BEING SLAVES OF SIN (and demons). He emphasized that point repeatedly throughout Romans chapters 6 and 8, the chapters right before and right after Rom. 7:14-25, and even in Rom. 7:5, 6, and we very often find this teaching throughout the New Testament.
It is true that mankind has been sold into spiritual death and into slavery to sin through Adam's transgression, which Paul had just dealt with in Rom. 5:12-21, but a big part of the gospel that the apostle Paul proclaimed is the fact that born-again Christians have been set free from this spiritual death and being slaves of sin and demons (see Rom. 8:2 for example). There is no way that the person spoken of in Rom. 7:14 and the verses that follow could be a Christian without totally contradicting what the apostle said in Romans chapters 6 and 8 and 7:5, 6, and many other passages throughout his writings and the other writers of the New Testament. (This is the end of the six paragraph double parenthesis.) )) Also, as I indicated above, the Arminians (rightly, from my point of view) understand that the New Testament shows (in many passages; Matt. 25:1-10; Rom. 11:17-24; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-3; and Revelation chapters 2 and 3, for example) that born-again Christians can fall away. (See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?")
There are very large numbers of very sincere Christians who are Calvinists, and the Arminians need to hear some of the things that Calvinists are teaching, things that are clearly included in the Bible. Like I said, I believe the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches will be found between the Calvinists and the Arminians, but closer to the Arminians. For one thing, I believe that many Christians will agree that some of the best Bible commentaries have been written by Calvinists, and Calvinists rightly put a strong emphasis on the need for us to glorify God.
Many Arminians could (should) learn from Calvinists regarding what the Bible teaches about God's foreknowing some people (not all people) with favor (cf. Rom. 8:29 [I highly recommend that you read on Rom. 8:28-30 in my paper that includes Rom. 8:16-39 that is on my internet site (for one thing, that discussion, which includes excerpts from others, aims at the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches); also see on Eph. 1:3-14, which is all one sentence in the Greek, in that same paper; and see my "Once Saved, Always saved?" especially under the heading "Origin of the Doctrine Once Saved, Always Saved."]). Regarding God's choosing (electing) some people before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:4 [also see 1:5]; 2 Thess. 2:13) and regarding His writing their names in the book of life before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 17:8; 13:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; and 3:5). Regarding His calling them (the word "call" is almost always used in the New Testament of God's special calling of the ones He has chosen [cf. Rom. 8:28, 30; Acts 2:39; Rom. 1:6; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:24; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14]). I'll quote Acts 13:48: "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
The Bible has quite a bit to say on this topic that we cannot dismiss and hold the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. Some Arminians try to make these verses fit their viewpoint, but in my opinion, they haven't been any more successful than the Calvinists have been when they try to explain away the many passages that demonstrate that born-again Christians can lose their salvation. We need the balanced truth between what the Calvinists and Aminians teach. Calvinists and Arminians both need to make room for the passages that don't fit their sincere - but oversimplified - viewpoints. Even if the Bible doesn't show us exactly where the balanced truth is, we know about where it is, and we can refrain from holding, and teaching, out-of-the-Biblical-balance viewpoints.
The Biblical strand of truth that emphasizes God's role in our salvation is designed to glorify God and to put the emphasis where it should be, on God: He is carrying the load (cf. Matt.11:28-30), but it must be understood that we must do the things that God requires of us, by His enabling, saving, sanctifying grace in Christ by faith. The apostle Paul emphasized God's role in our salvation, but he also made it clear that we are obligated to do the things that God requires of us (we must humbly repent as required, and we must appropriate and cooperate with His enabling, saving, sanctifying grace in Christ on a continuous basis by faith) to become Christians, to live as Christians, and to continue to be Christians.
The Bible shows that God is sovereign (Calvinists emphasize this point), but it also shows that in His sovereignty He has chosen to leave quite a bit of room for our role in His plan of salvation. The New Testament often and clearly warns that believers (true Christians) can become unbelievers and it mentions erasing names from the book of life for believers who won't repent where repentance is required. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We cannot cling to the set of verses that fit our point of view and explain away, one way, or another, all the verses that don't fit. However, many Christians are doing this on a regular basis. It is easy to do.
Also, it is very important for us to understand that the New Testament makes it clear that Christ died for all and that He calls all people to repent and submit (in faith) to the gospel (cf., e.g., Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 17:30, 31; 1 Tim. 2:3-7; and 1 John 2:2) and to press on, by grace, through faith, until the end of the race (when Jesus returns or we die). Arminians emphasize these truths and the passages that teach them. We cannot dismiss the passages that speak of Christ dying for all and calling all people to repent and submit in faith to the gospel because there are verses that speak of a special call for the elect, etc. We desperately need to hold the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! I mention this point often. I believe it needs to be repeated.
For one thing, those verses that speak of a special call for the elect (and similar verses) were designed to bless those who had become believers and to glorify our sovereign God. They were not designed to show that Christ didn't die for all: I don't believe that God intended to communicate the idea to any people that they will be wasting their time if they humble themselves before Him and begin to look to Him for salvation (in accordance with His Word, by faith) with a repentant heart and then continue to press on as they cooperate with His saving grace in Christ (by faith). He sent His Son to die for all people, and He called all people to repent and submit to His plan of salvation. We cannot do any better than stay with the balanced truth of what the Bible that God gave us teaches. It tells us all that we need to know, even if it doesn't answer every question.
We must avoid building theological systems that fit our favorite passages, while ignoring other passages that are also part of God's truth. We need to submit to everything the Bible teaches, not come up with theological systems that sound good but leave out (or explain away) significant parts of what the Bible teaches.
Based on what I have observed, Calvinism rightly puts a strong emphasis on the grace of God, looking to Him, trusting Him, being secure in Him, and giving Him all the glory. Those things are all good and necessary. One practical problem, however, is that some Calvinists think of themselves being secure when they don't have a scriptural right to feel secure. If we aren't believing the truth of God's Word and living in line with His Word by His saving grace in Christ, with a high priority, through faith, WE NEED TO REPENT, not feel secure because we believe that the New Testament teaches that we cannot lose our salvation. Such Christians need to take seriously the large number of warnings in the New Testament that we can lose our salvation, but I have observed that many Calvinists and others who believe once saved, always saved do not take the warnings seriously. Some of them, in fact, expend much effort trying to explain away the warnings. (I did some of this myself my first year or two after I became a born-again Christian.) One thing that they often say is that the warnings only apply to those "Christians" who never were born again. It is true that some "Christians" never were born again to begin with, but it is very clear that at least most of the warnings in the New Testament were addressed to born-again Christians. (See my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?") It ought not be; it is isn't God's will; but believers can become unbelievers.
If Arminians aren't careful they can put too much emphasis on what THEY have to do; for one thing, they can end up being insecure and striving in the flesh in their strong desire to live righteous and holy lives. It happens a lot. We must walk in the enabling grace of God and by the Spirit of God, but this is far from being automatic for born-again Christians! (We Christians cannot overemphasize our dependence on the grace of God and on making sure that we give Him all the glory.) And the fact that some Arminians think they often lose their salvation (which doesn't line up with the Bible) doesn't lend itself to having a secure relationship with God.
I'm thinking of an Assembly of God (Arminian) pastor (now deceased) that I used to fellowship with and I did some teaching at his church. I consider him to be one of the best friends I have ever had. I was very much impressed with him as a brother in Christ and as a very sincere Christian who walked in love and was an effective pastor who was very much centered in the Bible. I was shocked when he told me once that he often didn't have an assurance that he would make it to heaven. We should have that assurance. Emphasizing the grace of God and His role in our salvation lends itself to that assurance, but we must be careful we don't emphasize the grace of God in a way that leads to the idea that we can coast - we must cooperate with the grace of God on a continuous basis, by faith. For one thing, the world, the flesh (the old man that wants to continue in sin) and the devil and his multitudinous hosts are highly motivated to destroy us. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches and to appropriate and cooperate with all the grace God that has made available to us!
HOW ABOUT THE VIEWPOINT OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS ON GRACE AND FREE WILL? This topic is worth considering, even though we must base our doctrines on the Bible. We can learn quite a bit from those writings. Those writers were sincere Christians who were trying to be faithful to God and His Word (the Bible), and some of them knew some of the original apostles or those who had known the apostles. We will discuss what the early Christian Fathers (limited to the ante-Nicene Fathers, who wrote before the Council of Nicea of AD 325) said on the topic of free will and grace in the last section of this paper: They spoke a lot about free will, but they also believed that we are dependent on the enabling grace of God in Christ to become Christians and to live as Christians. One reason I'm including that section in this paper is because the idea that those Fathers taught that we can become Christians by our free will and live for God in His righteousness and holiness with the victory over sin by our free will was expressed in the class I mentioned at the beginning of this paper.
I am not an expert on the writings of those early Christian Fathers, but it is clear that they did understand our dependence on the enabling, saving, sanctifying grace of God in Christ. Some Christians say that those writers did not emphasize the grace of God enough, and I agree that some of them did not emphasize the grace of God enough, but they did understand our dependence on the grace of God, as the excerpts in the last section of this paper demonstrate. (Many Christians in our day do not emphasize the grace of God enough, and many, following the lead of Augustine, overstate the grace of God by saying that our salvation depends only on the will of God, that He gives us faith and that we cannot fall away, etc. It is easy to miss the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches; and it is easy for born-again Christians to walk in the flesh instead of walking by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, to which we are called.) The New Testament puts a very strong emphasis on our being saved through the grace of God in Christ. One place where many of the early Christian Fathers failed to understand the grace of God in Christ was when it came to dealing with sins that were committed after becoming Christians (post-baptismal sins). We will discuss this serious problem in the lengthy (twenty-seven page) section that follows:
We will start that twenty-seven page section in Part 3 of this paper.
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com 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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