Historically, one of the most destructive and divisive controversies within Protestantism has been between the followers of reformer John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564, and the followers of Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609. The name-calling and propagandizing against one another by these two groups has been damaging our unity of the faith — as well as our reputation among the unsaved — ever since.
Interestingly, the people who so vociferously and aggressively proclaim allegiance to one side or the other generally have little or no clue as to what their own side actually believes, much less their opponents. This is especially true of those who proclaim themselves to be Calvinists, many of whom would be shocked to find out what John Calvin actually taught and believed, were they to bother giving his teachings even a cursory examination.
Many self-proclaimed Calvinists, upon hearing that some folks don’t agree with them, knee-jerk and immediately jump to the conclusion that nay-sayers believe in a “salvation by works” theology when most often those non-Calvinists are actually firm believers in the grace of God — they just don’t believe it the same way the Calvinists do.
Worse still, each side is incredibly hostile and judgmental towards the other, considering their opponents to be evil heretics because they have the temerity to disagree with their position, rather than treating them as their brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot help but imagine Satan nodding approvingly at this kind of behavior.
Some others of you may think that this discussion amounts to something similar to the ancient — and totally worthless, I might add — theological debate concerning the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. I mean. really, who thought up that nonsense in the first place? What were they actually discussing? Here’s my short list of possibilities:
- First, about the pin: What size is the pin and what is it made from? Is the head spherical or flat like a nail? What is the ratio between the thickness of the pin’s shaft vs. the diameter of its head? Is the pin in a vertical, horizontal, or inverted (point up) orientation? Is the pin stuck into something or suspended in mid-air? If suspended, what holds it in place?
- Now, about the angels: Is there gravity in heaven and, if so, is it different from Earth’s? How big are angels, anyway? How much do they weigh? Do angels really dance? If so, why would they want to? Who gives them dance lessons? What kind of dances are involved? Hora? Polka? Charleston? Argentine Tango? Ballet? Viennese Waltz? Quick-step? Cha-cha-cha? Samba? Jive? Hip-hop? Country Line Dance?
- Etc., etc., reductio ad absurdum!
Inquiring minds want to know! 😀
But, all kidding aside, where we stand on the issues presented by this controversy between the Calvinists and Arminianists has a direct impact upon things like:
- How we see God and His dealings with mankind.
- How we see Jesus and His finished work of the Cross
- How we see ourselves as believers at the foot of that Cross
- How we interpret God’s Word, the Bible, and integrate its principles into our lives
In this article, I’m going to analyze the tenets of both groups for you so we can see what about each of them is scriptural and what isn’t.
I’ll then explain where I believe the Truth actually lies.
Why Bother With This?
“So what?” or “Who cares?” some of you may ask. “I mean, why can we all just get along? Aren’t we supposed to love one another, not fight over doctrine?”
Good questions all!
I’m a Christian pragmatist, a rubber-meets-the-road, bottom-line kinda guy and I’m not at all into discussions and debates over theology for its own sake. What I mean by “pragmatist” is not that I believe the end justifies the means, but that I believe God always presents us with theology that is practical, effective, and understandable for the common man in the pew. In other words, it works! If our theology is not accomplishing God’s desired end: our growing in our love for Him and other people, as well as our living in increasing victory over the temptations, trials, and tribulations of this life — our theology must change until it does!
My take on things is that, if a theological concept has no practical application to our daily lives in how we relate to our God and our fellow human beings, it is totally worthless! This implies that I feel this debate is important, or I wouldn’t be investing my time and energy to address the issue here — I’d find something else to rant about! 🙂
Before we start, I will go on record that certain aspects of both sides qualify as “doctrines of demons” (you’ll have to read the rest of this article to find out what they are! 🙂 ). But that does NOT mean that I believe that Christians who adhere to the wrong views are heretics or false believers worthy of hell.
Not even close!
What I am saying is that aspects of each viewpoint constitute strong delusion, keeping adherents in a continual state of bondage, confusion, and spiritual defeat concerning sin, shame, sickness, and poverty. Those false theological assumptions about Christianity have unnecessarily defeated — even killed — literally thousands, if not millions of Protestants since the Reformation began in the late 1500s — far more than Roman Catholic genocide and torture ever did!
Comparing Calvinism & Arminianism
The best way to start this discussion is to compare the two belief systems side-by-side:
|God's sovereignty is unconditional, unlimited, and absolute. All things are predetermined by the good pleasure of God's will. God foreknew what was going to happen because He made it happen that way.||God has given man free will. God has limited His control regarding man's freedom and responses by His own sovereign choice. God's decrees concerning the future are based on his foreknowledge of how we're going to respond rather than by direct causation.|
|Man is totally depraved and dead in his sin because of the Fall of Man in the garden. Man is unable to save himself and, therefore, God must initiate salvation. This depravity extends to the entire person, including the will.||Man is totally depraved and dead in his sin because of the Fall of Man in the garden. Man is unable to save himself and, therefore, God must initiate salvation. Where Arminianism diverges is the concept of "prevenient grace." Prevenient grace is the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit, given to all, enabling a person to respond to God's call of salvation. The term "prevenient" here simply means "before salvation." Without prevenient grace, no person can respond to God's loving call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.|
|Election||From before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally chose some people to be saved. Election has nothing to do with a man's future response. God simply chose who gets to go to heaven and who goes to hell and no one on earth can do anything to change that divine will.||Election is based in God's foreknowledge of who would believe in him through faith. In other words, God elected those who would choose Him of their own free will, therefore election is based on a man's response to Him.|
|Jesus Christ died to save only those who were given to Him (elected) by the Father from eternity past. Since Christ did not die for everyone, but only for the elect, His atonement is completely successful.||Christ died for everyone, that His atoning death provided the means of salvation for the entire human race. Christ's atonement, however, is effective only for those who believe. The success of Christ's atonement lies in its inherent perfection, rather than in who responds to it or not.|
|Grace||God extends his common grace to all mankind, but that it's not sufficient to save anyone. Only God's irresistible grace can draw a member of the elect to salvation and make that person willing to respond. Irresistible means His grace cannot be obstructed or resisted by man. Without God's irresistible grace, men are entirely incapable of responding to God on their own.||Through the preparatory (prevenient) grace given to all mankind by the Holy Spirit, we are able to cooperate with God and respond in faith to salvation. Because prevenient grace is given to all men by the Holy Spirit, and this grace extends to the entire person, all people have free will. Through prevenient grace, God removed the effects and power of Adam's sin. But because of free will, we are also able to resist God's grace and turn away from Him.|
|Perseverance||Believers will persevere in salvation because God will see to it that none will be lost. Believers are secure in the faith because God will finish the work He began.||Through the exercise of free will, believers can turn away or fall away from grace and lose their salvation.|
It’s important to note that all of the doctrinal points in both theological positions have some sort of biblical foundation, which is why the debate has been so divisive throughout church history. Theologians and ministers disagree over which points are correct, rejecting all or some of either system, leaving most believers with a mixed perspective — 100% pure Calvinists or Arminianists are actually rather rare.
The Arminianists have this one.
The first problem I have with Calvinism is its concept of the absolute sovereignty of God, the idea that everything that happens in this earth takes place because He directly caused it or permitted it. The prevalent saying, “everything happens for a purpose” is rooted in this same unbiblical fatalism also found in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern religious thought, that everything happens because God/Allah wills it or because we have earned it though karma and the like.
The bottom line of this concept is we are reduced to being victims of a God who runs the machine of His universe with total disregard to the welfare of those in it. It directly implicates God as the author of not only blessings, but death, famine, sickness and disease, calamity, and all forms of abuse (physical/emotional/sexual/verbal) and neglect perpetrated against ourselves and others. It also means we never know which spin of the “wheel of fortune” will put us into the negative side of that equation.
Under this false premise about God’s sovereignty, He controls everything and we humans have no ability to choose otherwise. Extending this concept to its reductio ad absurdum logical end would mean that we are not responsible for our personal sins because God caused us to commit them. This is just plain stupid! This then begs the question: why did Jesus need to show up on this planet and die for us if we are not responsible for our own choices?
It feeds a totally unscriptural concept that somehow God is using these events to teach us humility, to draw us close to Him, to teach us to trust Him, to equip us to help others faced with the same trials, and other trite religious nonsense uttered by those ignorant of the Word.
It also promotes the idea that God has cosmic favorites among us humans and some of us get the good stuff and the rest get shafted. If we’re among the shafted, we’re supposed to somehow trust that God is doing this according to some loving divine purpose that we puny humans cannot discern whereas the Word clearly states that God is totally impartial.
This view of God totally cripples our ability to “boldly come before the throne of grace to seek grace and help in time of need” because this theology will always make us wonder if we are the exception to God’s promises concerning healing, financial provision, or protection from evil. It also calls into question God’s integrity concerning His Word and the “exceedingly great and precious promises” contained therein, promises that God states will “make us partakers of His very nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Calvinists make the irrational leap of logic that “because God knew it was going to happen, He had to be The Cause.” Excuse me, my knowing that a certain event is going to happen, such my knowing Obama would be disastrous to our nation before his election, does not mean that I caused it. He got elected despite my best efforts to ensure the opposite result. The same principle applies to God.
That concept also completely ignores the role and purposes of our spiritual adversary. The source of all evil is Satan and his followers are the agents of everything negative on this planet. The devil is a definitive psychopath and seeks to harm us because he has no conscience and no moral compunctions against concocting whatever plans to steal, kill, and destroy might strike his fancy. One of the greatest lies he has successfully perpetrated upon the Church is the idea that God inflicts evil upon us for some inexplicable and unfathomable “good.”
Man’s Depravity & Will
Arminianism is right on the money on this one.
Nowhere in the Word of God does it even remotely imply that God has to overrule human will to ensure that His purposes and works are successful in this earth. Indeed the Word states that His Word/will and human freewill coexist in perfect harmony:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you — the sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.
Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”‘
In this passage,
- God is calling the nation of Israel to repentance, an act of will, commanding them to seek Him. He promises their reward will be their nation would be blessed and exalted, a promise that the USA should heed in the modern day, I might add.
- Next, God declares that His ways and thoughts are not ours, that his are higher than ours. Calvinists rip this verse out of context and use it to cover their bogus assumption that God inflicts evil upon us to teach/humble us and His reasons are beyond our puny ability to comprehend. But in context, God is declaring that we need to avoid leaning to our own understanding, logic, and reason and throw ourselves on His all powerful Word which is where the power of God resides.
- The result of our seeking Him, setting our priorities according to His, and living according to His narrative for our lives rather than our own, will be joy, peace, and prosperity and that He will be glorified throughout.
Albert Einstein is quoted as once saying:
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.
He definitely grasped one of life’s fundamental truisms. Without a radical new approach, an entirely new way of thinking, we are doomed to remain in the problems we have created. Because we are hopelessly mired in our inherent selfishness, we cannot come up with any human-based solution that is not also inherently selfish at its core, regardless of how “righteous” or altruistic such attempts might seem on the surface.
It is this principle, the Law of Unintended Consequences, that dooms all measures rooted in secular humanism to failure, indeed that the problems being targeted will be replaced with yet other, even worse problems caused by the so-called “solution.” Sounds hopeless and depressing, doesn’t it? Indeed, that is precisely why the vast majority of the world is so hopelessly depressed.
God, through His prevenient grace, reaches out to a hopelessly lost and corrupt mankind who are conducting a desperate, yet futile, search for a spiritual clue. One only has to look at the ridiculous tenets of Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, to see an excellent example of this. Without God’s prevenient grace, none of us believers would have ever seen the Truth of the Gospel and made Jesus Lord of our lives because that Truth is revealed only through the wooing of the Holy Spirit Who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement.
However, as anyone can clearly see from the nightly news, there are a billions of people who are quite capable of and indeed actively and successfully resisting God’s prevenient grace and turning to their own selfish devices and dead religions, trying to save themselves and mold the world into their own version of reality. They do this because they have chosen by their free will to do so, not because God has not chosen them to be saved.
The Arminianists have this one, too. Only one verse is required to utterly refute the Calvinist doctrine of predestination:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. — John 3:16 (emphasis mine)
- whoever (pas)
- each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything
I’ve heard Calvinists say that “whoever” is only referring to “the elect,” but the context of the passage allows no such interpretation.
The huge problem with the Calvinist’s concept of predestination is that it completely saps all impetus for evangelism. I mean, why should I try to reach the lost if they are going to come to Christ — or not — anyway because that outcome is inevitable? And that is the bottom line of that issue.
Please note that my assertion here is borne out in practice by the truly Calvinistic denominations, such as the Presbyterian and the Reformed churches, who are the least evangelistic of all Christian organizations on the planet.
Arminianists win this round, as well.
The universality of Christ’s atonement for mankind is overwhelmingly proclaimed throughout God’s Word:
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 (emphasis mine)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (emphasis mine)
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.John 3:17 (emphasis mine)
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who 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 all1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)
For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the Living God, Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.1 Timothy 4:10 (emphasis mine)
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 (emphasis mine)
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.2 Peter 2:1 (emphasis mine)
One theologian summed it up nicely when he said:
The atonement is sufficient for all; it is efficient for those who believe in Christ. The atonement itself, so far as it lays the basis for the redemptive dealing of God with men is unlimited.; the application of the atonement is limited to those who actually believe in Christ. He is the Savior of all men potentially; of believers alone effectually. William Evans
Christ’s atonement on the cross was and is completely, overwhelmingly far-more-than-sufficient to deliver every human on the planet from the power and penalty of our sins as well as sin’s effects: sickness, poverty, and spiritual bondage and defeat, period, finito, end of story! To say anything less is to figuratively spit on Jesus’ sacrifice.
The Arminianists have this one right, except in one area. Prevenient grace does not deliver any man or woman from the guilt and power of sin, only saving grace has that power. In other words, fallen man is still very much under the guilt and power of sin until and unless he accepts saving grace by submitting his life to the lordship of Jesus Christ by faith in the finished work of the Cross and the Resurrection (Romans 10:9-10).
We who have responded to God’s prevenient grace have accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and submitted to His Lordship over our lives. In doing so, we have received saving grace.
His saving grace is what gains us entry into the kingdom of God via the New Birth. His saving grace is what seals us in the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. His saving grace is what delivered us from the guilt and power of sin and shame. His saving grace is what imparts the benefits of that kingdom to us. His saving grace empowers us to love and live the life He has foreordained for us from the foundations of the world. His saving grace is what sustains us during trials, tribulations, and persecutions. His saving grace is what will usher us into heaven when our earthly sojourn is ended.
But even believers can resist His grace through legalism and/or self-lordship. In fact, the only place in the NT that mentions “falling from grace” is in Galatians:
You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. — Galatians 5:4
In this verse, Paul is stating that those who have embraced legalism are the ones who have fallen from grace, not those who have given into the sins of the flesh. Selah!
This by FAR the most acrimonious aspect of this debate. I have actually been on either side of it at one time or another over the years as I have wrestled with the implications of the issues this involves.
The Calvinists take the position that, since God chose to save someone because he/she was one of the “elect,” it is therefore impossible for that person to walk away from God and lose their salvation. If a person backslides into sin, their judgment call is that he never really was saved in the first place, regardless of how long he had served the Lord and how righteous his life may have been up until that point.
Once Saved, Always Saved
A variant of the Calvinist view is called “once saved, always saved” (for brevity hereafter referred to as OSAS). Adherents to this concept believe that those who have actually been born again, cannot be “unborn again” through turning away from God into sin, that no matter how unholy that person’s life becomes. Even if they die in that backslidden state, they will still make heaven. The OSAS position is based upon our relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters. As with our human fathers, our disobedience disrupts fellowship, but our foundational relationship always remains intact.
The OSAS folks believe that, if we can choose to walk away and lose our eternal reward, then that choice constitutes a “work” and therefore any system of theology that states otherwise is based upon works rather than grace. This is totally faulty logic. If a choice to submit to Jesus’ lordship is an acceptance of His grace, why would a choice reversing that decision suddenly turn into works? But that is my only beef with OSAS and at the end of the day, OSAS is where I personally stand with the sole exception described later in this section (you’ll know which it is when you read it).
Arminianism believes that because we have a free will through which we accepted Christ and gained salvation, that same free will allows us to walk away and lose it. This is a logical extension of their emphasis on free will and, if our free will was the only factor, they’d be correct. However, focussing on free will to the exclusion of all other factors neatly ignores the fly-in-their-doctrinal-ointment fact I just mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago: we are adopted sons and daughters, not merely followers.
Unfortunately, the classic Pentecostal churches and denominations who have adopted the Arminian viewpoint have corrupted even that. The way they practice it is that, if a person falls into temptation and sins, that person has lost his salvation, is doomed to hell, and must once again rededicate his life to Christ to get re-saved.
This puts their members under a shame-driven, performance-based system of works that is all about sin-management and nothing about a vital, living relationship with the One True God through His grace and the finished work of the Cross. Their members are constantly making trips to the front of the church during altar calls to rededicate their lives to Christ because they fear the petty sins we all commit have doomed them to eternal damnation. They constantly feel condemned. Even worse, those who appear to “have it all together” get self-righteous and Pharisaical, thinking that something is missing from a church if there is not a constant preaching emphasis on sin and repentance and hell.
Words fail me in describing how absolutely, totally, absurdly unbiblically evil all that is. It is indeed a lie from the pit of hell, a doctrine of demons, and those who teach such pernicious false doctrine will, in my humble opinion, be answering for it before the Throne at the Final Judgement!
But back to pure Arminianism. Arminianists generally use three Scripture passages to justify their position. I will quote each of them and analyze them in turn:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’Matthew 7:21-23
In their presentation of this passage, the verses immediately prior to this passage providing context for these remarks of Jesus are conveniently omitted. Remember what I said in my article on interpreting the Bible about context? Let’s look at the paragraph immediately before the one I just quoted:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,…’Matthew 7:15-20
So this passage in its entirety is referring to false prophets who are attempting to deceive the flock. Jesus says that you can discern them by the fruit of their ministry and just because they call Jesus “Lord” will mean nothing at the final judgment. Why? Because they never submitted their lives and ministries to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so they had no relationship with Him. The mighty works of power they performed would, by definition, have been counterfeit miracles performed by the power of the enemy.
Now for their second prooftext:
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? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.Hebrews 10-26-31
Let’s look at some of the Greek words in this passage:
- sin (hamartano)
- to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin
- willfully (hekousios)
- voluntarily, willingly, of one’s own accord; to sin willfully as opposed to sins committed inconsiderately and from ignorance or from weakness
- judgment (krisis)
- a separating, sundering, separation; a trial, contest; selection; judgment; opinion or decision given concerning anything, esp. concerning justice and injustice, right or wrong; sentence of condemnation, damnatory judgment, condemnation and punishment
The passage here is speaking of someone who has deliberately walked into sin, not someone who committed a careless or ignorant mistake. Neither is it speaking of someone who had gotten saved and then deliberately walked away, having renounced his faith in Christ. The person referred to: 1) obviously knew God’s commands, and; 2) willfully chose to disobey them anyway. That person is going to reap consequences from God that are not going to be pleasant in the slightest. Under certain circumstances, the person might even die. But nowhere does this passage imply a loss of salvation, it only warns of some fairly drastic consequences.
An obvious example would be adultery. The Bible is very direct, very clear, and totally unequivocal that no combination of circumstances and/or personalities exist where having sex with another person’s spouse or cheating on one’s own spouse is OK with God. Under the Law of Moses, the penalty for adultery was death by stoning. Nowadays, no one is executed for it — at least in the First World, that is! — though there have been more than few murders by jealous wives and husbands over the matter. But physical death aside, once adultery has been committed, the aftermath brings death to every relationship involved. Adulterous ministers lose their churches, ministries, and reputations, almost always permanently. Other adulterers lose their jobs, homes, families, wealth, you name it! Often, adulterers will contract HIV and other STDs, several of which are fatal. God will not allow adultery to go unpunished, whether the offender is a believer or not.
Here’s the final passage Arminianists use to support their viewpoint:
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.Hebrews 6:4-8
Here it is in the Amplified Version:
For it is impossible [to restore and bring again to repentance] those who have been once for all enlightened, who have consciously tasted the heavenly gift and have become sharers of the Holy Spirit, and have felt how good the Word of God is and the mighty powers of the age and world to come, if they then deviate from the faith and turn away from their allegiance–[it is impossible] to bring them back to repentance, for (because, while, as long as) they nail upon the cross the Son of God afresh [as far as they are concerned] and are holding [Him] up to contempt and shame and public disgrace. Hebrews 6:4-8 AMP
Here’s a quick checklist of what such a person’s qualifications would be:
- Was once enlightened
- Has tasted the heavenly gift
- Has become a partaker of the Holy Spirit
- Has tasted the good word of God
- Has tasted the powers of the age to come
Now let’s look at what some of these terms mean in the Greek:
- enlightened (photizo)
- to enlighten spiritually, to imbue with saving knowledge
- heavenly gift (epouranios dorea)
- a gift from heaven itself, the abode of God and angels
- sharer (metochos)
- a partaker or partner
- Word of God (rhema theos)
- the spoken Word of God
- powers (dunamis)
- the power for performing miracles
- fall away (parapipto)
- to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah
I’ve heard OSAS advocates misinterpret these qualifications to mean someone who is unsaved, has heard the Gospel, and refuses to accept Jesus. If the word “enlightened” stood there by itself without the other qualifications, I could possibly agree with that interpretation. But the rest of the list not only describes a born-again believer, but one who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, has operated in the gifts of the Spirit, and has heard and preached the Word of God, yet has turned from true faith in Jesus Christ for whatever reason. This is a mature, experienced, educated, anointed believer, like a pastor, evangelist, elder, or deacon, not some new convert who is totally ignorant of the things of God.
This is a person meeting a very narrowly defined set of qualifications who has made a very specific decision to cease being a Christian and become something/someone else. I personally meet all of these qualifications and I have to accept the sobering fact that, were I to publicly renounce my allegiance to Jesus — becoming, say, a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Mormon — I would end up in the Lake of Fire at the Last Judgment. Everyone of comparable maturity, training, and experience is in that same boat with me. I simply cannot see any reasonable alternative interpretation of the Greek words involved that could possibly indicate otherwise.
One of the observations I’ve made over the four decades I’ve been a believer is that whenever evangelical Christian leaders fall morally and refuse to acknowledge their failure as sin and repent, they tend to do one of two things: they either depart conservative Christian churches for one of the liberal denominations (Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, etc.) which tend to eschew the Truth in favor of “greasy grace,” or they embrace the doctrinal error of universalism, the heresy that all humans are going to heaven regardless of what they believe, say, or do. Just saying…
Other than this one specific scenario, I am a firm believer in OSAS. Our relationship with God is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and our performance against a set of standards — or lack thereof — has nothing to do with whether we go to heaven or not.
So there you have it, my take on this centuries-old controversy that rages on to this day. I hope and pray that, even if it doesn’t change your viewpoint on the issues, that it will trigger some vigorous Bible study on the topic and you will be blessed in the doing of it as the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart.
Here is a quote that I think is absolutely appropriate to close this discussion:
Fundamental to understanding the Truth is understanding that man was created to be a free moral agent. This does not in any way infringe on the sovereignty of God; rather, it illuminates His sovereignty. The greatest, most noble authority is always demonstrated by the freedom it allows its subjects. Rick Joyner
Thanks for reading!