The following is part of a series of blogs written for the Covenant Reformed Church website.How are people saved? The answer to this question is pretty simple and is agreed upon by most Protestant Christians – we are saved by faith alone in the work of Christ alone.
But ask a follow-up question – Why is one person saved, and another person is not? – and the disagreements fire up pretty quickly.
Let’s take the example of Sven and Goren. They have a mutual friend, Fredrick, who is a believer and who has witnessed to them faithfully over the course of their lives. Sven and Goren have heard exactly the same message, they have gone to the same church services with Fredrick, been a part of the same theological discussions, read the same books, read the same Biblical passages, had the gospel explained to them in myriads of ways, etc.. In every situation of their lives where the gospel was presented Sven and Goren have experienced it together. Yet at some point in his life Sven believes in Christ by faith and Goren doesn’t. Sven, to the surprise of no one, begins witnessing to Goren along with Fredrick, yet for his entire life, Goren does not come to faith in Christ. At the ripe old ages of 90+, Sven, Goren and Fredrick all die together on the same day in an old-folks home in Sweden; Sven and Fredrick die as believers; Goren as an unbeliever.
The question then is – why did Sven believe but Goren did not?
The Arminian would say that Sven exercised his free will and Goren did not; that is why he was saved and Goren wasn’t. To put it more theologically, the Arminian would recognize that both Sven and Goren are depraved and dead in their sin, but they would also say that both of them were able to provide the decisive impulse to trust God with the general divine assistance that God gives to everybody. This is synergism – man working together with God for his salvation. Thus the decision to be saved, or not to be saved, is ultimately up to each person – God does not decide this, we do. The Arminian then argues that following our act of faith, God regenerates us, justifies us, begins to sanctify us, adopts us, blesses us with his Holy Spirit, and makes us part of the elect. Arminians also believe that God wants us to continue in our salvation, but since we got ourselves into it, we can sin our way out of it. There is no assurance of salvation. So Sven used what God has put in place to rescue himself and he continued to do this throughout his life which is why he died a believer.
In short, Arminians believe that we must produce in ourselves the decisive desire for Christ. They say that God helps us. He helps all people, but we provide the last, decisive impetus and desire for that belief. On account of this, salvation is secure only as far as our faith and obedience secures it.
But is this the right way to view the order of salvation? Is what has just been described truly reflective of the witness of Scripture? I think not. I believe that Scripture witnesses to the following – “Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.” (Source)
Over the next number of posts I want to explore this understanding of salvation, also known as the Reformed Doctrines of Grace. They include the following, which we will deal with in the order presented below:
- God’s sovereignty in salvation
- Total depravity
- Unconditional election
- Irresistible grace
- Limited atonement
- Perseverance of the saints.
I trust that as we go through these beautiful doctrines we will see how amazing grace really is.
Soli Deo Gloria