‘But I don’t believe Jesus did die for everyone,’ I said. The words hung for a moment as if there was some reluctance to hear them. ‘Are you a Calvinist?’ my friend enquired cagily. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I believe a lot of things John Calvin be1ieved.’ ‘What about John 3:16, then?’ He went on to quote, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’
It is not necessary to be unkind and there is no doubt my new friend was very sincere in his interpretation of the Bible, but as often becomes apparent on such occasions, many professing Christians have little grasp of central gospel themes. They almost hold by default an Arminian, man-centred view of Christ’s work which has him dying to make salvation possible for all people yet actually securing salvation for none. They happily consign ‘Calvinism’ to their mental drawer of occasionally met oddities, a single text or two being all chat is necessary to debunk the whole system.
How are we to react to Arminian friends and contacts? Are there not sufficient people who have never heard the gospel without spending time and effort trying to convert someone from a man-centred to a Christ-centred view of the gospel?
We must realize that it is of vital importance to every Christian’s relationship with God and his personal spiritual growth that he understands the nature and extent of the Lord Jesus Christ’s atoning work. It was Jesus Christ, the God-Man, who died for our sins (I Corinthians 15:3) and we must believe what God has revealed of that amazing fact.
What did Christ’s death achieve? For whose sin did Christ die? Who receives the benefits of his substitutionary work? What does it mean for them and how are these benefits obtained? Such questions are at the foundation of spiritual understanding; every ocher spiritual lesson is built on a correct view of Christ’s atoning work-wrong in these, wrong in all.
Who is this Jesus?
My friend assures me, ‘I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,’ but the briefest of discussions quickly shows that his faith is in a Lord who is weak, ineffectual and whose whole work hangs upon the response of sinners for its success. Can this be the same Lord Jesus Christ who is revealed in the Bible? whose purpose in coming into the world was actually to save his people from their sins? (Matthew 1:21); who bore our sins and carried our sorrows? (Isaiah 53:4); who lay down his life for the sheep (his elect), gives them eternal life and refuses to give up any whom the Father has given to him? (John 10:15, 28). It doesn’t sound like the same Jesus!
True faith can be weak and childlike, yet for it to be real faith it must grow. Growth for a Christian is growing in grace and a knowledge of the truth. Grace is intimately wound up in the atoning work of Christ; a knowledge of the truth is first obtained by knowing ‘the Truth’, who the Lord is and what he has done John 6:14; 8:32).
Of course mere knowledge of facts is no guarantee of spiritual new life. Knowledge itself does not save a soul. Nevertheless, just as we need food and drink to sustain our bodies physically so Christian need spiritual food to grow spiritually. The doctrine of God’s sovereign grace in salvation is the most wholesome spiritual food available.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception and salvation hinges on man’s choice rather than God’s gift must be introduced to the truth of sovereign grace and particular redemption. If they are true Christians they will not reject the testimony of Scripture in order to believe a lie.
Salvation is God’s work
Particular redemption is not a doctrine invented to keep people out of heaven. In truth it describes the method whereby God prepares his people for heaven. My Arminian friend agrees that no sinner can enter God’s presence, nor anything chat defiles (Revelation 21:27), therefore, he acknow1edges, every child of God must be made clean and righteous. Their sin must be forgiven and their guilt removed. The Bible calls this atonement and Christ atoned for the sin of his people on the cross (Romans 5:11).
Particular redemption is the name given to the scriptural teaching that Christ died for chose whom the Father chose ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4), having predestinated them to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). It is these people, whom Peter calls a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), who comprise the church, Christ’s bride. It is these whom God loved so intensely that for them he gave up his own Son (Romans 8:32), these God justifies (v. 33), and these Christ intercedes for in heaven (v. 34) having first purchased them with his own blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25).
Sadly much preaching today is delivered with an unbiblical, man-centred bias. Those who are attracted to this message must, in coming to a true understanding of salvation, ‘unlearn’ a lot of what they have previously been taught is true Christianity. They know no better.
Those who know the true nature of the person and work of the Lord Jesus ought to care enough to take time and trouble to get alongside their Arminian friends, to sensitively and graciously lead them into an understanding of the true, Christ-centred gospel. Giving instruction in such matters is not the preserve of the ‘ministerial classes’. Christians of all ages, experience and ability are called to give a reason for the faith that is within. Indeed, perhaps your testimony today to an Arminian friend, concerning the true nature of Christ’s gospel, may be the help they need to grow in grace and a knowledge of the truth. Yes, Arminians need the gospel too; don’t let them down.