I’m going to call it the “cloud forest” of Arminian thought. For one, it’s poetic. For two, it’s the endless nebula of a self-contradicting perspective, within which wayfarers get lost and some never make it out alive.
I write this in the fear that certain doctrines of election and predestination so cherished by the Reformation may have been minimized to the category of “heterodoxy” in the thrall of personal debate within the Church… when, perhaps, we had no right to do so. After all, if it was taught by Christ Himself in John 6, by John in John 12, and at exhaustive length by Paul in Romans 8, 9, Ephesians 1, and many other places, I ask the question: what made us think that we ever had the authority to label the doctrine of God’s total sovereignty over man’s will as anything less than orthodoxy? I ask another question, to skewer you in the heart once again: in regard to a doctrine concerning God’s supreme authority, purpose, character, and the very foundation of His Magnum Opus of salvation, what would drive a Christian to categorize this as a “tertiary” subject?
Can a man truly know God and willfully reject the highest possible view of His divinity?
Can he really conjure up such a measure of audacity to regard God in some twisted union with the notion of chance, a God who relinquishes a degree of His authority to allow the whole creation to potentially erode in the void of an impersonal and uncertain chaos?
This is a God who has left the fate and final sculpting of His great work in the hands of a fallen race, a race that is not simply ailing or impaired with corruption, but a race that is utterly “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). This God lifted high by the Arminians and advocates of free will is one who somehow, enigmatically, knows the destiny of all men while maintaining no part in its crafting.
“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:29)
It’s a cloud forest of hazy understanding because a sovereignty-defending Christian can never know if his opposing fellow in the predestination debate, who ultimately attributes his salvation to a decision of his own free volition, is merely immature in his understanding of Scripture, or if he’s clasping onto this perspective due to unseen pride, unbelief, and resentment toward who God really is according to Scripture—as opposed to who he wishes Him to be, after his own likeness.
It’s one thing to be ignorant of Scripture; it’s quite another to reject the words written on the page.
Proponents of free will usually cite the following verse to establish grounds for an argument that God doesn’t predestine people to an eternal sentence of heaven or hell, but rather attempts to save all people, thus failing by a staggering majority:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
… And it never occurs to them that Peter was here addressing Christians in particular, the only group of which it can be said with any certainty that none at all will perish, as the apostle clearly explained in the very first verse of the same letter:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:1)
Only in regard to the Church of Jesus Christ can it be said that God’s will is that “all should reach repentance,” and this without fail. Peter was not referring to humanity as a whole when he said that God’s will is that none should perish. If that were the case, as many confused wood-walkers within the Church would be content to believe, then we have the Apostle Peter portraying an impotent God who merely tries, attempts, wishes, but does not accomplish His perfect will; a God who knows the miserable outcome, that most people will be destroyed, yet remains powerless to do anything about it. But… if it was God’s plan and purpose all along to make most humans for destruction so that He could exercise His power, justice, and holy wrath, then we portray a perfect God who effectively accomplishes all that He wills, failing in nothing. The problem with this is simply how unappealing it is to a people who have grown fond of the hippy deity masquerading as God in their imaginations, that twisted personification of peace-and-love humanism fused with components of Biblical illiteracy and culturally fostered self-righteousness.
Does God not will destruction as well as salvation?
“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” (Romans 9:16-18)
Does God not make everyone with an intended purpose and destiny in mind, both to heaven and to hell?
“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:21)
Is God’s holiness toward sinners not expressed in both mercy and wrath, deliberately preparing both the just and the damned to these separate ends for His own glory?
“What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory…” (Romans 9:22-23)
I think the Apostle Paul gives us an undeniable clarity in his answers throughout Romans 9, as you can see.
The clarity of the answers in Scripture, however, is not the issue, nor has it ever been.
From the true and faithful believer, you would expect a word from Christ like “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65) to solicit a response such as “Absolutely” or “Without a doubt,” or an army-grade “Yes, sir!”
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
“… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
What’s to question? Why would there be any dispute? What in such plain teachings stirs any inclination to wrestle with them?
Is it not a comfort to the heart to know that your salvation is divinely secured by a process of election? Is not a cause for dread and despair if your salvation should ultimately hinge on some aspect of yourself rather than the free grace of God?
The majority of professing believers today reject every one of those passages on the topic of the sovereign election and divine predestination of the soul. The explanation for this phenomenon cannot be found on the exterior.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1,5)
This “power” spoken of, the power of godliness, has been invested in the word of God, in the Scriptures themselves. This is what is being denied by an end-times generation that masks its emptiness with the mere “appearance of godliness.” It is God’s word that is being denied and rejected.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Anyone who wrestles against the plain and simple word of God sustains this contention because there is something in the word of God that they plainly and simply don’t like. This is no intellectual obstacle. Those who reject predestination understand the concept perfectly, they just won’t love God if God doesn’t love everyone equally; they won’t love a God who’s more sovereign than they’re comfortable believing.
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Might those hard-to-understand writings of Paul referred to be such as the ones we’ve just reviewed in Romans 9, the contentious and divisive truth of God’s total sovereignty? The issue, according to Peter, lies beneath the lovely skin of unstable churchgoers who twist the word of God in accord with the hidden rebellion in their heart.
Remember when Jesus taught predestination:
“And He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'” (John 6:65)
And remember the very next verse:
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66)
How easy it is to get lost wandering the cloud forest when you hate the signs showing you the way out.
Yes, everyone loves God—right up until they discover who He is. At that point, as we learn more about our Sovereign Creator, we must either assimilate to the truth or stagnate in our delusions of preference.
Now, the original point of all this was to better define the unseen viper coiled at the ankle of the free-will exalting Christian, that is, how denying the totality of God’s sovereignty stands to potentially disqualify one from salvation and is therefore a doctrine worthy of consideration for orthodox status. Here’s how it works:
Free-will salvation is, in essence, an old heresy called “synergism”—in cloak and mask, yes, but one in the same.
True Christianity, unblemished, extols the phrase “solus Christus” (“by Christ alone”) and claims for itself no contribution to salvation except the sin that Christ died for. The true Christian knows he is but the recipient of a free and unmerited gift, and thus has not one reason to boast in himself.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The true Christian wears a pure white garment of the imputed righteousness of Christ, and that alone, nothing added. Even if you believe that Christ did 99% of the work, your 1% contribution would deny you entrance into the heavenly kingdom. Heaven is a place where nothing imperfect dwells, and everything imperfect is cast out. Your 1% would contaminate God’s sacred abode. That 1%, thinking God saved you only because you were one of the few good people on earth that chose Him, is no less than a denial of the Gospel itself.
The journey into this foggy, labyrinthine stretch of woods begins with a denial that man is totally depraved in his natural condition and thus incapable of doing anything good on his own.
Allow me to further illustrate with a glimpse into the logic of the advocate of free will:
- Natural man is not totally depraved, therefore man has some inherent righteousness.
- Natural man possesses free will and must use it to choose Christ for salvation.
- That saving choice is righteous and stems from his own inherent righteousness. (Hence #1: man is not totally depraved.)
- Christ’s sacrifice merely made it possible for man to save himself if he also applies his own righteousness in the utilization of his free will. (I.e., a conditional salvation, ultimately hinging on himself.)
That’s called a “synergistic righteousness.” It is not the absence of Christ’s righteousness, but the inclusion of man’s.
[Christ’s Righteousness + Man’s Righteousness = Salvation]
This equation kills not by subtraction, but addition.
The notion of a synergistic righteousness between Christ and the believer equating to their salvation, the two working in tandem together, defiles the purity of “solus Christus,” and it does so by nothing more than the simple contribution of the believer’s own righteousness.
“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)
The only acceptable garment is the righteousness of Christ alone.
“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4)
Attributing your salvation, even a little, to a free-will decision you made is like a glass of water made undrinkable with only a single drop of poison. Rest assured, you will not walk with Christ in white if your salvation is not founded solely on Him and His finished work, a fundamental truth that is entirely blasphemed by the denial of man’s total depravity. The “white” of the robes of the Saints implies the righteousness of Christ and Christ alone.
Choosing Christ out of free will, however, would merit salvation as a reward for making the right choice, a saving decision that the vast majority of people are not righteous, wise, smart, or godly enough to make. What then is the difference between the saved and the unsaved? Is a believer more intelligent, or more soft-hearted towards Christ? What inclined him to be so? Chance? Circumstance? Is he just naturally better than others? To what exactly does he owe this saving decision which spares him from the eternal agony of hell, the same hell from which most do not escape?
Questions that demand answers.
If you claim to be a Christian, you must have an answer for precisely what it is that separates you from the rest of mankind as it plunges into hellfire beneath your dangling feet. This is not optional. Did God choose you, or did you choose God? You can’t have it both ways.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16)
Even when the answer is given without obscurity, the heart still in love with the world, like Lot’s wife, will not accept it—cannot accept it. Again, this is not an intellectual issue, but a spiritual one. How I wish it were only a matter of explaining it better.
To believe that natural man is not totally depraved and incapable of making that saving choice is to believe that natural man does not enter heaven totally on the righteousness of Christ, and does not totally lean on the grace of God, and cannot thusly leave its advocates totally assured of salvation—a lack of assurance which proves that their salvation is still ultimately sought in themselves and not in God alone.
Most people tend to overlook the underlying danger of these heresies. They have forgotten how subtle and how fatal the serpent can be. What, did we expect a barrage of obvious errors only? The art of the Devil is perfected by subtlety, and then nourished by the preacher’s minimization of the issue.
Clarity versus obscurity.
Light versus dark.
God means what He says, and He says what He means. If you can’t trust Scripture, what can you trust? Your own corrupt human mind? Your depraved emotional experiences?
You can believe what it is written in Scripture, or you can question its integrity and overlook these difficult passages.
You can also twist Scripture to bend your perception of God’s true character if you don’t like who the Bible says He is, verses such as the following:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
You can take a beautiful passage like that and hideously weaponize it against the myriad of other verses declaring the predestination of souls. You can make the false assumption that the word “whoever” implies that everyone has the natural ability to believe, but it remains nothing more than an assumption, and the verse will never change or state anything more than the simple fact that those who believe will be saved. Free will is only ever an assumption; the rest of Scripture eradicates that assumption, hence the importance of teaching the “whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)
“When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)
Who blinded their eyes so that they would not see? Who hardened their hearts so that they would not understand?
If you read the passage in Isaiah from which John quotes, you’ll find that it is none other than God Himself who is being referred to.
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’ And He said, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’” (Isaiah 6:8-10)
It is not the Devil.
It is not man’s own deceitful self.
It is God’s sovereign decree that a man should either see or remain blind. It is the sovereign decision of God to grant him entrance into the light or deny him the capacity for conversion. And it is sheer blasphemy to prescribe to the Lord the boundaries within which He is able to exercise power over His own creation.
If anyone still doubts this, then I ask again, as the Apostle Paul asked long ago…
“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:21)
And if the words of God through His servants don’t convince a person, nothing will.
It is impossible to love a God that you don’t know or don’t accept.
May the Spirit of Truth awaken all who slumber while the cosmic clock has yet a few seconds. May He guide all those Saints still circling the cloud forest of perpetual confusion and have the grace to overlook any remaining falsehood. May He drive His sheep out of apathy and purify their relationship with Him through the knowledge of His true character by His word.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (Jesus, John 17:6-9)