>More reflections on Grace
I’m an Arminian.
If I could look through my computer screen, across the millions of miles of fibre optic cables and bounce off satellites to see your faces right now I’m sure I would be met with a lot of blank stares at this moment. I don’t blame you. Up until 6 months ago I had never heard of Jacobus Arminius or the school of theology that he founded even though I now realise that I have been raised in it most of my life.
Jacobus Arminius was a 16th century student of Calvinism but somewhere along the line he broke with the traditional line of thinking. The schism among other things was mainly over the Calvinist claim that salvation is predestined by God for a few elected individuals and that as a result salvation, once granted by God’s grace is eternal and can never be revoked.
Today even the most ardent Calvinists have abandoned, or severely tempered their support for the idea of salvation being reserved for an elect few so I’ll save the debunking of that one for another time, instead I want to focus on something I left hanging last week. The question I was asked most, not in so many words of course was, “what do we do with Christians who claim to be saved by grace and continue in their evil ways?”
Put more bluntly the question boils down to this; is it possible to lose your salvation through continued and persistent sin? A Calvinist would say no but an Arminian would say yes. To quote the 5th tenant of Arminianism:
• Believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace through persistent, unrepented-of sin.
Or to put in scriptural terms:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [Romans 6:1, 2]
Jesus illustrates this concept with the parable of the Prodigal Son. [Luke 15:11-32].
The prodigal son was a man who had it all but fell from grace through unrepented-of sin. When he returned, he was welcomed back with open arms, his salvation was restored, but what if the story had ended while he was sleeping with pigs in a far away land? A Calvinist would say it doesn’t matter, God would still welcome his soul in heaven because he never lost his salvation in the first place, but that’s not want the story says.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. [Luke 15:17-20a]
The key verse here is clear, “he got up and went to his father.” The son decided on his own to return, only then was he able to receive the grace that awaited him.
When we die to sin, as Paul puts it, we can’t continue living the same way we always have. Grace welcomes us back with open arms no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done but we have to come back on our own.
Luke 15:20 ends with one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture,
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20b]
That’s what grace looks like to a repentant sinner. The father, seeing his son, “still a long way off”, jumps up and runs to him with open arms!
What are you waiting for? Get up and go to your father.
For more on Jacubus Arminius and the Calvinist-Arminian debate check out;