>Get up and Go…

>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;


  1. >Argh! I drove myself nuts back in the 1960s-90s trying to resolve the Arminian/Calvinist debat. I just knew I was going to be the one to crack the "code" so to speak. You know what? They are both wrong. Both are locked into a reformist view of scripture. If you start wrong you cannoit possibly end right. The foundation is not stable!Take the bible for what it is, not for what some theologian says it is, and if you are like I was you will feel a tremendous burden lifed from your back, no less a relief than the one described in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." Be free to believe the truth, not the way it "s'posed to be" but the way it is.The NT is a book of mostly hearsay and perhaps based upon a few genuine first hand accounts of Jesus. It's what people thought about Jesus and, guess what, they didn't all think exactly the same. So you have irreconcilable differences among the four gospels. Get used to it.Best wishes …Frank

  2. >I think you are doing something here that never would have occurred to Jesus or his disciples, to do. These fine theological questions never even existed back then because people just were not thinking that way. They were thinking about questions such as, "How will our Messiah deal with the Romans and Herodian priests?" Yes, the "Apostle" Paul talked some about predistination, and if you read closely what it said, it makes no sense. He raises the point that "You will ask (words to this effect) if God's will cannot be resisted, then how can he find fault?" It was a valid question, but the answer Paul gave was basically a non answer. He begged the point! And then changed the subject. Like any experienced preacher would do.James was into "works," of all things. He and Paul apparently had a standing debate going, but later theologians came along and tried to pretend otherwise. Why? Because they had "doctrines" to defend, positions to maintain.Take the gospel for what it is, a revoluntionary message for the spiritual poor. A creative approach to wresting power away from Rome, without resorting to violence of the sword. Probably not because of an aversion to the sword, but more likely because Jesus, being smarter and wiser than his contemporaries, probably realized that weilding the sword would get you nowhere. Jesus gave a pointed lesson on that when he tried to reason with the radicals among his followers, saying: "Nobody (in his right mind?) goes to war against an army of 50,000 with an army of 5,000 without doing inventory to see whether he has the resources to finish the job." OK, OK, so those were not the exact words. I don't want to go look them up but that's close enough. That was the message! "Forget about direct confrontation through conventional warfare."What the followers didn't get then (and don't get now for that matter) is that violence only breeds more violence. Especially when you are outnumbered. Later generations woul put it this way: "Every action results in an equal and opposite reaction." Jesus told them to forget about expecting anything good from the government and to start taking care of each other, feeding the poor, healing the sick, providing for those who were political prisoners awaiting trial (so they wouldn't starve to death in prison). And so on. Just take over and rule and reign and don't waste your energy on trying to overcome the evil Roman world system.Well what, do you think is the closest thing to the Roman empire is in our world today? What city (I could name a couple) would be so wealthy and powerful that the whole world depends upon them for their trade, their economies? What capital if it were to fall today would have people worldwide weeping and crying, and saying, "That great city is fallen, is fallen. Woe to the world."?Well, thankfully that scripture was not even referring to the days in which we live, but there certainly are some parallells. Which nations have, in the last 50 years, been "swift to shed innocent blood"? Did you know that over a million people have died prematurely now, both directly and indirectly, due to the Iraq war? How many of those were civilians who were not willing participants in a war? When were the last times? The bible clearly says that they were the times in which the original disciples lived! If we read the bible closely enough, we must conclude that the "last times" referred to, or was intended to refer to, times that came and went long ago. So the gospel is the "good news" that Jesus is taking over, as of now, and will rule and reign forever, and his kingdom is both among us an within us. "Us" being those who "get it" and worship God in spirit and in truth, as opposed to those who worship God in creed and ritual.OK, enough for now. I always seem to overdo it.

  3. >to F. Ellsworth – You are awesome! Without meaning to you've taken my argument to the next phase. You wrote next week's post for me so I think I'll take a week off (LOL). In the end it does all come back to what the scripture actually says. I think Arminius was closer to the truth than Calvin but then along came Wesley and turned the who thing on it's head again.Today we still have competing world views from Southern Baptist Fundamentalists like Pat Roberts to my father's professor and close personal friend Clark Pinnock, one of the fathers of Open Thieism. A lot of the time these debates come down to a question of "how many angels can sit on the head of a pin" and once you figure you have the answers, along comes a new question. Part of being a good apologist is getting comfortable with the questions. As one of my favourite contemporary theolgians, NT Wright, puts it, we live in a world caught between the "now and the not yet." It is our task as Christ Followers to start living in the Kingdom now with hope for eternity. As He taught us to pray – "Your Will be Done, your Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven."

  4. >PS – over the next few weeks I am still planning to tackle Open Thieism. It might take me a while to get there, I'm going to hear a contemporary Open Thieist preach on December 5 and will likely wait until after that…Until then…

  5. >Here is one place where we are in agreement. I recently mentioned the letter to the Christians in Thyatira (Revelation). That same letter is applicable here. Apparently Christians had been led into sin by someone given the name "Jezebel". If "once saved always saved was theologically correct, "Jezebel's" actions would have no consequences because those she led into sin were "saved". Adolph Hitler was baptized by the Catholic Church. If "once saved always saved" was correct, his actions later in life would have no consequences whether he repented later or not.The of the "elect" stems from the numbers of people and tribes given in Revelation. I dont have time to write all the reasons but that number is figurative. If anyone wants a full breakdown of the how's and why's of this, I will be happy to write it out for them. One quick thing to look at is the tribes numbered and named as "Israel". Historically, 10 tribes had been eliminated by Assyria in 722BC. 2 tribes named never existed. (Find the tribe of Joseph in the Bible). Numerology (meanings of numbers) also plays an important part in this.

  6. >Your rules of life, those that guide you, such as this statement of yours, "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", have their source in a book that has been revised a thousand times. For contrast, take the Torah, that has been handed down over 3,320 years, and despite the separation of continents and millennia, wherever that Torah survives today, they all are the very same text. It stands to reason because how could anybody improve on the authorship of G-d?To get a different take on world perspective, I invite you to read:http://hezbos.blogspot.com/2010/07/two-modes-of-proper-conduct.html

  7. >vanguard…I assume you mean that the New Testament's authenticity is suspect due to all of the various versions that have come out over the last few hundred years but when you read multiple versions the core message holds together remarkably well. There's nothing wrong with revising the words on the page to better reflect the lanuguage of the day so long as the core message remains the same.By holding the Torah up as the only true authority you are also proving my point. It is the Torah that gave us the idea that salavation was only available for a small group of God's Chosen People in the first place. The New Testament clarifies that and opens salvation up to everyone. Also, re-read what I said about the elect, that does not guide me at all, I find it to be far too restrictive and upon careful study of both the Torah and the New Testament it doesn't hold up.

  8. >I think it's safe to say a commitment to Jesus Christ produces a profound change in an individual. I Corinthians 5.17, if memory serves, states, the old has passed away and the new has come. In my experience, and speaking only for myself, if an individual claims to be a Christian and there is no evidence in their life of a qualitative and lasting change in thinking, behavior, interpersonal relations, etc. I think it's reasonable to wonder, not whether they have "lost their salvation," but whether they were Christians at all. Billy Graham used to say the greatest mission field on earth is the local church and I think that applies here. Baptism, church membership, following the Golden Rule, are good things, but they don't substitute for the best thing which is a vital, living and growing relationship with Christ.

  9. >I still think it is possible to be a good Christian and fall away. It doesn't call your original commitment into question, it just means you fell and still need grace, like countless others before you.

  10. >I'm trying to parse out the way you are using the word Christian. By that, do you mean one who, when they "are" a Christian, does not sin and therefore require the grace of forgiveness, and when they do "sin" thus need it once again, as though they had never been recipients of it? Or do you mean it as one who has been redeemed but still may "sin" along the way and be forgiven as a child of God, a la I John 1.9?Thanks very much! 🙂

  11. >Actually I am trying to train myself to use the term Christ Follower instead. Christian carries too much cultural baggage and often gets lumped in with political/religious connotations that confuse the issue. I fell into an old patern there, please forgive me.The 1 John 1:9 referrence does a good job of explaning my position on sin, especially when you look at it in context of verses 8 through 10 inclusive.

  12. >I loved your post so much, I shared it on facebook. I'm constantly bombarded with individuals that want to argue that the only way to salvation is to be saved by grace, which grace only God can give me, if he chooses to and once born again into the grace of God your salvation is sure, and nothing you can do can take it away. besides the obvious argument if God is choosing to save certain elect then why are they evangelizing if God is the only one who chooses who gets saved and who does not. I love the Bible as it is written old and new testaments, and we must take the whole book and read it in context of when it was written and to whom and by whom then we can get a fuller understanding. but so much more importantly I believe Christ, not just in him, I believe his words. all of them, not just some. we cannot be cheery pickers of Gods words.

  13. >Marymanard – wow, I'm going viral! LOLIt's funny (and sad) how many cherry pickers there are out there. I spend a lot of time in the word, really digging deep and the more I do that the more I realize, there is no hidding meaning as some scholars and theologians will try to tell you, it's pretty straight forward as much as I can see.

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