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Offer the offer?

Heres-The-DealI hadn't heard the phrase until this year, now I've heard it a few times. Some preachers are uncomfortable 'offering Christ' in an evangelistic setting. They are uncertain whether Christ and His atonement holds true for their hearers. So instead of offering Christ (and going beyond what they feel God may be offering), they "offer the offer."  That is, they tell their hearers that there is an offer of new life in Jesus. They are not so bold as to say that Jesus is "for you."  But instead they are thinking that Jesus is "for some" and there's a potential that Jesus is "for you." And if an unbeliever truly repents and believes (and perseveres to the end) then that offer will prove to be for them after all.

I'm imagining that such an evangelist is uncomfortable with saying: "Christ is for you, He's truly offered to you, now through God's word, as surely as He was offered then, on the cross to the world. He is given to you as your sacrificial lamb, His blood is your atonement, have Him."

I'm imagining they wouldn't say that kind of thing, but I haven't heard enough practical examples to know how exactly they phrase things. It's quite possible that they end up saying things very similar to that.

My point here isn't about the words used so much as the theology behind it. And my one reservation is this: offering the offer doesn't sound Calvinistic enough. I know, I know - you were thinking that 'offering the offer' was straight out of 5 point Calvinism. Well the irony is, I reckon to 'offer the offer' fails to appreciate the Total Depravity that heads the 5 points of TULIP.

I'll put it this way:

If we offer Christ, we are treating unbelievers as those who are dead but here is the Resurrection and the Life  for you.

If we offer the offer, we are treating unbelievers as decision making individuals who need to exercise their choice for Christ.

See the difference? Maybe it's a slight one. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it doesn't lead to any real difference in evangelistic practice. But to my mind, offering the offer treats people as Hercules at the cross-roads.  Offering Christ treats them as Lazarus in the tomb. I reckon Calvinists (and all who believe in the helplessness of humanity to save itself) ought to favour the latter.

If we've truly understood the plight of the unbeliever we can't offer them anything less than Jesus Himself.


51 thoughts on “Offer the offer?

  1. Cal

    Even though I disagree with Calvin (I'm not a double-predestinarian), even he saw the foolishness and insanity into trying to peer into something like predestination or election. Even he recognized that the Sower threw his seed everywhere, and it grew everywhere, though only completing its work on the right ground. Thus he could talk about temporary faith(vis. the seeds on the rock/in the thorns).

    It's here where sometimes a commitment to a doctrinal system begins to override the plain sense of Scripture. Christ died for the whole world is not something that needs to be bracketed or qualified.

  2. Timothy

    Thanks, Glen. I must admit I'm often guilty of what you described here. Not that I've preached much, but when I tried to tell others about Christ, I often told them what THEY can, or should do, ie. to trust Him, rather than telling them first and primarily of Christ Himself.

  3. the Old Adam

    That just turn the whole thing upside down.

    It makes the gospel into just another law. Just one little thing that we must do. That's not salvation. That's damnation.

    Just announce it. Hand it over. Free of charge.

    And then that gospel Word will do what It will do.

    It will create and sustain faith, "when and where It will".

    The wheat and the tares grow together." It's not our job to figure out just whom is who.

    Just keep preaching the law and gospel to saint and sinner...saved and lost alike. That's the job. Hard as it often is (because we've just gotta know...that's Gnosticism).

  4. Glen

    Thanks Cal, yes as just one example, Calvin's comments on 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world' make very clear his commitment to offering Christ to all.

    Well said Timothy, I'm often reminded of the words of Steve Holmes - "Don't tell them to trust in Jesus, tell them of Jesus such that they *do* trust Him."

    Good point OldAdam, offering an offer turns gospel to law. Nicely put.

  5. Cal

    I don't want to dereail, but this semi-related question occurred to me:

    Is accepting the plain statement that the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world a commitment single-predestinarian? That is if the hardening comes not as an absolute decree in the same way the election of Jesus Christ is the yes and amen of all of God's promises. Though in a logically rigorous way, Calvin's double-predestination (vis. his Institutes) may emerge if the former is pushed.


  6. the Old Adam

    Who is the gospel for?

    It's for "those who hear it."

    Sone hear and believe...and others do not.

    And that is God's business for "He will save whom He will save."

  7. Theo K

    1) the Apostoles in Acts never say to any individual or crowd: God loves you. Nor do they say: jesus died for your sins. What they do say is this: believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

    2) if we say that Jesus died *in exactly the same way* for all individuals that have ever lived, Abel and Cain, apostole John and Judas, for example, then we must conclude that it's not Jesus and His cross that makes the difference, but rather the good sense of certain individuals that managed to receive Jesus. I would be happy to be shown otherwise.

    3) Spurgeon and Whitefield (for example) certainly believed in particular redemption, but this didn't stop them from offering Christ to any who would listen.

  8. John B

    The outward call of the gospel is universal, and the essential work of the church. The inward call is particular, and the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit.

  9. Howard Nowlan

    OK, into the lion's den!

    Theo - am I hearing you aright?

    If so, I clearly need to remove Jesus' teaching to Nicodemus in John 3 from my Bible - God doesn't love the world and didn't give His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes on Him won't perish but have everlasting life... it clearly isn't the basis of what the Apostles were about (Jesus dying for us because God loves us).

    Isn't there something very wrong with this picture?

    Ah! I forgot the frame for this picture - election. That's how it all makes sense, so that's where Jesus goes next, right.... um, wait a minute... what does He say?

    well, He goes on to say that when He returns to judge, it will to judge only between belief and unbelief. He comes to judge, does He not, those who in the midst of undeniable reconciliation and vindication (3:16) choose not to trust in Him, for they love darkness rather than light.

    Judgement, Paul tells us in Romans 1, has already come for those who reject what God has revealed in the Gospel, thus Hell, for such, is the ultimate manifestation of that judgement.

    Surely, this is where we start, or what do we really have to say?

  10. Glen

    Hi Theo,

    On 1) I'll have to think about the Acts sermons in this light, thank you. But certainly Jesus (as Howard notes in John 3) and Paul (in 2 Corinthians 5) speak about a universal love and Paul puts that hand in hand with urgent 'imploring' language.

    On 2) As you see in the post, I certainly don't want to imply any ability in unbelievers to respond and I love your desire to focus all salvation on Christ's work on the cross. Amen. But I also have 1 John 2:1 and 2 Peter 2:1 in my Bible. I don't know how to 'square the logical circle' and I admire the things you want to uphold, but I don't want to undercut the universal verses either.

    On 3) Amen, they were great preachers, and great examples for us.

    Hi John,

    Yes, very good. And as we uphold both we want to make sure we never divorce the ministry of the Word (in proclaiming a universal off) and the Spirit (who alone brings life). Again I don't know how to square the circle, but I don't want to divide Word and Spirit either.

    Thanks Howard - hadn't seen it quite as clearly as that before, yes the already-ness of judgement and salvation is the *context* for faith. Food for thought.

  11. Theo K

    Hi Glen and Howard,

    I don’t mean to deny God’s universal love for His creatures.

    (Perhaps you could have a quick look (it’s available online) on D.A. Carson’s little book ‘the difficult doctrine of the love of God’ – see p. 76-77 for the 1 John 2:2 verse).

    At the same time, I do want to uphold the triune God’s special, eternal, electing, unconditional love for His people, for the sheep of Christ.
    Jesus Himself does the same, when in John 3 He clearly says that one must first be born from above, from the Spirit, in order to be able to *see* the kingdom. This is God’s special love. And we do see Jesus in John 10 (backed up by His words in John 6 and 17) very clearly say that someone must be one of His sheep FIRST, in order for this person to believe in Him (the sheep for whom He gave his life to save).
    And also Paul in Ephesians 2:4, where he speaks of God’s *GREAT* LOVE (the only place in scripture where this phrase is used). And how is God’s GREAT LOVE revealed? By making us alive with Christ, when we were dead – this is the Father’s amazing, unconditional, sovereign, free grace revealed in Christ and applied to His elect by the Spirit.
    Unconditional election is not a dirty word. It is the Bible’s explanation of where this special love comes from, it is its ground. He loved us, because He loved us. Praise His name!

    This isn’t about a theological system, not to me anyway. It has great pastoral value.
    Glen, do you really believe that the Father loves you as much as He loves Judas? Where is the assurance in that? No, the Father’s love gets the job done. Jesus said that the Father loves His *own*, Jesus’ disciples, with the same love that He has for his Son.
    If Jesus didn’t die in a special way for you, as one of the Father’s elect, then why did you respond? What is it that makes the difference? Where should praise be given? I think the answer is clear, we shouldn’t ignore it and say it’s an unrevealed mystery.
    I cannot see any other approach that manages to uphold the triune God’s amazing, personal love for His own. So yeah, I do want all Christians to experience this personal, unconditional love that has no beginning and no end!

    And I do want to say thank you for all the great work that you do, I do enjoy reading your posts, even though I don’t get to comment too often. I do admire your passion for Jesus and your desire to offer Him to all with ‘urgent ‘imploring’ language’! :-)

  12. Glen

    Thanks Theo,
    On the issue of what comes "FIRST", John 1:12 (which certainly does come first in the Gospel) says that those who receive Jesus are given the right to become God's children. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not at all trying to make 'faith' into a boast that we contribute to salvation. But I am noticing that faith and regeneration are being placed in an order here that calls into question any hard and fast ordo salutis based on John 6 / 10/ 17. Once again I'm not trying to make 'faith' a saving entity we possess. John 1 defines faith for us so helpfully as something given to us in Jesus - in fact faith simply is Jesus received.

    I think the classical debate between Calvinists and Arminians begins on the wrong footing - that of understanding faith as a 'thing.' Classically the Calvinist sees it as a thing that is sovereignly given to the elect and the Arminian sees it as a thing that is (non meritoriously) offered by man. But if you ask me, they are falling off either side of the wrong horse. Faith is not a thing. And wanting to locate some decisive salvific entity called faith within *us* is looking in the wrong place. To see where salvation happens decisively I don't think we should look in us.

    Ephesians is exactly the place I'd go to in order to understand God's love. But it doesn't begin in Ephesians 2 but Ephesians 1. In other words it doesn't begin with God's love for the elect - nor in God's love for the world. Again I see this as another case of Calvinists and Arminians falling off either side of the wrong horse. I don't think we should begin with God's love for the elect or for the world but with His love for His Son who is given as a pure gift to the world. The church is simply the place where that love has its full way. And even in there, God does not love the church instead of the world but for the sake of the world.

    God's love is for me and it's for those in hell - for them it's a blazing furnace, for me it's the sunshine of His love. The difference between those states is not anything in me but is simply Christ. When I start asking "Why me and not them?" I'm saying that Christ is not the ultimate answer, I'm looking for something deeper. But there's nothing deeper or more fundamental than Him.

  13. Howard Nowlan

    Many thanks, Theo, for the reply and the clarification. I was engaged in composing a reply, but then saw what Glen had posted, and there really wasn't any need - I can only concur with the rightness of what you state, Glen - Sola Christos = Sola Deo Gloria.

  14. Cal

    "When I start asking “Why me and not them?” I’m saying that Christ is not the ultimate answer, I’m looking for something deeper."

    This is the best wording for what I think I've arrived at after so much time of thinking over this. Christ is the Elect, those in him are elect, He is the son, those in him are children. Thanks for this.

    Howard: So you know its 'Solus Christus' and 'Soli Deo Gloria" even though what you write also makes sense in latin. :)

  15. Theo K

    Hi Glen!

    Of course John 1:12 goes hand in hand with John 1:13. They believe because they were born from God.

    Do you have a better explanation for John 10? Isn’t Jesus saying that in order for someone to believe (i.e. receive Christ) he must be a sheep first? What about John 3? Mustn’t one be born again FIRST, so that he will be able to see the kingdom and the king so that he will receive Him? (you cannot receive what you cannot see)

    I don’t know if the definition of faith is the issue here. I think regeneration is the issue. I understand that the Calvinist would say that God gives a new heart of flesh and opens the eyes of His elect, so that they will receive Jesus. Again, you cannot receive what you cannot see. And, in any case, as for faith being a non-thing, what about Phil 1:29 (it has been granted to you to believe in Jesus) and Luke 8:25 (Where is your faith?). I think there is overwhelming support for the thought that we are to have faith (i.e. actively trust in Jesus)

    As for Ephesians 1, what I see there (and in Romans 8-9 where Paul teaches – I think! - individual predestination to support the truth that nothing can separate God’s elect from His love) is the choice of individuals by the Father to be placed in Christ. Individual election to salvation (2 Thes 2:13). Yes, let’s start with the Father’s love for His Son. How about continuing by saying that because of His great love, the Father elected and gave the individuals that form the church to His Son as a gift? (John 17:2, 9)

    As for your final point, you say “The difference between those states is not anything in me but is simply Christ.”. Please help me see how this statement isn’t equivalent to what I said earlier, that Jesus died for his sheep in a way that He didn’t for others? If your answer to the question ‘why me and not them’ is Christ, doesn’t that necessarily mean that Christ did something for you that He didn’t do for others? This is an honest question, please help me understand your reasoning here.
    Thanks for your time!

  16. Howard Nowlan

    Thanks for the response, Theo. I'm sure Glen will have more to say about his own comments, but I thought I'd give a quick response of my own.

    I think, going back to your original comments, that we're in agreement that God does not wish anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), hence his slowness to judgement and his generous giving of numerous mercies to us. The reason for this is clear - He is Love (1 John 4:16), and He has shown this love to us in His Son (Romans 5:8). The question is how does this love impact upon all humanity, particularly through Jesus Christ.

    Our understanding of election must, I would say, include the universal nature of God's love to the whole world and to all men - the very fact that various reformed theologians note 'some' benefits of the work of Christ being given to all of us at this present time confirms this. This truth also confirms another important point - God does not just love a certain 'kind' of sinner (those who are the elect) - He loves all men, everywhere, and in all ages (Acts 17:25,28).

    It is this love that is spurned by humanity when they reject what is known of God (Romans 1) and willingly replace this with darkness - and it because of this that we are without excuse (Romans 2, whether we sin 'without the law', or with it - Romans 3). Now it is to these - the "all" of Romans 3:23 - that Christ is given, the ungodly (5:6 - those concluded in the sin and death of Adam (5:12).

    If we do not truly believe in the comprehensive and inclusive nature of that love to our race, what confidence do we have, not only in speaking to others, but of our own redemption? Martin Luther noted his delight that John 3:16 did not read 'God so loved Martin Luther that He gave His only Son', for if it did, then he would have been unsure if it meant him, or another Martin Luther - no, there was assurance for him and every one of us, for it says 'God so loved the world!', and that is the nub of the matter - if we begin to segment God's love in particular ways, we are in danger of doing great harm not only to ourselves, but to the very heart of what is unfolding - God, reconciling the world to Himself through His Son.

    We do not have a Father who offers us a stone when we need bread, but one who meets all our needs, even before we ask, and provides us with the very strength, in the midst of our inability, to ask - that is the measure of His great love for us.

    Thank you for your thoughts - I hope these few lines are if use.

  17. Glen

    Hi Theo,

    On John 1:12-13: I can't see how you get "they believe because they were born from God" from these verses. Maybe you could logically deduce that kind of ordo salutis from a raft of other verses (read in a certain way). But as far as I'm aware this is the passage that co-ordinates faith and regeneration most closely. And unless you think becoming a child of God and being born of God are two separate stages - which is both logically and exegetically problematic! - surely you'd conclude we're born again by faith (which is another way of saying regeneration is the gift of new life that comes to us *in Jesus*).

    To be honest, I'm not that bothered by the intricacies of the ordo salutis except to insist on what the Bible insists on: that we are saved by faith (or, which is the same thing, we are saved by Christ). If I was going to put anything before faith in that order, I’d put “the word” – faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:14ff). In the word (which *is* how the Spirit works) Christ comes with all the heavenly blessings of new life, adoption, justification, etc, etc. It’s all a gift in Jesus, coming by the Spirit-filled gospel word. Everything that happens, happens because of God’s work by word and Spirit.

    What seems highly problematic to me, is insisting that the real work happens quite apart from Christ in the Spirit-filled word, in a secret activity that bears little or no relation to the gospel. This is the heart of my resistance to what you’re proposing.

    In John 3 it seems obvious to me that from verse 13 Jesus is telling Nicodemus how to be born again. The way to do it is not through trusting to the flesh, which only produces more doomed flesh life. In other words it’s not the life of man lifted up to heaven. Instead the way to new life is the way of the Spirit – it’s the way of the Son of Man who came down. He became flesh – entering into our plight. He was then lifted up on the cross and in the words of 1 Peter 3:18, was put to death in the flesh and raised to life in the Spirit. Now, as the pioneer of new life He offers that Spirit-life / beyond-flesh-life / regenerated-life / eternal life to all who simply look to Him. In other words John 3:16 (in context) explains how to be born again.

    In John 10 I have no problem with saying that those outside of Christ cannot hear His voice. Outside of Jesus you are utterly dead, spiritually speaking. You must belong to Jesus to know Him and you cannot even come to Him without being drawn by the Father (cf John 6). But of course we know how the Father draws folk to Christ - John 5:37ff – through the word!

    It might be objected: How can unbelievers ever hear the word if they are dead? Well John 11 gives us a wonderful worked example. The voice of Christ alone raises a man who has no capacity to hear the command, let alone obey it. Yet Christ’s word enables what it also commands and Lazarus comes forth. It would be a strange account if John 11 told us “God *FIRST* raised Lazarus and then Lazarus was able to hear and obey Christ’s word.” No, Christ alone raises Lazarus through His Spirit-filled public word.

    According to John 5:24ff this is how all salvation works – and there isn’t a power *prior* to Christ’s voice. Christ’s voice *is* the power. That’s what I’m so keen to maintain in this discussion: Christ alone, Word alone, Faith alone - these are reformational distinctives.

    On Ephesians 1: to my ears you are inserting a step to Paul’s writing that just isn’t there. It doesn’t say: before the foundation of the world God chose certain individuals out of humanity (leaving others to perish eternally). Perhaps, using a certain kind of logic, and certain presuppositions, you can piece together other passages of Scripture and posit that. But Paul doesn’t say it. He just says we are chosen in Christ. In other words, when God chose Christ (before the foundation of the world) He chose me. It’s completely parallel with the way Paul speaks about *every* spiritual blessing. Because *every* spiritual blessing is in Christ. When God judged Christ on the cross, I was judged too (“crucified with Christ”) because I am in Him. When God vindicated Christ in the resurrection, I was vindicated too (justified), because I am in Him, etc, etc. Every spiritual blessing is in Christ – including election and predestination. And when Paul *does* bother to think about when we ‘as individuals’ might have come into such blessings he says:

    “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

    On your final paragraph: the difference between us is that I believe Jesus died for the whole human race – but benefits us only when we’re in Him. I didn’t come up with that thought myself – it’s pure Calvin:

    “As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the *human race* remains useless and of no value for us”.

    Every blessing in Jesus :)

  18. Cal


    Couldn't agree more with what you're saying but the one pushback I forsee coming is: how does one hear Christ's word and then turn away?

    But we see this occur when Jesus calls the three men who then try and make a reasonable excuse why they can't drop everything and follow him. They walk away even though the word of life came to them. This corresponds to what Jesus explains in his parable of the sower. The seed-word goes everywhere, and grows no matter what, but it doesn't always develop and bear living-faith.

    I think a major problem is, like our Hellenic forbearers, we are compelled to probe heaven even though man was made for the Earth. Thus a detailed ordo-salutis becomes necessary, Beza's chart becomes a worthy enterprise.

    The King invites in everyone, but casts out those who won't wear the wedding garment. The King gathers everyone and then separates them, like sheeps and goats, based on whether they receive him, found in the least of these. God is the savior of all men, especially those who believe.

  19. Theo K

    Hi Howard,

    Thank you for your response.
    I remember I used to argue along the same lines of thought. But the scriptural evidence have taken me elsewhere. I believe there is a greater love than the one of John 3:16. A love that all Christians should come to know and adore. A special, unconditional, electing and redeeming love. An invincible love. I would be so fearful if I thought that God loved me as much as He loved Judas, or Esau. Where would be the assurance in that? That would make the love of God so utterly impersonal. But no, God loves His children with the personal, amazing love He has for Jacob.

    “ there is another love of God. It goes beyond offering eternal life and actually creates it in your heart. If you only know the love of John 3:16, there is more love for you to know and enjoy and admire and be amazed at and be thankful for and be strengthened by.
    Those of you who believe on Christ, God wants you to know yourself loved, not only with universal love of John 3:16, but also with his death-conquering, hardness-removing, rebellion-eradicating, sight-imparting, faith-creating, personal, individual, invincible covenant love of which we are absolutely undeserving.”
    The heavens will eternally be filled with the praise of this love!

  20. Theo K

    Hi Glen,

    Thank you for your answer.
    You said: “What seems highly problematic to me, is insisting that the real work happens quite apart from Christ in the Spirit-filled word, in a secret activity that bears little or no relation to the gospel. This is the heart of my resistance to what you’re proposing.”
    I find it strange that you have no role for the Holy Spirit in the working of the miracle of regeneration. Does the 3rd person of the Trinity do something within the heart of a person at the moment of the new birth? What I propose (which is in accordance with the reformed confessions, the 39 articles and so on) is that as the gospel call to repentance and faith is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the blind so that they will see and receive Jesus (this opening and receiving happen at exactly the same time, what we are discussing is cause and effect). You said “offer eternal life to all who simply look to Him”. But they can’t see!!! They are blind!!! Something must happen *FIRST* (logical order) if they are to see!

    Maybe I haven’t explained it as well as say John Piper: (John 1:1-13)
    but I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is a kind of activity that bears little relation to the gospel or that happens apart from Christ. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to the heart of the elect person that is born again as the gospel is proclaimed (the 3 persons working in perfect unity). The life we get in the new birth from the Spirit, we get because the Spirit unites us to the Son of God who is life. In other words, God causes us to be born again with new spiritual life, and the simultaneous effect is that we see and receive Jesus for who he is and trust him with our lives. The work of the Spirit in the new birth is to make us alive so that we see the glory of Christ crucified and risen.

    John 10: I think the necessary consequence is that someone must be an elected sheep FIRST, or else they will never believe. John 11 is indeed a perfect example / analogy. “Christ alone raises Lazarus through His Spirit-filled public word.”. Indeed. Had Jesus said “Come out”, all of the dead would have been raised. But He said: “Lazarus come out”. And only Lazarus was raised from the dead. The analogy is that only those that are called by name will (with absolute certainty) be raised from the spiritually dead.
    John 6:65 combined with 6:37 support this claim. For someone to believe in Jesus (coming and believing is the same – John 6:35), it must be granted to him first by the Father (6:65). This isn’t given to all people without exception, because in 6:37 we see that all that the Father gives the Son will come to Him. So it’s only given to those that will actually believe.

    Now, I must press the last point somewhat, because we are worshipping the One who is the Truth, right? If someone says that Jesus died *in exactly the same way* for all individuals and not all believe (unless we go the universalist road!), this reasoning leads to this necessary consequence : the reason someone is found in Him is not Christ Himself. If Christ did exactly the same thing for everyone He cannot be the reason some are found in Him and not others.
    You can either say: Christ did the same thing for everyone and it’s up to the individual to receive Him (so Christ plus the individual’s response on their own),
    or Christ died in a special/redemptive way for some so that they will receive Him (and in this case salvation is indeed by Christ alone and by grace alone – this is what the reformers meant when they cried ‘grace alone’, that the reason someone believes is God’s effectual grace, which is not given to all).
    What to me seems like a falsehood (because every illogical construct is a falsehood) is this:
    - Christ did the same thing for all without exception
    - Not all receive Him
    - The reason some receive him is Christ
    Now, I do not want to misrepresent your position. Does the above syllogism accurately describe your reasoning? Is there something else that I am missing that will help make sense?

    I have already said too much. I will just add that if your view of election was indeed Paul’s view of election then I believe that he wouldn’t use the concept at all, or at least not the way he uses it. He speaks to individuals in order to encourage them with this truth. Those whom He predestined, He also called … He also justified, … He also glorified. Specific individuals. Predestined to adoption from all eternity. So that they will know that they are absolutely secure because of God’s unconditional eternal love toward them. And he encourages Timothy with this truth (2 Tim 1:8-9). And he says that “he endures everything for the sake of the elect that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:10). Elect before they obtain the salvation! The evidence is overwhelming. Individual election to salvation: 2 Thess 2:13, 1 Cor 1:27-30, James 2:5.

    In closing, I would propose a deeper Christocentrism :-)

  21. Cal


    I don't want to jump over Howard, but his point is that John 3:16 must be the grounds of knowing that electing love otherwise you're lost in a vortex. Some fall away, they weren't among us. Well how does one ever have a real confidence? Thus we get to the Reformed Orthodoxy and the Puritans who tried to find all sorts of ways and means for determining this. The amount of good works, piety, old age and success, all of these were considered markers of knowing whether that electing love rested upon one or not.

    And where does it say that Jesus ever ceased to love Judas, even though he betrayed his master?

    Paul's discussion on election, and the rest, are conditioned by Christ. They're not arbitrarily floating as children, they're made sons in the only Son. They were not children beforehand.

    Syllogisms cannot help this discussion. The Sower casts his seed everywhere.

  22. Glen

    Hi Theo,

    Sorry, I wasn't clear in my statement about the Holy Spirit. I was saying that the real work DOES happen through Christ in the Spirit-filled word and NOT in some secret action of God unrelated to the gospel. In other words it is entirely the work of the Spirit who *is* the Spirit of Christ and who always works through the Word. I therefore heartily endorse what you describe as 'in accordance with the reformed confessions' regarding the operation of the Spirit *through* the proclamation of the gospel. My big point is that *that* is where we should look to see God's power in salvation, not *behind* that Spirit-filled proclamation to some *other* saving work.

    You say that something must happen *FIRST* before the blind can see. That something is the gospel - faith comes by hearing. The gospel *is* the power of salvation. You want to posit another power - a prior power - and I am resisting that. The power is *in* Christ by His Spirit-filled word and nowhere else.

    I agree with much that you say in the paragraph beginning "Maybe..." My only problem is that you seem to place regeneration outside of Christ - i.e. something that happens apart from Jesus and then enables you to be united to Jesus. That flies in the face of Ephesians 1 - all spiritual blessings are *in* Jesus. New birth is what happens when we are conquered by the Spirit-filled word and united to Jesus. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation - that's where the action happens.

    Regarding your John 10/11 paragraph... 1) The point still stands that if you believe in a *prior* activity that regenerates and *then* enables faith, you would have Lazarus to be raised by God first and then to obey Christ's voice second. This is both absurd and a slur on the power of Christ's word. 2) Lazarus is indeed a particular example ("*Lazarus* come out") - but he's a particular of a universal call, as John 5 makes clear:

    24 ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live...'

    On John 6 - again you seem to consider the life-giving work (of the Father through the Spirit) to be something other than the Spirit-filled word. But John 5:37ff has explicitly set out the way in which the Father draws people to the Son - through the Scriptures. And in John 6:63 Jesus says "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – are Spirit and life." Only through the Spirit's word (which *is* testimony to Christ) can anyone come to Christ. That's the meaning of 6:37.

    Then we come to your syllogism. I'm not the biggest fan of syllogisms. It seems to me the bible teaches three things *very* clearly in this area. 1) God wants all people saved. 2) When God saves a person he does it all. 3) Hell is populated. Christians who love syllogisms are very good at holding two of those positions and rejecting the third. Limited atonement, at the end of the day, rejects 1), Arminianism, at the end of the day, rejects 2), Universalism, at the end of the day, rejects 3). But it seems to me we must hold all three and hold our syllogisms lightly!

    But in the interests of clarity, I never said that 'the reason some receive Christ is Christ.' What I said in my previous comment was that the difference between the saved and the unsaved is Christ - i.e. the difference between me and an unbeliever is no ability of my own but simply Christ Himself (i.e. he is mine, I am His). Christ does not belong to the unbeliever. That's all I meant. I'm not interested in rationalizing 'the reason' anyone rejects Jesus. There can be no reason - it's insanity.

    As to your final point - election is a wonderful truth. Very comforting indeed, just as I'm righteous in Christ's righteousness, adopted in Christ's sonship, I'm elect in Christ's election. How beautiful to know myself choice in the Father's eyes!

    I've often preached on Romans 8's golden chain. Salvation is not a taxi, hailed by an individual with the passenger in charge. Salvation is a free bus you find yourself on through the gospel - and if you're on the bus you will definitely get to your destination. Glorious truth. As for 2 Tim 2 - that's simply a function of salvation being mainly a future tense reality in Paul's language! He endures everything for the righteous / God's children / the elect that they may obtain the salvation (future) that is theirs. (I do believe in the preservation of the saints!)

    As for your 'overwhelming evidence' for 'individual election' to salvation... all those verses say is that there are individuals who are elect!

    To my mind that's even greater evidence for my view of election. I believe you *can* address certain people as elect without having to ascend above Christ and His gospel to know God's hidden decree. You'd have to admit that your view of election has not, historically, birthed the greatest degree of assurance known to Christendom ;-)

  23. Glen

    And Theo, thank you very much for linking to that 'Deeper Christocentrism' article. Moody rightly points out Calvin's worrying divorce between the Triune economy and 'God in Himself'. For Calvin, the Son loses His humanity in the end because incarnation and atonement are (at the *very* end of the day) instrumental to a Creator-creature distinction that is more fundamental. It's easy to see how this drives his soteriology - the Triune economy is vitally, but only instrumentally, important. What really drives the salvation story happens 'over the head' of Christ in 'the Creator's' election.

    I've written more about Calvin's deficient Trinitarian theology (with some comments on its implications for election) here:

  24. Howard Nowlan

    Thanks for your reply, Theo, and for your comments, Cal.
    I'm not go into my dossier here but suffice to say, I've had many years experience of Reformed theology from the Calvinistic side of the room, and it didn't leave me with the manner of joy you're describing I'm afraid. Suffice to say it was pretty painful. Thankfully, a far better focus on Reformation truth changed everything, so those days are long gone. I revel in John 3:16 - a true theological pillar - because if that isn't the true scope of God's redemptive work, then, as I stated in my last response, where to we go - to some other, 'secret' work? The 'mystery' of our faith isn't behind some thick, well nigh impenetrable veil, it's hung between heaven and earth, outside the city, for all to see. Christ has been lifted up, dear friend, and He will draw all men to Himself - that is His love towards us all, as Paul shows in Romans 3.

  25. Howard Nowlan

    Without the typos...

    Thanks for your reply, Theo, and for your comments, Cal.
    I’m not going to go into my dossier here but suffice to say, I’ve had many years experience of Reformed theology from the Calvinistic side of the room, and it didn’t leave me with the manner of joy you’re describing I’m afraid. Suffice to say it was pretty painful. Thankfully, a far better focus on Reformation truth changed everything, so those days are long gone. I revel in John 3:16 – a true theological pillar – because if that isn’t the true scope of God’s redemptive work, then, as I stated in my last response, where do we go – to some other, ‘secret’ work? The ‘mystery’ of our faith isn’t behind some thick, well nigh impenetrable veil, it’s hung between heaven and earth, outside the city, for all to see. Christ has been lifted up, dear friend, and He will draw all men to Himself – that is His love towards us all, as Paul shows in Romans 3.

  26. Theo K

    Hi Glen,

    Thank you for your gracious response. I hope I am not taking advantage of your hospitality?

    You said: “ the operation of the Spirit *through* the proclamation of the gospel. My big point is that *that* is where we should look to see God’s power in salvation, not *behind* that Spirit-filled proclamation to some *other* saving work.”. You say that something must happen *FIRST* before the blind can see. That something is the gospel – faith comes by hearing. The gospel *is* the power of salvation. You want to posit another power – a prior power – and I am resisting that. The power is *in* Christ by His Spirit-filled word and nowhere else.”

    That something must happen FIRST is absolutely clear in the Bible. It is the “heart “of the promised new covenant (Jer 31, Ezek 36). We must be given a new heart IN ORDER to believe. A good example would be Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the gospel preached by Paul.
    How else can you interpret John 3:3? Jesus is speaking to a teacher. And Nicodemous knew his OT, so he had already read the gospel many times!!!! You may preach from day to night, for years and years the gospel to someone, but until they have the eyes of their heart opened, they will be *unable* to see the beauty of Jesus, since to the person without the Spirit the gospel is foolishness (1 Cor 2:14).
    I don’t think I posit another power. I agree we should look to the operation of the Spirit *through* the proclamation of the gospel. All I am saying is that the Spirit does NOT operate in a saving way *every* time the gospel is preached. Otherwise everyone who had ever heard the gospel would have been saved. He operates in a saving way for specific individuals, at a specific time, when the fullness of time has come, according to the Father’s counsel. And this perfectly explains why someone may hear the gospel 1000 times and he only responds when he hears the gospel for the 1001 time! It is only then, according to the perfect plan of God, that He, by the Spirit, shines into the person’s heart so that he will finally see the glory of God in the face of Christ, as this person is now, for the first time in his life, finally able to see the glory of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6).
    Look Glen, this was Luther’s position (Bondage of the will) and of all the major reformers (and so on). And this is what they meant when they cried ‘grace alone’. These are historic facts. Are you sure that it’s not your prior commitment to a theological system that leads you to differing positions despite all the biblical evidence?

    “My only problem is that you seem to place regeneration outside of Christ – i.e. something that happens apart from Jesus and then enables you to be united to Jesus. That flies in the face of Ephesians 1 – all spiritual blessings are *in* Jesus.”
    Jesus regenerates an individual by sending the Holy Spirit to take away the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. It is the Holy Spirit that unites us with Jesus. I don’t understand why you neglect the work of the Holy Spirit. The 3 persons work in perfect unity in the salvation of the elect. Ephesians 1: all *spiritual* blessings are in Jesus. I think the Bible is clear on what must happen to a person in order to find himself in Christ. A good collection of verses:

    On John 5, I think you are reading into the text a universal call. The call is not effectual to all, because this is the Father’s and Jesus’ design: “so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (5:21). And from 5:25 the necessary concequence is that ONLY those that hear the call will live. Not all live, not all hear the call. It is not intended to all indiscriminately. Exactly what we see in John 6:65, 37-40.

    “ I’m not interested in rationalizing ‘the reason’ anyone rejects Jesus.”
    I am sorry you feel that way, since, IMO, the answer is clear. More generally, I believe God wants us to use our mind, to use our sanctified reason to understand His whole counsel. And since Christ is the Truth, and since the scriptures cannot be broken, I believe it is not a good thing to hold to propositions that are inherently contradictory to one another. Every illogical construct is a falsehood.
    Particular redemption is perfectly biblical both in OT and NT alike. And I don’t think it rejects the fact that God wants all people saved. It only rejects a specific understanding of this phrase. And in the end of the day, you must reject it too, otherwise, you would have to say that God wants above all else all people saved (that there is nothing else that He wants more) and still He fails. This kind of ‘unlimited atonement’ would be very limited indeed, it would be limited to its efficacy.

    About election and assurance, I believe that the only way you can have assurance is by the reformation’s understanding of election. Otherwise, you have no real basis for believing in the perseverance of the saints. If God loves equally all, if Jesus died in exactly the same way for all, there is absolutely nothing that would prevent someone from coming to Christ and then falling away. From entering the ‘bus’, and then being thrown out the window, so to speak.
    Finally, the fact that individuals are elect, combined with the fact that this election took place before the beginning of the world, and adding to that that their names were written from all eternity in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 17:8), well, depending on the glasses someone wears, it says something. Look for example at your interpretation of 2 Tim 2:10 (and no mention of 2 Tim 1:9?). The context is about Paul preaching the gospel, and suffering for it. Obviously, not preaching to believers. Because of that, it would be more natural to think that when he says that he endures all this suffering, as he keeps preaching the gospel, for the sake of the elect, he means that he wants to see the elect that have not yet come to Christ receive salvation.

    And yes, I did enjoy reading that ‘Deeper Christocentrism’ article. I will look into your article on Calvin. Many thanks for this gracious discussion :-)

  27. Theo K


    Thank you for your comments.

    With all the respect, there is one sense that the elect are Christ’s sheep and God’s children even before they believe. See John 10 (especially 26) and John 11:52.
    And on whether Jesus loves Judas *now*, that’s not what I see in Revelation. The wrath of the Lamb and all that.
    Let me ask you about your ground of confidence. What assures you that 10 years from now you will keep on believing?

    Every blessing in Christ :-)

  28. Theo K

    Dear Howard,

    Thank you so much for your reply.

    I am sorry you had such bad experiences. It does sound strange to me, as for me at least, the doctrines of grace have been a continual source of nourishment and joy.

    John 12:32. If all are drawn indiscriminately and not all are saved, where is the assurance in that? A good case can be made that Jesus’ statement “I will draw all to myself” taken in context can very well mean “I will draw both Jews and Greeks”. But leaving that aside, I would like to ask you, if you don’t mind!, the same question I asked Cal. What assures you that 10 years from now you will keep on believing?

    To all: thank you for your patient interaction with me and your hospitality :-)

  29. Glen

    Hi Theo,

    We keep missing each other. I am not ignoring the ministry of the Spirit, I am integrating that ministry within the triune economy. I am insisting that the Spirit works through the *Word* in regeneration (1 Pet 1:23). I fear greatly that your position denies this and posits a free floating Spirit who regenerates apart from the word. I've tried to set out why I think this is such a mistake, I won't go over it again.

    You keep wanting to talk about God's regeneration "FIRST" (a spiritual blessing that is somehow outside of Christ - contra Ephesians 1). You believe that this honours the priority of divine grace. I don't think it does at all. I keep wanting to put God's Word (by His Spirit) first because faith comes by *hearing*. That, to my mind, is the way to ensure the priority of divine grace. To prioritize a regeneration that happens apart from the gospel word prioritizes divine caprice not divine grace.

    John 3 - the Spirit blows where He will indeed! But the verse goes on, you hear His voice! We all know what the voice of the Spirit is.

    On the new heart - I don't deny it for a second, but read on from Ezekiel 36 to chapter 37 and see how it comes - the Spirit through the Word, that's what makes alive.

    You keep wanting to solve the problem of why some people believe and others don't. The only conclusion the Bible ever comes to on that is a mad and baffling hardness of heart. At the end of the day, this is the mystery of iniquity - and it's best left a mystery.

    You want to claim for yourself the whole reformation. My goodness! To be honest, I'm not even sure you can claim Calvin on limited atonement! And even if you can, the reformers came to different views on this matter as you should know.

    I believe completely in the Bondage of the Will (all my comments reflect this). But you seem to think this will lead inexorably to limited atonement. The trouble is, Luther never went there! That should give you pause for thought. He commanded people not to ascend above the Word in order to discern the mystery of iniquity. My views are completely in line with that.

    To my mind a regeneration apart from the word denies the Bondage of the Will in Luther's sense. If the elect are regenerated apart from the word, then in what sense has the Word conquered them? And aren't we talking then of merely a bondage of the reprobate? Luther went further.

    1 Cor 2 - the Spirit's work is spoken of synonymously with the preaching of the cross.

    Acts 16 - Paul was preaching to Lydia!

    2 Cor 4:4-6 - includes verse 5!

    John 5 - it says *both* that some will hear and that all will hear.

    On contradictions - we've all got them. You still haven't given me a response on 2 Peter 2:1 - I don't blame you, no 5-pointer can. We've all got contradictions!

    2 Tim 1:9 - grace is given us *in Christ* from before the world began, then He comes and brings it to us. By the gospel right?

    2 Tim 2 - Naturally enough, I think you're reading this with faulty glasses. There isn't a single verse in the bible that calls a person elect before they trust in Jesus, I don't see any reason to think this verse is different. Paul suffers for the churches a *lot*!

    Strong interpretive lenses are in play here. I'd just urge you to see things again with EVERY spiritual blessing residing in Christ - including election, predestination and regeneration. (Eph 1; 2 Cor 5)

    in Him

  30. Cal


    Contradiction is different than a (non-Hegelian) dialectical tension! Which I suppose is why syllogisms and modal logic doesn't work.


    As for your references of John, I understand what you're getting at. It all gets tumbled into a constant back and forth in the tension of a statement like John 6:37 (All the Father gives to me I will keep; all who come to me I will not cast out). If they trusted Jesus, they would be his sheep, but they don't trust him because they're not his sheep.

    Again it goes to the excess of the Parable of the Sower. The seed goes everywhere, and it grows everywhere. However it only survives on good ground. I won't try and vivisect that story.

    For lack of a better term, there is "Temporary Faith", which answers your next question: How do I know I will believe 10 years from now? I don't. But this is what cuts between confidence and presumption. I know, today, I am a child, chosen and secure, in the Beloved. How? Because I look to Jesus, as Bullinger (Reformer!!) called the Speculum Electionis (Mirror of Election; Sp?). This is not cerebral "belief", but heartfelt trust.

    Thus I would end in Paul's dictum to Timmy: "If we disown Christ, He will disown us;If we are faithless, He will be faithful"

    As for Judas, the Wrath of the Lamb is not something alien to his love, but love spurned. All Judgement comes out of a prior inclusion. The man cast out of the wedding refused his wedding garment when he was already at the party, the man who is relieved of his talent was given one in the first place, even the sheeps and goats are collectively assembled and then divided.


  31. Howard Nowlan

    Thanks for your reply, Theo.

    The question of confidence comes back again to what is said in John 3:16. God's love for us is such that in spite of alienation by our choosing, He is the one who comes after us in the entirely unmerited gift of His Son. It is that love which saves us, which has lifted us from the pit of our own rebellion and sin and made us His children. I will fall today because of what I am (Romans 7), but there is no power in heaven or earth that can change the fact that, by His wonderful mercy alone, His love has been shed abroad and placed upon us, and that is the only reason I will be saved. It is this truth, I believe, we will all have to deal with when Christ returns and raises all of humanity from death. His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and His grace is sufficient.

  32. Paul

    Glen's point that the 'doctrines of grace' are not always gracious but capricious is important. The idea that regeneration occurs before a person believes in Jesus or comes to Jesus has always worried me.

    First, regeneration - the moving from death to life; the resurrection into a new humanity - is core to salvation itself. it is NOT just a preparation for salvation. If we say that a person is regenerate BEFORE they come to Jesus or trust in Jesus, then it is tantamount to saying that they are saved BEFORE they trust in jesus. Salvation without faith in Jesus seems just so weirdly capricious and almost Gnostic.

    Second, if only members of the new humanity come to Jesus, then in what sense does Jesus ever receive sinners? If He only accepts those who have already put of the flesh and put on His own resurrection humanity... then He never seems to deal with wicked and corrupt sinners. It sounds as if the Holy Spirit has to do the hands on work of dealing with sinners, before handing children of God over to Jesus.

    I understand the desire to reduce the ordo salutis to a neat scheme that has the will/power of God at the centre - a scheme that limits His love in order to preserve His will. However, as I have followed this discussion I really do think that Glen's main points have gone unanswered. Faith comes by hearing - not by some prior work of enabling. This is why we have great confidence in preaching and Bible teaching. As the Bible is preached/taught so faith can come. Unless the Word is preached, faith cannot come.

    Theo seems to end up with a situation where the Word is powerless and the Spirit has to do everything before and without the Word. It is almost as if all the real work happens secretly, before and without the Word/Gospel... and the preaching of the Gospel is simply a kind of unveiling of what has already happened.

    The Bible really does seem to say that God commands everybody to repent and trust Jesus; that He does not want anybody to perish; that Hell was made for the devil and his angels rather than humanity. Does that mean that God will not get what He wants? Yes, as far as I can see, the heart of sin and unbelief is exactly that!

    Third, doesn't Calvin have a section of the Institutes called 'Regeneration by faith'?

    In Jesus,


  33. Theo K

    Hi Glen,

    I will repeat that I don't think it's fair to say that I posit "a regeneration apart from the word". I won't quote myself, please read my comments again, if you wish.
    Ok, on second thought, I 'll just mention this, you said:
    "Acts 16 – Paul was preaching to Lydia!"
    And I had said: "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the gospel preached by Paul." No further comment, your honour (tongue firmly in cheek!)
    And on John 5, I don't think it says all will hear. I understand veres 5:28-29 to speak about the final resurrection (at the second coming).
    And of 2 Tim 1:9, the whole point is that Paul (separated from his mother's womb) and Timothy were elect before the beginning of the world, and this is the sure ground upon which they can stand and endure everything for Christ.

    Again, to all: I am not positing a chronological order, I am talking about cause and effect. Events that take place simultaniously as the gospel is preached. The gospel is preached (Ezek 37), the Holy Spirit gives a new heart to those He wills (Ezek 36) in order for them to be able to see/hear and believe.
    So your answer to why some people believe and others don't, is to say it's a mystery. Of course many people believe this. But I do think that God has given the answer very clearly (e.g. John 12:37-40) and that He wants His children to know why they are His children and what happened to them at the moment of regeneration.

    For example, we have the logic of 1 Cor 1:22-31.
    There are the Jews, they hear the gospel, a stumbling block to them. There are the Greeks, they hear the gospel, it is folly to them (as to everyone without the Holy Spirit - 1 Cor 2:14). But out of Jews and Greeks we see another group, the 'called'. To them, and to them only, the gospel is not an aroma of death, but an aroma of life. Paul wants the Corithians to know that God had elected them. That it was God that deliberately chose these specific Corinthians, with the specific characteristics (foolish, weak, low) with a specific design, that noone would boast before God. And to make things perfectly clear, Paul reveals to them how it came that they are in Christ, he says: "it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus". It was God (the one who elected them) that placed them in Christ and made Christ to be *to them* wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
    And why does God want us to know that He elected us (not a faceless crowd), He elected us as individuals and placed us in Christ? So that one-one could ever boast in anything else but in the Lord. And I would add that He wants all His children to know that they have been individually elected in Christ from eternity so that they will know (when they find themselves in Christ - i.e. when they realize they truly believe in Christ) that He will keep them forever. "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." The 'called' are those that will believe (so that they will be justified), and those only. And those who believe in Christ, the Father wants them to know that to His eyes they have already been glorified. I love it!

    Also concerning election,
    2 Tim 1:9: the whole point is that Paul (separated from his mother's womb) and Timothy were elect before the beginning of the world, and this is the sure ground upon which they can stand and endure everything for Christ. This is the eternal foundation Paul places under our feet in Romans 8 to support his claim that nothing can separate God's elect from His love in Christ.
    "There isn’t a single verse in the bible that calls a person elect before they trust in Jesus"
    Paul said he was separated from his mother's womb. And the Lord said to Paul that He had many people in that city. And He told him that so that Paul wouldn't be discouraged but keep on preaching.
    And also Jesus said that He has other sheep (that they presently hadn't believed yet) - John 10:16

    "You want to claim for yourself the whole reformation. My goodness!"
    The reformation faith is very well defined in all the historic confessions, as you very well know. And, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I am in agreement with the 3 forms of unity (and amazingly, with the council of Valence back in 855AD. I just mention this to show that particular redemption isn't all that new after all).
    So yes, I do believe that 'limited atonement' and monergistic regeneration are a central part of the reformed faith. Concerning Luther, I have only read the 'bondage of the will'. And what I found there is the strongest double predestination teaching possible (in the context of the whole book!).
    I don't know if he changed his mind later on. But I would like to be shown evidence that he ever detracted this most important work.

    On Calvin, and on limited atonement, i just read this thread, interesting discussion:

    Now, of course everyone is responsible for what they believe. And no-one should go against their conscience. And the reformed confessions (however many they may be) are not inerrant. But to deny monergistic regeneration (in other words: grace alone) is to depart from the reformed faith. This I believe is a historic fact and thus should not be controversial.

    Once again, thank you for the very interesting discussion!

    Ps. An attempt at 2 Pet 2:1. See what you think of it:

  34. Theo K

    Hi Cal,

    Thank you for acknowledging what I am getting at with the references of John.

    Concerning the parable of the sower, yes the word/seed goes everywhere. And yet the result depends on the ground. Do people make themselves a good heart/ground? Does the Father do that by His Spirit? So that the seed will bring forth fruit? Or is it a mystery?

    Did I get this right? You know you are a child today, but you don't know if you will still believe 10 years from now?

    I believe that, since I am in Christ today, He will make sure that I will never disown Him. Good news indeed!

  35. Theo K

    Dear Howard,

    That would be my exact (well almost) answer as well.
    I would only base my answer on texts like John 3:8, Ephesians 2:5 (the great love of the Father that secures our salvation)

  36. Howard Nowlan

    I thought we'd agree there, Theo :)
    My reason for using John 3:16 again is because Jesus is saying that 'whosoever' believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life, so God saves us entirely through His Son, but the reason Jesus gives (to return to an earlier point) that people perish is because they love darkness rather than light (3:19). Jesus came because God loves the world (17), but there are clearly those who reject this, preferring evil, and so they are judged and condemned. Would that be a reasonable view of Jesus' teaching here?

  37. Cal


    You keep ducking the reality of so-called "Temporary Faith" which is seen in the Sower.

    Your question to the fields must be left as unstated. I leave it to mystery. I'm not advocating self-cultivation or boot-strap type thinking.

    Again, there are people who at one point believe they're in Christ, then they cease to believe after something. How do I know that won't happen? What is my proof? Your spiritual forbearers (and to some degree, mine as well) answered that question with piety, amount of good works, longevity of life etc. Those always will lead to more questions. Like you say, I know Christ and I'm eternally secure, but IN HIM. Peter only started sinking in the sea when he looked away from Jesus.


  38. Paul

    Theo, thanks for clarifying your thoughts on this.

    The link to the Luther essay was interesting. It is a helpful reminder of Luther's strong confidence in the providence and predestination of God, but I'm not sure it convincingly overthrows the classic Lutheran view of Luther!

    I feel that there is a confusion of terms and ideas. Everybody is clear that the Living God opens blind eyes or hardens hearts; that He is free to do whatever He wants with anybody and everybody. The question I thought was at issue was how does the Bible present this sovereign power of God. Does God open eyes and harden hearts through the mechanism of the preached Word or does He do it 'behind the scenes' in a hidden way that only comes to light when the Word is preached?

    As far as I can see you seem to almost plead guilty to Glen's charge: "And I had said: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the gospel preached by Paul.”

    Glen's point [I think] is that you see regeneration as a work that happens as a PREPARATION for hearing the word - and Glen is arguing that the word itself accomplishes the miracle of opening ears/raising the dead.

    Certainly Jesus emphasises that it is His Word that opens eyes and raises the dead and heals the sick... rather than a preparatory work of the Spirit. The healing ministry of Jesus seems to very directly teach that it is through His Word that new birth/new life comes... rather than through a preparatory work of the Spirit.

    As far as I can see, you seem to completely accept Glen's point. You DO see regeneration as a preparation or an enabling rather than a fruit of the Word itself.

    The idea of individual election could only be a kind of comfort if you could know for sure that you really were elected. As far as I am aware, the history of that approach has never been able to deliver that most basic requirement. It seems to say "if you knew for sure that you were elected... you could get great comfort from that... but you can't know for sure that you are individually elected."

    Glen's argument is that it is simple and transparent to know whether we are one of God's chosen people or not. If we trust Jesus then we are elect; if we do not trust Jesus we are not elect.

    If a person says to me "I'm worried whether I am elect or not", I ask them whether they trust Jesus. If they say 'no' then I can confidently tell them that they are definitely not elect: they are not yet in God's chosen people.

    Theo, could you clarify your own pastoral care in such a situation? I'm struggling to imagine a situation where you could tell someone that God might see them as chosen even though they do not trust Jesus. How could you have a person approved by God without faith? I thought that was impossible!

    Monergism isn't the main question for me. My Muslim friends are utterly committed to the most strict monergistic theology. Monergism certainly doesn't create any of the offence to them that it might to post-Enlightenment humanists! Even if we say that regeneration happens monergistically, the question is does the Bible describe this as a fruit of the Word or a preparation for hearing the Word?

  39. Glen

    Thanks for interacting on this Theo. I confess that I am attracted to effectual atonement (limited atonement) on one count in particular - it does a great job at affirming that God actually saves. The Lord does not merely clear a path and make salvation possible, but carries us entirely over the line. I could never be Arminian because I think their position fails at this crucial point. So there are things I admire about your position. But A) I think I can still affirm God's effectual salvation *in Christ* and B) I think limited atonement fails to answer the question of *who* God actually saves.

    But, having said this, I am very prepared to acknowledge that there is some biblical attractiveness to your position. Are you willing to acknowledge that my position has some benefits too? In particular that *every* spiritual blessing is in Jesus (including election and regeneration) and that God's saving power really *is* the gospel, not just a preparation for it?

    If you can't at least see that there are issues here, I'm not sure that continuing the conversation is fruitful.

    Best in Christ,

  40. Theo K

    Hi Howard,

    Thank you for your answer.
    Concerning John 3, I would think that the reason Jesus did not come to condemn the world is because the world is already condemned. Indeed, every one is born in Adam, and thus already condemned and corrupted. And this is why everyone hates the light. But when God changes the heart of a person then they come to the light to be seen that their works are wrought in God.
    I think this is consistent with the rest of the scriptures and with the first part of John 3.

    Every blessing in Christ!

  41. Theo K

    Hi Cal,

    Concerning temporary faith, yes of course, there is the stony/thorny ground. There is false faith, and this faith is proved false once the person who professed such a faith departs from us (as per 1 John 2:19).

    You ask "How do I know that won’t happen? what is my proof". I believe God wants us to know whether we have true faith or not, in other words whether we have eternal life or not (1 John 5:13). I think the whole of 1 John was written for this purpose. So there are biblical ways for someone to test himself to see whether he is in the faith, in other words to be sure that he is in Christ. I don't want to say more on that, only to restate that God wants us to be sure and not speculate. And I believe that the clear teaching of scripture is that once I am certain of my status in Christ (based on biblical grounds), then I can be certain that *He* will keep me forever in Him. Ultimately it's not up to me, and this is gloriously good news.

  42. Theo K

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Concerning Lutheranism. I would only want to ask whether you can point me to any Lutheran confession of faith that agrees with your view of election?

    I said (and I quote myself) "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the gospel preached by Paul." Sorry I wasn't more clear, this is a direct quote from scripture : "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" Acts 16:14b ESV
    So if you think my reasoning is false, how would you interpret the incident mentioned in this verse in a different way?

    All I am trying to say (obviously not in great clarity!) is that the three persons work in unity. That the preaching of the gospel in and of itself is not enough. Spurgeon knew this, this is why he was saying every time he was walking to the pulpit 'I believe in the Holy Ghost'. What saves are not mere words, even if there are the words of the evangelist preaching the gospel (otherwise all hearers would be saved). what saves is the gospel message clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit (what former generations used to call 'unction'). Again from Spurgeon, every published manuscript of his ends with the prayer: "PRAY THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL USE THIS SERMON TO BRING MANY TO A SAVING KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST!" Yes Jesus heals and Jesus saves. And He does this by His Spirit. He did it then (the servant of the Lord who has been given the Spirit without measure by His Father), He does it now by sending His Spirit to cloth the preached gospel with divine power in order to save and sustain His sheep. That's all I am saying.

    Concerning election and certainty, yes, individual election is the bedrock of assurance. I know of no other way that someone can be justified in having assurance. I know that I am elect because, based on biblical grounds, I know I have saving faith. And thus justified. And thus called. And thus predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ from the beginning of the world (eternity past). And thus, absolutely certain that I will be glorified (eternity future). Gloriously good news. And for all this, Soli Deo Gloria.

    Concerning your pastoral question, I would say to such a person that all elect persons will, at some point in their life, believe on the Lord Jesus. And I would explain the glorious gospel (from eternity past to eternity future). And encourage him to trust in Jesus. If he said he didn't, we would work on that. If he insisted on the question, I would indeed say to him that he cannot know if he is elect or not and that the only way to know is to trust in Jesus and not in himself. Basically Keep the main thing the main thing.
    More generally, the doctrine of election is meant to humble proud sinners (it's out of their hands - as per John 6 and 10) and comfort believers (as per Romans 8).

    Finally, are you assured that you will keep on believing in 10 years time? That you do have *eternal* life? If so, on what grounds?

  43. Theo K

    Hi Glen,

    Thank you for your answer.
    Concerning your two questions,

    - *every* spiritual blessing in Jesus

    Very succinctly, I think the Father has chosen before the beginning of the world specific individual sinners (who obviously form a group - the bride of Christ, His sheep) and gave them to Christ as a gift. Does this statement fall short of saying that every spiritual blessing is in Christ? I guess you can say that election is the Father's work. Yes, He chose us and placed us in Christ (with the agreement of the Son). Does this mean that election is a blessing that is not in Jesus? And as for regeneration, I would think that particular redemption is the only way to tie infallibly the cross with regeneration. Jesus earns on behalf of His people the regenerating work of the Spirit. Does this mean that not all spiritual blessings are in Christ? What is wrong with saying: the Father elects, the Son redeems the elect and the Spirit applies the work of Christ to the elect? This is a genuine question.

    - the gospel as God's saving power

    As I said in my comment to Paul, I don't think the mere words of the preached gospel are enough. I mean the gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. Not to all! Otherwise all would be saved! To some the preaching of the gospel is the aroma of death. But I do see the gospel as the means that God has appointed to save His people. The gospel clothed with the power of the Spirit. Something like 1 Thes 1: "4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." So preach and pray. Pray and preach!
    I don't think this is equivalent as saying that the power of God is preparatory, more like saying that the gospel call is made effectual.

    Sorry for the delayed response, commenting is time consuming, I can't even imagine how much time your blog must take you! Again thank you for all your work, I do mean it. If you don't see a fruitful way forward, please have the last word :-)

    One in Christ!

  44. Howard Nowlan

    Thanks for your reply, Theo. Coming back to the passage, Jesus says that the reason people are estranged from God is because they loved darkness rather than the light, so if they will not believe on the one whom God has sent to rescue them from perishing, then they are condemned, because this is our one sure and true lifeline - God rescuing us through His Son, in love. The condemnation here is entirely related to our rejection of God's rescue in His Son, not because the world is condemned, period. Creation suffers a bondage to futility not because it is in itself corrupt, but because it submits itself willingly to such for a clear purpose - to see brought about the redemption of humanity. If we make redemption or condemnation something which transpires in a manner divorced from what Jesus states here, I think we are heading into very unsafe waters. Thanks again.

  45. Cal


    Oh I agree that it's not up to me to finish up a job that Lord Jesus only left 95% done. I'm all about the "golden chain" in Romans 8. Or Ephesians 1 where the call had to come to bring me adoption in the Only Son, and election in the Only Elect One. Or in other words, I had to be lifted from the kingdom of darkness into the light. Amen and Amen!

    However you keep giving me evasive answers ("based on biblical evidence"). The problem is asking what assurance is and how that fits into the Scripture that teach being broken off from the olive tree of God's covenant etc.

    Ultimately though, one must receive Christ and the real question, going between you and Glen, is how that happens. I tend towards Glen's position.

    The assurance is that the Lord doesn't change and will keep His promise, that all who come to Him will not be cast out; that all who receive and lose themselves for Him will find eternal life.

  46. Paul

    Theo, thanks again for responding to all the comments.

    Concerning Lutheranism. I thought that you were trying to argue that Lutheranism secretly takes your view of double predestination - and I'm not sure that everyone is convinced of that. I don't think Confessional Lutheranism is either 5 point Calvinism or in fact the position that Glen is arguing.

    On Acts 16:14.. If the phrase "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" came at the beginning of verse 13 rather than at the end of verse 14 then I would understand how it makes your case: a preparatory work of regeneration is done before a person hears the gospel. However, as it stands it seems to make Glen's point: a person is given ears to hear as the message itself is preached.

    So, that is why I was very heartened by your comments about the way Spurgeon ends his sermons. What you say there seems to be a much stronger view of preaching and the work of the Spirit. I find Glen's argument powerful because it really does enable us to pray that God will use the Sermon to bring many people to a saving knowledge of Jesus - and that God does this "by sending His Spirit to cloth the preached gospel with divine power". It is the sermon, the preached Gospel, that is used to save people; the Spirit clothes the sermon with power. That is the excitement every time Jesus is preached: we can do nothing more than preach Jesus, but what if the Spirit blows where He wills and clothe this particular sermon...? Wow! Just the thought of that makes us so humbled by the privilege and glory of preaching.

    Baxter - "I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men."

    2 Corinthians 6:7 - “By the word of truth, by the power of God.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5 - “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit.”

    I love the way Calvin himself puts this emphasis in BkII 15.2 - "We see that He [Christ] was anointed by the Spirit to be a herald and witness of His Father’s grace, and not in the usual way; for He is distinguished from other teachers who had a similar office. And here, again, it is to be observed, that the unction which He received, in order to perform the office of teacher, was not for Himself, but for His whole body, that a corresponding efficacy of the Spirit might always accompany the preaching of the Gospel.”

    Theo, your explanation makes sense of how assurance would work for a person who knew for sure that they had saving faith. However, I still don't see how you can know for sure that you have saving faith - without compromising the sovereignty of God to do as He will. How do you know that God is not using you as an example of how far the unregenerate person can be taken without them being saved?

    In Calvin's Institutes [Bk III, 2.11] he explains his ideas about temporary faith and genuine, persevering faith. He cites Simon Magus as the classic example of temporary faith, but Calvin points out that Simon really thought that he had saving faith. However, Calvin says that the elect can be assured of their genuine faith because ‘though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father.’ (Inst. III.2.11). So, if you have doubts and fears... is that a sign of your reprobation? Calvin seems to suggest that even with their doubts and fears the elect person knows that they can never really give up their faith.

    Again, this raises the pastoral problem: if a Christian is assailed by serious doubts and fears, Calvin seems to add further terror to the situation by presenting the possibility that God doesn't love me or want to help me at all, but is now removing my temporary faith. We see precisely this horror in the diaries of the 17th century. On the other hand, I think, Glen would never raise such a spectre: God loves me, intends only my salvation and urges me to trust in Jesus.

    Having spent many years as a five point Calvinist - and strongly supralapsarian as well - I understand the desire to make the eternal decree the starting point of theology. It is an emotionally compelling and intellectually invigorating perspective - but, I think what Glen's plea is in Glen AUGUST 29, 2013, is for an acknowledgement of the problems of the position as well as an appreciation of what he is arguing: what does theology look like when Jesus Himself, the Word of God, is the starting point rather than the eternal decrees?

    As to the question about trusting Jesus in 10 years time, I just don't go down that road at all. I cannot conceive of ever not trusting Jesus: to know Jesus even for one day is glorious and more than I ever deserve. Every day I turn from the world, the flesh and the devil and turn to Jesus. Every day I find my place in the local church family, who hold me, encourage me, challenge me, comfort me with the way of Jesus. Every day that the LORD Jesus turns me to Himself through His Word is a blessing that I do not deserve and I am constantly amazed that I get to experience the heaven on earth of His presence. The only ground for assurance is Jesus Himself - and that we trust Him - and I can find no assurance at all in the concept of an eternal decree that is secret and may not involve any good for me.

  47. Kingswood Hart

    Hi Glen,

    I've very much enjoyed reading through this discussion. You may be surprised by this, but I find that what you say sounds very similar to the position of a modern-day Arminian who believes in corporate election and perseverance of the saints.

    Using the 5-point summary of Arminianism here ( ), you seem to agree with "total depravity", "atonement for all" and "conditional election" (taking the non-traditional corporate election viewpoint, which is considered as a viable option within modern-day Arminianism). I'd agree with you on those.

    Regarding "security in Christ", you believe in perseverance of the saints, which is again considered as a viable option within modern-day Arminianism (I'm undecided on this point but it's a separate issue really).

    On the remaining point, summarised as "freed to believe by God's grace", this seems to be where you take issue with Arminians. This is the Arminian corollary of Calvinism's "irresistible grace". You said:

    "The Lord does not merely clear a path and make salvation possible, but carries us entirely over the line. I could never be Arminian because I think their position fails at this crucial point."

    I grant that the summary "freed to believe" does match with your "merely clear a path" objection, but the more detailed explanation shows that Arminians believe that God does much more than simply clear a path.

    To quote the article: "In sum, God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith as he draws all people toward faith in Jesus, pierces the darkness of their hearts and minds with the shining of his light, enlightens their minds, communicates his awesome power with the gospel that incites faith, woos them with his kindness, convicts them by his Spirit, opens their hearts to heed his gospel, and positions them to seek him as he is near to each one."

    So an Arminian would say that God does do all the saving - they would just say that a person has the option of resisting God's saving grace if they choose to continue to trust in themselves rather than instead to trust in Jesus and let him do the saving he wants to do. That's in contrast with your assertion above that Arminianism ultimately denies that when God saves a person he does it all.

    Regarding the question above about why some people believe and others don’t, you said:

    "The only conclusion the Bible ever comes to on that is a mad and baffling hardness of heart. At the end of the day, this is the mystery of iniquity – and it’s best left a mystery."

    That seems consistent with the Arminian position that the answer to the question is to be found in the heart of the person who resists the gospel and chooses to trust in himself rather than trust in Jesus. In short it's ultimately man's fault, not God's fault. (In Calvinism it's ultimately God's "fault" as he chose not to give that person irresistible grace, i.e. he could have done more to save that person but chose not to.)

    So it seems to me that the Arminian position can reasonably explain the "mystery" in a way that's consistent with what you've been saying.

    If you still think there is an issue with Arminianism (in the sense I've set out) that you don't like, I'd be keen to hear your views on it. Otherwise, I tentatively put it to you that you, Glen, are an Arminian (but you just didn't know it yet) ;-)

    Of course the label doesn't ultimately matter, and it's not usually looked upon favourably in certain circles, but it does seem to cover what you've been saying above more accurately than Calvinism, at least. I'm not wedded to the Arminian label myself, but it seems to sum up what I believe pretty accurately.

  48. Glen

    Hi Kingswood, welcome to comments. I hope that people from all perspectives can rejoice in the Scriptural truths articulated by others. 1 Corinthians 3 says "everything is mine"... whether Calvin or Arminius or Luther or Athanasius... all are mine :)

    No doubt I say things that fit certain labels at certain points but I'm much more interested in thinking again from a centre in Jesus. If you like I'm not so much Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran or Athanasian - I'm seeking to be Ephesian (both chapters 1 and 2).

    If your Arminianism is able to affirm the sovereign work of God saving sinners *as sinners* and wrenching them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light - even as they're dead in transgressions - then I rejoice.


  49. Dom

    Thanks for this post Glen! And thanks for all who have commented. It is all a great read.

    I just wanted to put in my thought of how God's work of creation reflects how God works in recreation(being born again). The spirit is present and brooding over the deep and in the darkness but it is only when the Word is sent that life is given. It is the word that brings light and life into the darkness although it is the spirit's presence that is the breath to that powerful word of life.

    Thanks again


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