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Bible Answers to an Arminian
"Doctor's" Questions --
by Curtis A. Pugh
Recently I received these questions from one calling himself a Baptist and a "doctor." He objected to regeneration resting solely on the free grace of God. At the suggestion of a good friend and Brother I submit these questions along with my answers. It is hoped that others may find them helpful.
(1) "Do you believe God predestinated sin? For instance, when a man rapes a woman, did God predestinate that act? Or when two men have homosexual sex, did God predestinate that they would do that?"
Cruden's Complete Concordance lists only two instances in which the word predestinate is used (Rom. 8:29, 30); and two instances where the past tense occurs (Eph. 1:5, 11). The word speaks of persons whom God determined to conform to the image of Christ and to adopt as sons. Hence the word predestinate has to do with persons and not with acts.
However, the Bible does teach that God in His "determinate counsel" has established from eternity those things that shall occur. He has decreed from eternity all things in order to achieve His desired ends.
We read of Christ, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge [margin: "fore-ordination"] of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). The Trinity took counsel together. Infinite wisdom determined to deliver Christ up to be tortured and killed by men. Note that this act of God does not abrogate the sinfulness of the actions of those men who abused and crucified the Son of Man. Their hands are said to be "wicked." Sinful though it was, what they did was according to the "determinate counsel" of God.
A similar testimony also concerns those who gathered together against Christ, "For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28). Here this truth is perhaps even more clearly stated. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Israelites did what their wicked hearts wanted to do in their mistreatment and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, God's "counsel" had "determined before" that these things were "to be done". This does not make God the author of sin. He created man, allowed him to fall into sin and allows him to act according to his depraved nature.
These strong doctrinal statements set forth the absolute sovereignty of God in all things. They are words from the first public sermon preached and the first public prayer recorded after Pentecost. Evidently the apostles who made these statements and the Holy Ghost who inspired the Bible intended that this great truth be preached publicly!
"Did God determine beforehand that these wicked acts take place?" He did indeed! However, the fact that God chose to allow men to commit wicked acts does not mean that He caused these men to sin. Men sin because they want to sin!. God does not cause them to do such wicked things.
The very fact that God from the beginning was omniscient (all-knowing) demands that all things are settled. They will take place exactly as God knows they will take place. Stated another way, if God knew in "eternity past" that something would happen, that event was sure and fixed. It had to happen simply because God knew beforehand it was going to happen! The only way to escape the idea that all things are fixed is to say that God does not know what will happen in the future. Neither "foreknowledge" nor "determinate counsel" refer merely to God's prescience or omniscience. I do not believe God's decree was based on His prescience. But, if you admit God's omniscience, you must logically conclude that all events are therefore fixed. They are unalterable because God knows beforehand that they are going to happen.
(2) "When men sin, are they resisting or fulfilling God's will?"
A distinction must be made between the secret or decretive will of God and the revealed or prescriptive will of God. Men can never successfully resist God's decretive will. Such passages as, "For who hath resisted his will?" (Rom. 9:19) and "...he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Dan. 4:35), etc., make this clear. Men do resist and disobey the Bible which is God's revealed will, but only when and to the extent God allows. However, what God has decreed is always accomplished. Ephesians 1:11 says that God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will". This verse refers to the secret will of God in which He decreed all things before the foundation of the world.
If God is not in control of all things, He is not in control of anything! If He is not in control of all things, He cannot with surety predict the future or bring about His desired ends. Either God has a plan and the ability to carry out that plan or He does not. If He has no plan, we are hopelessly adrift in chaos. If He has a plan, but is unable to carry out that plan, He is a failure and we are likewise without hope.
The wicked men who crucified Jesus indeed acted contrary to the revealed will of God, but only because God had decreed from "eternity past" to allow it. So it is with today's rapists and sodomites. He decreed in His will that these things take place. That God's greatness will be magnified even by the wicked actions of men which He allows is clear from the Scripture. Psalm 76:10 says "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain." God has chosen to allow the sins of men when it suits His purpose such as in the crucifixion of Christ.
(3) "When is a soul saved? Before or after believing in Christ?"
The Bible words saved and salvation mean deliverance. They are used of initial salvation, progressive sanctification, and final glorification along with all blessings attendant with being "in Christ" (Eph. 1:3-12). For instance we read, "Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:5). Here the word "salvation" refers to the final glorification of God's people. In 1 Timothy 4:16 young Timothy is told to give attention to himself and to "the doctrine." In that way he would "save" himself and his auditors--evidently meaning they would be saved from false doctrine. Timothy was already obviously a child of God. Progressive sanctification is in view here.
I suspect you mean to use the term "saved" of the "new birth," also called "regeneration." The Bible teaches that a person believes at the moment of regeneration. The Bible knows nothing of such a thing as a regenerated unbeliever! Those born of God are believers and thus must have heard the Gospel in order to believe. However, the issue here is not really one of time (before or after) as much as it is one of cause and effect. The question is: Does a spiritually dead sinner (Eph. 2:1, 5) do something (in this case believe) which is the cause of his being regenerated? This cannot be the case since both repentance and saving faith are gifts of God and not something produced by man (Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:23; 5:22; Eph. 2:8, 9; Heb. 4:2; 12:2). God's Word clearly teaches that all men do not have faith (2 Thess. 3:2). Saving faith is "obtained" (2 Pet. 1:1). Being obtained its source must be outside of man! Neither man's decision, believing, nor any other act of man's will causes his regeneration. The Bible clearly says that men are regenerated "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, but of God" (John 1:13). Salvation "IS NOT OF HIM THAT WILLETH, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Rom. 9:16). Please consider also Romans 9:1-24 and 11:5-6.
(4) "After a sermon is it wrong to give an invitation to lost sinners to come forward and be saved?"
It is NOT wrong to warn, urge, beseech, and invite men to come savingly to Jesus Christ. Christ's apostles did those things.
However, the concept that the front of an auditorium is some kind of "spiritual end-zone" where "salvation touchdowns" are made if people can be persuaded to "come forward" is a totally unbiblical notion.
While the invitation system is often touted as being the "old fashioned way," it was unheard of until roughly 100 years or so ago. Since we have neither apostolic example nor Divine instruction for giving such invitations, we cannot claim to be following the Bible in doing such things. They are what old Baptists called "innovations" and lack God's approval.
When we impose a physical act ("come forward and get saved") on a purely spiritual matter (the new birth), we involve the flesh. God is careful to tell us that the new birth is "not of the will of the flesh" (John 1:13). By such manmade tactics as the invitation system we tell people there is something they can do in order to get God to regenerate them. In this way the Gospel is perverted in the minds of people.
Rather than causing sinners to see their total depravity such a false system insists that they can do something in order to be saved. The doctrine of total depravity includes man's total inability to come to Christ apart from Divine intervention (John 6:44, 65).
This is not a matter of minor significance. These things bear essentially upon the manner in which God saves sinners. All religions can be divided into two and only two classes. One religion says that God has fixed it so that man does something and because of that act, God saves him. Some teach that act to be baptism; others teach living a good life; and some teach "making a decision for Christ" or "praying the sinner's prayer," or some such thing. ("Invite Jesus into your heart", "come forward and be saved", "open your heart's door", etc., etc., are all unscriptural phrases and unbiblical ideas.) The other religion teaches that God saves (regenerates) sinners by grace alone. One is the religion of man's supposed free will and the other is the religion of God's free grace. By the way, the Bible nowhere teaches that man's will is free from his depraved nature. Being bound to his evil, fallen nature, man's will is to do evil only continually (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:10-18, etc.).
Most Protestants and many modern "Baptists" now teach that God is obligated to save sinners predicated on some form of human response to the Gospel. In contrast to this, mainline Baptists, throughout their history of nearly 2,000 years, have held to the Biblical idea that salvation (regeneration) is a gift. It cannot be earned, nor are there qualifications to be met by which a dead sinner can motivate God to quicken him.
In conclusion let me ask you some questions:
(1) "Are Baptists today obligated to preach the same message and operate in the same essential manner as did the preachers in the New Testament?"
(2) "Is salvation (the new birth) by works or by grace?"
(3) "What essential difference is there between telling a lost sinner to be baptized in order to be born again and telling one to "make a decision for Christ", "come forward and be saved", "invite Jesus into your heart," etc.?"
(4) Do not both "baptismal regeneration" and "decisional regeneration" essentially make salvation a matter of works?
(5) What is wrong with simply preaching the Gospel and waiting on the Holy Spirit to regenerate God's elect as was done by the apostles?
We shall all one day stand before God. Shall we be charged with having told lies on God? I urge you to search the Scriptures! Cast off any doctrine or practice that makes man the master of his own destiny! Cease preaching "works" for salvation!
Such Arminian preaching gives men hope in their own efforts! Preach Christ! All unscriptural religious efforts of men are not only futile, but Christ-dishonouring as well. In them men think by their works to have a part in their salvation.
By all your "plans of salvation," programs, scare tactics, emotional manipulations, musicals, entertainments, theatricals, and human persuasions you shall not add one soul to the number whom God has "chosen... to salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13; cf. Eph. 1:4). God continues to operate today as He did in the days of the apostles when it was recorded that "...as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
Let us be busy proclaiming the Gospel of Grace—the Good News of the finished work of Jesus Christ! It is in connection with this divine truth men are regenerated and given that kind of faith which the Bible calls "the faith of God's elect" (Titus 1:1).
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