The Biblical Doctrine of JUSTIFICATION

(How from Hell Are We Saved?)

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.—Simon and Garfunkle

People read the Bible with one eye closed. They look at the Bible like a smorgasbord diner; taking what they want and shunning the rest. Even worse, what passes for theology is more a study in crowd psychology and peer pressure than scholarship.—Jacobis

How are we saved from our sins? How does one get to heaven? Is it merely a gift from God or do we in some way have to earn it, or at least participate in it? How do we obtain God’s favor? Is obedience a criterion? Are there any contingencies to God’s love? Does God choose who will be saved, passing over others?

Justification is the study of how we deemed righteous before God. A related term is soteriology, which is the study of how we are saved, that is how we get to heaven. These terms are sometimes used almost interchangeably.

There are several different camps. The differences can be confusing because there is overlap and each group tends to use particular terminology. There are actually two issues involved with theories of justification: (1) faith vs. works, and (2) predestination vs. free will. Some of the differences among Christians are substantive, but some of the differences are mostly differences in emphasis:

  • Calvinists are most often found in Presbyterian churches but also increasingly in some Baptist and some Bible churches. Calvinists emphasize God’s sovereign election in choosing, for his own purposes, who is saved. They are known for their “Five Points of Calvinism (TULIP)” See Most Calvinists insist that man retains a measure of free will. However, other Calvinists see a conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. (If God truly chooses, how does man really have the free will to deny God’s electing grace?) So some Calvinists simply say that man does not have true free will in this matter. Opponents of Calvinism find fault with the necessary conclusion of Calvinism that some men are not chosen and therefore God predestines them to hell (“double predestination”). Calvinists argue that sentiment is irrelevant; what matters is what the Bible teaches. Calvinism is often called “Reformed Theology.”
  • Lutherans hold to similar beliefs, emphasizing salvation by grace through the work of the Holy Spirit. But Lutherans believe, unlike Calvinists, that salvation is potentially for all who believe (not just those predestined to believe), and they also believe that man can turn away from faith (rather than “once saved always saved”). Thus they reject the fifth point of TULIP, and would probably not accept the others without qualification.
  • Arminians in the modern church are represented by Methodists and some Baptists/Bible churches, and teach salvation by grace but emphasize man’s free will to accept God’s gift of grace.
  • Catholics believe that we are saved by grace infused with works and sacrament.
  • Semi-Pelagians take a further step towards works righteousness, believing that we are saved by grace plus our good works, and may be found in various sects including some Churches of Christ. There are points of tension in all of the different views, but it is particularly evident in this group. It seems contradictory to say we are saved by grace, but here is a list of things that one has to do to be saved.)
  • Full-Pelagians believe that we are saved by our good works only. Both semi-Pelagians and full-Pelagians are considered legalists, and I consider legalism outside the circle of orthodoxy on matters of justification. At best, semi-Pelagians are on the edge of the circle of orthodoxy, depending on how they understand grace. Full-Pelagianism was declared a heresy early in the history of the church. Only the cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons teach that we are saved by works alone.

The Bible clearly teaches that man is inherently sinful and thus cannot save himself. This is a uniquely Christian understanding of the nature of man. Any view of justification that ignores this truth does not understand Christianity. The Bible teaches that mankind has a sinful or “fleshly” nature which is universal and runs deep: Genesis 6:5, 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Job 14:1-4; 25:2-6; Psalm 14; 51:3-5; 53:1-3; 58:3-5; 143:1-2; Proverbs 14:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:6; 55:8-9; 59:2; 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Daniel 9:1-11; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 3:9-20; 5:12-21; 7:13-25; 8:5-8; 14:23; Galatians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 2:10-11; 1 John 1:8-10. So all legitimate Christian viewpoints on this start with the fact that we are saved by God’s grace. However, what role, if any does our good works, and our free will to choose to believe, play?

What does the Bible actually teach? Well, it is probably more complicated than most Christians think. Below are two lists of Bible passages related to this topic. The first list of passages indicates that salvation is by grace (a gift) through faith, and that God’s sovereign choice determines who is saved.  The second list suggests that one must respond in some way through good works, repentance, obedience, perseverance, baptism, etc. These two lists do not clearly define Calvinists, Lutherans, Arminians, and Semi-Pelagians. Each group accepts the entire Bible as inerrant; so all factions (theoretically) accept the teachings from both lists. It might be helpful to temporarily suspend one’s preconceived notions while carefully studying these two lists.  Christians hold very ingrained views of this matter; these views can get in the way of reading the Bible for what it actually says.  Even at the highest levels of theological discussion, people tend to ignore or gloss over the passages of Scripture that do not conform to the doctrines of their own group. At the conclusion, we will suggest a way to reconcile these apparently contradictory concepts.


  1. Genesis 12:1-3—God chose Abraham as well as the nation of Israel for service
  1. Genesis 15:1-20—Abe believed and was credited as righteousness thus apparently being chosen for salvation as well as for service (based on God’s love and will as well Abe’s belief rather than on merit)
  1. Genesis 17:7—God is to be Abraham’s God thus apparently choosing him for salvation as well as for service
  1. Genesis 25:21-23—God predicted Jacob’s superior role over Esau thus apparently choosing Jacob for both salvation and service (based on God’s love and will rather than on merit)
  1. Genesis 45:4-8, 50:20—in God’s sovereignty, He intended Joseph’s troubles to save many lives
  1. Exodus 14:14—God hardened Pharaoh’s heart
  1. Leviticus 20:7-8—while God commands the Israelites to keep his statutes, it is God himself who sanctifies
  1. Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:6-8, 10:15, 14:2—God chose the Israelites as a group for service, as well to be his possession, based on his love and grace
  1. 1 Samuel 2:6-10—the Lord brings death and life, he humbles and exalts, he lifts the needy, guards the saints, etc—all from the foundation of the world
  1. 1 Samuel 16:6-13—God rejects some for service and chooses others
  1. Psalm 33:11—God’s plans stand forever (indicating God’s absolute sovereignty
  1. Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9—the Lord determines the steps of a man
  1. Psalm 65:3-4—God atones for our transgressions, blessed is the one God chooses
  1. Psalm 106:6-12—God saved the Israelites not because of their faithfulness but because of his desire
  1. Psalm 135:6—God accomplishes whatever he pleases
  1. Psalm 139:16—all the days ordained for me before one of them came to be
  1. Proverbs 16:4—the Lord has made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil
  1. Proverbs 16:9—the Lord determines even a man’s steps
  1. Proverbs 21:1—God turns the king’s heart wherever he will (thus God has unhindered access to move people’s hearts)
  1. Isaiah 14:24—as God plans, so shall it be
  1. Isaiah 43:7—God creates for and calls people to his glory
  1. Isaiah 43:25—people still sin but God does not remember those sins
  1. *Isaiah 46:10-11—whatever God plans he will accomplish
  1. Isaiah 49:2-5—God planned Isaiah’s life from the womb
  1. Isaiah 55:11—God accomplishes that which he purposes
  1. Isaiah 61:10—God clothed Isaiah with garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness
  1. Jeremiah 1:5,10—God knows people even in the womb and ordains them to service.  (It is impossible that Jeremiah could have died in the womb.)
  1. Jeremiah 29:11—God has plans for people
  1. Hosea 11:1—God loved Israel and called her
  1. Joel 2:32—Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved
  1. Malachi 1:2-3—God loved Jacob and hated Esau
  1. Matthew 7:23—Jesus never knew some people
  1. Matthew 11:25-26—God withholds some things from some people
  1. Matthew 13:11, Luke 8:10 (ref. Isaiah 6:9-13)—The mysteries of the kingdom have not been granted to some to know, God judicially blinds them
  1. Matthew 13:47—kingdom of heaven is like a net which gathers up the fish
  1. Matthew 16:13-20—only the Father reveals Jesus’ identity to us, and is not revealed by flesh and blood
  1. Matthew 20:23, Mark 10:40—those will sit with Jesus in his kingdom are those for whom a place has been prepared
  1. Matthew 22:14—many are called but few are chosen
  1. Matthew 24:22, 24, 31—God gathers together his elect
  1. Matthew 25:34—God blesses some people from the foundation of the world
  1. Mark 10:40—sitting at Jesus’ right hand is only for those for whom it has been prepared
  1. Mark 13:20-27—God’s elect are those he chooses
  1. Mark 16:16—whoever does not believe is condemned
  1. Luke 7:48-50—woman’s sins forgiven by Jesus based on her faith
  1. Luke 8:9-10—some information given to some but hidden from others
  1. Luke 10:20-22—some people’s names are written in heaven, some things are hidden to some people and revealed only to a chosen group
  1. Luke 15:1-10 (parables of the lost sheep and lost coin)—God goes after the lost
  1. Luke 18:9-14—the man who expressed faith is justified and not the one who did works
  1. Luke 18:22-27—things which seem impossible to get to heaven are only possible from God
  1. John 1:12-13—who believe in the name of Jesus he gave the right to become the children of God, not by birth or by one’s will or decision
  1. John 3:4-8—one is born again/enters the kingdom of heaven by the work of the Holy Spirit which blows where it wishes
  1. John 3:14-18—whoever believes in Jesus for eternal life (Arminians argue that whoever implies that belief is not limited to the elect)
  1. John 3:21b—what the believer has done has been done through God
  1. John 3:36—whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life
  1. John 5:21—God and Jesus give life to whomever they will
  1. John 5:24—whoever hears and believes has eternal life
  1. John 6:29—belief is the work of God not of man
  1. John 6:35-51—everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life, no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him and he is kept by Jesus! (Election is not based on foreseen faith; it precedes faith and results in faith.  People cannot come to God on their own.)
  1. John 6:63-68—it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh being of no avail, no one can come to Jesus unless it has been granted to him by the Father (man lacks the ability to come to him!)
  1. John 8:36-47—Jesus sets one free, anyone who does not hear and believe is not of God (implying election)
  1. John 9:1-11—Jesus heals the blind man (which brings to reality our spiritual blindness)
  1. John 10:2-5—Jesus calls his sheep by name and they will never follow a stranger
  1. John 10:11, 15-18, 26—Jesus laid down his life for the sheep (implying a certain group of people to the exclusion of other people)
  1. John 10:25-30—Jesus gives eternal life (no indication of it being earned), no one can snatch out of his hand those who believe as a result of being part of Jesus’ flock (Jesus implies that people are his sheep before they respond to him, and their faith or unbelief manifests their prior identity)
  1. John 11:25-26—he that believes in Jesus shall live
  1. John 12:37-40—some people could not believe because God hardened their hearts
  1. John 13:18—Jesus chooses people
  1. John 15:5—apart from God we can do nothing
  1. John 15:16-19—Jesus’ eleven disciples did not choose Jesus, rather Jesus chose them
  1. John 17:2, 6, 9, 10, 24—eternal life to all that the Father has given to the Son (God’s sovereign choice being evident, and some are excluded)
  1. John 20:31—by believing you may have life in his name
  1. Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23, 3:18, 4:27-28—Judas, Herod, and Pilate’s actions were determined in advance by God’s power and will. (Even Jesus’ wrongful death was controlled by God’s sovereign control.  It is impossible for Jesus not to have died on the cross, not only because of passages like this but because the prophets foretold it.)
  1. Acts 2:21—whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved
  1. Acts 2:39—the promise is for whomever God calls to himself
  1. Acts 3:26—Jesus turns us from our sins
  1. Acts 4:27-28—events surrounding Jesus were predestined according to God’s plan
  1. Acts 5:31—Jesus grants forgiveness of sins
  1. Acts 9:9-19—Paul certainly was chosen by God, so at least some people are chosen directly for faith
  1. Acts 10:43—everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins
  1. Acts 13:38-39—everyone who believes is freed from everything from which the Law of Moses could not free one
  1. Acts 13:48—some are appointed to eternal life, those who were ordained to eternal life believed (appointment coming before belief)
  1. Acts 15:9—God cleanses hearts by faith (God is the active agent)
  1. Acts 15:11—saved through the grace of Jesus
  1. Acts 15:18—known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world
  1. Acts 16:14—God opened a woman’s (Lydia) heart. (The woman did not open her own heart.)
  1. Acts 16:30-34—believe in Jesus to be saved (after that they were baptized)
  1. Acts 18:9-10—God had people in Corinth even before Paul spent a year and half there, apparently electing those individual to salvation
  1. Acts 18:27—people believe because of God’s grace
  1. Acts 26:18—sanctified by faith in Jesus
  1. Romans 1:5-6—some have received his grace and are called to belong to Christ
  1. Romans 1:16—the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (not the power of man)
  1. Romans 1:19-32—people become futile in their thoughts, God gives people over to a reprobate/debased mind—to vile passions—to uncleanness—to do things that are not fitting
  1. Romans 3,4—all have sinned, no one is righteous and are deceived to even think so—in fact no one does GOOD, righteousness from God through faith apart from the law, justification by his grace is a gift (3:24, 28)
  1. Romans 3:11-12—nobody seeks God
  1. Romans 3:21—righteousness of God comes apart from the law
  1. Romans 4:5-11; 22-24—even the Old Testament saints justified by faith
  1. Romans 5:1—justification by faith
  1. Romans 5:9-10—justification by the blood of Jesus
  1. Romans 5:15-21—free gifts of grace and righteousness from Christ’s obedience, resulting in justification and life for many
  1. Romans 6:6-11—we are slaves to sin/dead to sin which implies the impossibility of responding under free will to save ourselves
  1. Romans 6:23—eternal life is a gift of God
  1. Romans 7:6—we are released from the law
  1. Romans 7:10—we are in bondage to sin
  1. Romans 7:17-24—even the great apostle Paul realized that he does not do what he knows he should because of sin DWELLING in him, in fact NOTHING GOOD DWELLS IN HIM
  1. Romans 8:6-7—natural man is so at enmity with God that without the Holy Spirit he cannot do God’s will
  1. Romans 8:28-30—whom God foreknows He predestines; those he predestines He also calls; whom He calls he justifies; whom He justifies He glorifies—all for his purpose (Because Scripture teaches that not everyone will be glorified, it follows that not everyone is foreknown or loved beforehand or given the call)
  1. Romans 8:31-39—nothing can separate us from God’s love that is in Christ
  1. Romans 9:6-24—God shows mercy on whom he alone chooses and hardens whom he wants to harden based on his sole judgment; it is not by a person’s effort or will that he is chosen.  (Calvinists point out from this important passage that God chooses individuals as well as groups for salvation, and further that this predestination is not merely God’s foreseeing of faith.  Rather, it is based on God’s sovereign will.  Regarding this key passage, R.C. Sproul says this: “How could the apostle have made it clearer…than by saying ‘it is not of (by) him who wills’?”  Arminians counter that this passage must be taken in the context of Romans chapters 9 through 11 in which Paul is merely arguing that all Jews are not necessarily saved just by being Jewish or keeping the Mosaic Law, so a deterministic view of justification from this passage is not warranted.
  1. Romans 9:28-33—righteousness is through God’s mercy rather than obedience since all are disobedient; whoever trusts in him will never be put to shame
  1. Romans 10:4-15—Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, people are brought to him through hearing the gospel
  1. Romans 11:5-8—remnant chosen by grace, which by definition is no longer by works, also God hardens the non-elect
  1. Romans 11:20-23—unbelief separates some from God
  1. Romans 11:28-32—God has consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all
  1. Romans 12:3,6—God allots/assigns faith!
  1. Romans 16:13—Rufus as chosen in the Lord
  1. 1 Corinthians 1:7-8—Jesus will sustain you to the end, guiltless
  1. 1 Corinthians 1:26-28—God chose us
  1. 1 Corinthians 1:30—God is the reason for our righteousness, holiness, and redemption so that we can only boast in the Lord
  1. 1 Corinthians 2:7-9—God ordained Jesus’ role before the ages
  1. *1 Corinthians 2:14—without the Spirit sinners (“natural man”) will not on their own respond with repentance and faith to the gospel (so faith must be caused directly and completely by God)
  1. 1 Corinthians 4:7—it is God who gives the growth
  1. 1 Corinthians 6:11—we are justified and sanctified by the Spirit of God
  1. 1 Corinthians 12:3-6—only the Holy Spirit can give one enough faith to confess Jesus as Lord, and it is God that empowers
  1. 1 Corinthians 12:18—God arranges the parts of the church
  1. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8—you are saved if you hold firmly to the gospel that Christ died for your sins
  1. 1 Corinthians 15:10—it is not the individual who works but God working in him
  1. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22—God makes us stand firm, he anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, put his Spirit in our hearts, guaranteeing what is to come
  1. 2 Corinthians 3:14—God hardens minds to the truth
  1. 2 Corinthians 3:18—we are being transformed by the Spirit
  1. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6—God blinds the eyes and minds of some so they cannot see
  1. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21—God reconciled us to himself (not the other way around), not counting trespasses against us
  1. Galatians 1:15—God controlled the role of Paul, indeed selected him before birth
  1. Galatians 2:15—21—justification by faith not works of the law, that if it was through the law Christ died for no purpose!
  1. Galatians 3:1-29—no one is justified by the law which requires perfection (also Gal. 5:3), by faith we might receive the promise (the Galatian heresy was salvation-by-works of the Mosaic Law)
  1. Galatians 4:7—we are no longer slaves (to the law) but family members
  1. Galatians 5:3-6—if you insist on this works idea, you just don’t get it and in fact have fallen away
  1. Galatians 6:11-15—circumcision or uncircumcision count for nothing, only the cross of Christ
  1. Ephesians 1:3-12—through the riches of his grace God predestines people before creation to be adopted as his sons (that is predestined to salvation) in accordance solely with his will and pleasure, and he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will
  1. Ephesians 1:13-14—having believed we have a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance
  1. Ephesians 2:1-22—we are dead in our sin, by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind—(spiritually dead not merely sick in our sin and so we are utterly helpless) and are saved by grace through faith which itself is a gift of God, not of works. We are made alive by God (thus not by what we do). That (verse 8) is faith which is the gift of God. See for comparison Mark 9:24, Luke 17:5, Romans 12:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3 which reinforce the idea that faith comes from God not man. (Per RC Sproul, it is not a cooperative effort between God and men. As an example, Jesus brought Lazarus from the dead solely by the work of Jesus, not by any participation from Lazarus.) Others argue that that is a neuter noun in the Greek and must refer back to the closest neuter noun which is riches in verse 7, see the text.)
  1. Ephesians 3:11-19—through his Spirit God gives the power for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith
  1. Philippians 1:6—he who began his work in us will finish it
  1. Philippians 1:28-29—salvation is a gift from God
  1. Philippians 2:12-13—it is God working in you that produces will and obedience
  1. Philippians 3:9,12—righteousness not our own but that which comes from God through faith, Christ makes us his own
  1. Philippians 3:21—God has such power that he brings everything under his control
  1. Philippians 4:3—some people’s names are written in the book of life, implying predestination (cf. Revelation 20:15)
  1. Colossians 1:11-14—the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance, He has delivered us and transferred us to the kingdom
  1. Colossians 1:21-22—we are alienated from God until he reconciles us
  1. Colossians 2:13-14—God made us alive in Christ (while dead in our sins), record of debt with its legal demands cancelled
  1. Colossians 3:12—Colossians as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved
  1. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5—Thessalonians as chosen and loved by God
  1. 1 Thessalonians 3:3—they were destined to faith
  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:9—God has predestined his people to salvation
  1. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12—God makes us worthy of his calling and fulfills every resolve by his power
  1. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-17—God sends them a delusion so that they may believe what is false in order that they may be condemned who did not believe the truth; God from the beginning chose the Thessalonian Christians for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth
  1. 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5—the Lord is faithful and will establish and guard you against the evil one and direct your hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ
  1. 1 Timothy 1:14—faith is a gift of God through his grace
  1. 1 Timothy 1:16—belief in Jesus gives eternal life
  1. 1 Timothy 4:10—God is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe
  1. 1 Timothy 5:21—God even elects angels
  1. 2 Timothy 1:8-12—saved not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace which he gave us in Christ before the ages began
  1. 2 Timothy 2:10—Paul endures for the sake of those chosen by God, that they may obtain salvation
  1. 2 Timothy 2:19-20—God knows who are his
  1. 2 Timothy 2:25—God grants repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth
  1. 2 Timothy 3:15—salvation through faith in Christ
  1. Titus 1:1-2—hope of eternal life to God’s elect
  1. Titus 3:4-7—he saved us not because of works done by us but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs of eternal life
  1. Hebrews 3:12,19—enter by believing
  1. Hebrews 6:12—inherit the promise through faith and patience
  1. Hebrews 9:15—those who are called receive the promised inheritance
  1. Hebrews 10:22—full assurance of faith
  1. Hebrews 11:1-38—without faith it is impossible to please God, as Noah and Abraham, etc. were heirs of the righteousness that comes by faith (Rahab did not perish with those who were disobedient)
  1. Hebrews 12:16-17—Esau was shut out with no chance to repent event though he sought to do so
  1. Hebrews 13:21—it is God working in us which that does good
  1. James 1:18—it is God’s will that brings us forth
  1. James 2:5—God chooses people to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom
  1. James 4:5—God makes the spirit dwell in us
  1. 1 Peter 1:1-9—God elects people according to his foreknowledge to an inheritance that is imperishable, God causes us to be born again (no one can cause their own birth)
  1. 1 Peter 2:6 (Isaiah 28:16)—he who believes in him will not be put to shame
  1. 1 Peter 2:24—we have been healed by Jesus’ wounds
  1. 1 Peter 2:7-9—some destined to disobey and stumble (reprobation) while others are chosen and called
  1. 2 Peter 1:3-4—God has given Christians all things that pertain to life and godliness
  1. 1 John 2:19—certain people had been among the Christians but were never really with the Christians, suggesting that even though they perhaps made a profession of faith, they were never saved
  1. 1 John 2:20, 27—our anointment comes from the Holy Spirit
  1. 1 John 3:23—God’s commandment is to believe in his Son Jesus Christ (and to love one another)
  1. 1 John 4:10—it’s not our love for God, rather his love for us, He sent his son as an atoning sacrifice (God’s initiative, not ours)
  1. 1 John 4:15—whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him
  1. 1 John 5:1-13—everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and overcomes the world, i.e. in other words, anyone who is a believer had previously been born again (One does not birth himself.)
  1. Jude 4-5—some designated long ago for condemnation, those who did not believe destroyed
  1. Revelation 1:5-6—Jesus freed those in the church from our sins by his blood
  1. Revelation 2:13—holding the correct faith as important
  1. Revelation 5:9—his blood ransomed people from every nation (but by implication not everyone from the nations)
  1. Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:15—some people are left out of the book of life since the foundation of the world
  1. Revelation 17:14—Christians are called, chosen, and faithful
  1. Revelation 20:15—whoever was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (which may suggest that God has a list of those to be saved)
  1. Revelation 22:17—the water of life is without price

Obedience/Conditions/Free Will

  1. Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:19, Psalm 8:6—God gave man “dominion” over things, thus free will rather than determinism by God
  1. Genesis 22:12—God appears not to know in advance of sparing his son Isaac whether Abraham fears God
  1. Exodus 20:6—God loves those who love him and keep his commandments
  1. Deuteronomy 6:24-25—life and righteousness for us if we are careful to do all God’s commandments
  1. Deuteronomy 7:9—God is faithful and keeps his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments
  1. Deuteronomy 9:16-18—If one obeys the commandments, then he lives and God will bless him
  1. Deuteronomy 10:17—God does not show favoritism
  1. Deuteronomy 28:9—God establishes his holy people if they keep his commands
  1. Deuteronomy 30:19-20—you have a choice to choose life
  1. Joshua 24:15—we are to choose for ourselves whom we will serve
  1. 2 Chronicles 19:7—God does not show favoritism
  1. Nehemiah 1:5—God keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands
  1. Psalm 25:10—God is loving and faithful for those who keep his demands
  1. Psalm 103:11-19—God loves those who fear him and keep his commandments
  1. Isaiah 65:12, 66:4—God issues calls that are not answered
  1. Jeremiah 7:13, 35:17— God issues calls that are not answered
  1. Jeremiah 7:20-26, 13:15-17—God hopes that the people of Judah will exercise their free will to obey him
  1. Ezekiel 18—when one turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right he shall save his life
  1. Ezekiel 18:23, 32 (also 33:11)—God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (thus wants all men to be saved)
  1. Hosea 11:1-2—the more God called the Israelites, the further they went away (Many more passages can be cited to show that people can resist God’s call.)
  1. Jonah 3:10—God relented when the Ninevites turned from their evil way
  1. Matthew 5:1-48—Jesus taught that blessings are bestowed upon those who display certain traits
  1. Matthew 5:19—whoever does these commandments called great in the kingdom of heaven
  1. Matthew 5:20—kingdom of heaven for those whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees
  1. Matthew 6:15—if you do not forgive others, neither will God forgive you
  1. Matthew 6:19-21—lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (implies action on our part)
  1. Matthew 7:1-5—we will be judged on our “removing the log” from our own eye
  1. Matthew 7:12-14—to avoid destruction we must enter through the narrow way according to the golden rule
  1. Matthew 7:16-20—every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire
  1. Mat 7:21—not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven but he that does the Father’s will
  1. Mat 7:24-27—not following Jesus’ commandments leads to one’s fall
  1. Matthew 10:22—he who endures to the end will be saved (probably refers to AD 70 completed redemption)
  1. Matthew 10:38—he who does not take his cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of Jesus
  1. Matthew 12:36-37—on judgment day people will give account of what they have said, and by those words will they be justified or condemned
  1. Matthew 12:50—whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, etc.
  1. Matthew 13:23—the person who receives the seed will bear fruit many times over
  1. Matthew 13:36-43—law breakers will not enter the kingdom of heaven, but thrown into the fiery furnace
  1. Matthew 13:45—the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls
  1. Matthew 16:25-27—rewards according to works
  1. Matthew 18:5-9—offending the little ones is punishable by everlasting fire (hell)
  1. Matthew 18:23-35—failure of servant to have compassion on others reverses previous grace by master
  1. Matthew 19:16-30—follow Jesus and forsake worldly things to inherit eternal life (doing is part of the formula, but we can only do it with God’s help)
  1. Matthew 24:10-13—the one who endures to the end will be saved (reference to AD 70)
  1. Matthew 25:1-13—some shut out because of actions
  1. Matthew 25:14-30—by successful investment of talents one enters into the joy of the Lord, but failure to do so casts unprofitable servant into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth (the servant was not faithful in his actions)
  1. Matthew 25:31-46—eternal life according to works without any mention of faith
  1. Mark 8:34-35—whoever wants to save his life must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus
  1. Luke 6:46-49—not doing Christ’s commands leads to ruin
  1. Luke 8:15—the good soil will bear fruit with patience
  1. Luke 8:21—Jesus’ brothers are those who do the word of God
  1. Luke 9:23—Anyone who would come after Jesus should deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him!
  1. Luke 10:25-37—love God and your neighbors in order to have eternal life
  1. Luke 11:28—blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it
  1. Luke 13:24—strive to enter via the narrow gate…
  1. Luke 14:13-14—If you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind you will be blessed and repaid at the resurrection
  1. Luke 14:33—whoever does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple
  1. Luke 15:7,10—joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
  1. Luke 15:11-32—parable of the lost son who returns
  1. Luke 19:8-10—salvation granted to Zacchaeus after he became a follower of Christ and gave half his goods to the poor
  1. John 1:11-13—all who receive him (active on the part of the recipient) who believe in his name (suggesting that belief comes first), he gave the right to become children of God (not of the will of man but of God)
  1. John 3:21a—he who does the truth comes to the light
  1. John 3:36—whoever does not obey Jesus shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him
  1. John 4:34—the bread of life from Jesus demands doing the will of the Father
  1. John 5:29—those who do good have resurrection of life, those who do evil to resurrection of damnation
  1. John 6:37—whoever comes to Jesus will never be cast out
  1. John 8:31—If you abide in Jesus’ word you are his disciples
  1. John 8:51—if anyone keeps Christ’s word, he will never see death
  1. John 12:26—the Father will honor those who serve
  1. John 14:12-15—he who believes in Jesus will do the works that Jesus does and will keep His commandments
  1. John 14:21-24—he who has his commandments and keeps them will be loved by Jesus and the Father
  1. John 15:1-6—every branch in Jesus that does not bear fruit will be pruned away
  1. John 15:7—ifthe disciples abide in (remain/endure/submit to) Christ, prayers will be answered
  1. John 15:10—if you keep his commandments, you will abide in Jesus’ love
  1. John 15:12—Jesus’ direct command is to love one another
  1. John 15:14—you are Jesus’ friend if you do what He commands
  1. John 15:16—the disciples were chosen for the purpose of bearing fruit and loving one another
  1. Acts 2:38—repent and be baptized to receive forgiveness of sins
  1. Acts 3:19—repent and turn from your sins
  1. Acts 5:32—God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him
  1. Acts 6:7—obedience implied to be part of faith
  1. Acts 7:51—Holy Spirit can be resisted
  1. Acts 10:34-35—God, does not show favoritism (partiality), whoever fears him and works righteousness (does what is right) is accepted by him
  1. Acts 13:43—urging to continue in the grace of God
  1. Acts 14:22—urging followers to continue in the faith, implying that faith is by the will
  1. Acts 17:30—God calls all men everywhere to repent, but obviously not all do so
  1. Romans 1:5—term “obedience of faith,” implying a close connection to faith and obedience
  1. Romans 1:18—the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (does not say against unbelief)
  1. Romans 2:1-16—eternal life to those who obey the truth with well-doing, justification for doers of the law, God does not show favoritism
  1. Romans 3:31—we do not nullify the law, rather we uphold the law
  1. Romans 6:1-23—even though we are under grace rather than the law, we are still slaves to God and should offer ourselves to him in obedience, warning about cheap grace/easy believism, that the fruit leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life
  1. Romans 8:13—if you live by the Spirit you will live
  1. Romans 8:17—we are heirs to God if (provided that) we share in his sufferings
  1. Romans 8:28—God works for the good of those who love Him (a condition)
  1. Romans 10:18-21 (Isaiah 65:2)—God holds out his hand in an invitation but people refuse the invitation
  1. Romans 11:17-24—kindness from God provided that you continue in his kindness
  1. Romans 14:17-18—he who serves Christ in righteousness is acceptable to God
  1. Romans 15:4—Old Testament commands apply to New Testament believers in some sense
  1. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15—fire will test the quality of each man’s work
  1. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11—the unrighteous and evil doers will not inherit the kingdom of God
  1. 1 Corinthians 7:19—circumcision is nothing, keeping God’s commandments is what counts
  1. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27—run the race as a slave so as not to be disqualified for the prize
  1. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13—warning about falling away through sexual immorality, you must endure
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:2-3—if one has faith that can move mountains but does not have love, he gains nothing
  1. 1 Corinthians 15:2—salvation if one holds fast to the word (must persevere in the faith)
  1. 2 Corinthians 5:20—we are to implore others on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (implying man’s free will)
  1. 2 Corinthians 13:5-8—examine to see whether you are in the faith, that you may do what is right
  1. Galatians 5:6—faith working through love is what counts
  1. Galatians 5:19-21—those who live in hatred, idolatry, selfish ambition, etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God
  1. Galatians 6:7-9—the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life
  1. Ephesians 2:10—we are created for good works which God prepared beforehand
  1. Ephesians 4:17-24—Christians to put on a new self in true righteousness and holiness
  1. Ephesians 5:3-14—no fornicator or idolater has any inheritance, we are to walk in light bearing good fruit
  1. Ephesians 6:10-18—take up the shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one
  1. Philippians 1:27-30—strive for faith, not only to believe but also to suffer
  1. Philippians 2:12-18—you have obeyed, work out your own salvation, act in accordance with good purpose, hold fast, so that you may be blameless (Note: the text says to work out your salvation not work for your salvation)
  1. Philippians 3:12-21—press on toward the goal, hold true to what we have attained
  1. Colossians 1:9-10—request to walk in a way pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work
  1. Colossians 1:21-23—if you continue in your faith
  1. Colossians 3:5-11—we must put away impurity, covetousness, wrath, slander, etc. and put on compassion, humility, patience, etc.
  1. 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 8—Paul exhorted the Thessalonians in their faith, for if they stood fast in the Lord they were alive
  1. 1 Thessalonians 4:7—God has called us for holiness, whoever disregards this disregards God
  1. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9—those who do not obey the gospel shall be punished with everlasting destruction (compare to “faith of the gospel” in Philippians 1:27)
  1. 2 Thessalonians 2:10—those are perishing because they refused to love the truth and be saved
  1. 2 Thessalonians 3:6,13—in Christ’s name you are commanded to keep away from any brother who is walking not in accord with the tradition, do not grow weary in doing good
  1. 1 Timothy 2:3-6—God wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, Christ’s sacrifice was for all (but, of course, not all are saved)
  1. 1 Timothy 2:15—will be saved if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control
  1. 1 Timothy 4:1, 6:10—some depart from, wonder from the faith (implying can lose faith)
  1. 1 Timothy 4:8-10—godliness holds promise for the present life and the life to come, we labor and strive for the living God who is the Savior
  1. 1 Timothy 4:16—persevere in your gifts, life, and doctrine because if you do you will save both yourself and your hearers
  1. 1 Timothy 5:8—if anyone does not provide for his family he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever
  1. 1 Timothy 6:12-18—fight the fight of faith, be rich in good deeds as a firm foundation for the coming age so that they may take hold of the eternal life to which you were called
  1. 2 Timothy 2:12—if we endure we will also reign with him, if we deny him he also will deny us
  1. 2 Timothy 2:21-22—if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy
  1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17—Old Testament scriptures are valuable to New Testament believers
  1. 2 Timothy 4:7-8—Paul fought the good fight and kept the faith, hence was laid up for him the crown of righteousness
  1. Titus 1:16—those who profess to know God but deny him by their works are detestable (profession of faith insufficient)
  1. Titus 2:11-12—God’s grace has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and to live self-controlled lives
  1. Hebrews 2:1-3—we can drift away or reject salvation
  1. Hebrews 3:6-18—we are of Christ’s house if we hold fast, warning not to rebel and to be obedient in order to enter “rest”
  1. Hebrews 4:1, 11-13—let us be diligent/strive to enter God’s rest less we fall to disobedience, earnestness in order to have the full assurance of hope
  1. Hebrews 4:14-16—let us draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy
  1. Hebrews 5:9—Jesus is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him
  1. Hebrews 6:4-12—impossible to restore those who fall away, production of thorns and thistles in danger of being cursed
  1. Hebrews 7:25—Christ is able to save those who draw near to God through him
  1. Hebrews 10:26-27—if we deliberately keep on sinning no sacrifice for sins is left but a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire
  1. Hebrews 10:35-39—you have need of endurance (perseverance), so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised
  1. Hebrews 11:6-38—motivated by faith, Noah, Abraham, etc. obeyed, lived out the promise
  1. Hebrews 12:7-8—without discipline we are illegitimate children and not sons of God
  1. Hebrews 12:14-17—without holiness no one will see the Lord, see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God avoiding bitterness and immorality
  1. James 1:12-15—receive the crown of life by enduring temptation and loving God
  1. James 2:5—those who inherit the kingdom are those who love him
  1. James 2:17—faith without works is dead
  1. James 2:18-24—justification by works, not faith only
  1. James 2:24-26—justified by works and not by faith only
  1. James 4:6—humility earns God’s grace
  1. James 4:8-10—come near to God and he will come near to you
  1. 1 Peter 1:7—genuineness of faith tested
  1. 1 Peter 1:21-22—we purify ourselves by obeying the truth
  1. 1 Peter 2:1-2—ridding ourselves of malice, etc, is the spiritual milk that by it you may grow up in our salvation
  1. 1 Peter 4:17-19—salvation to the righteous and those who obey the gospel
  1. 2 Peter 1:10-11—make your election sure, if you do these things entrance will be provided you
  1. 2 Peter 2:20-21—turning away after knowing Jesus implies a worse outcome than if they had never known Jesus
  1. 2 Peter 3:9—God does not want anyone to perish, but that all should reach repentance
  1. 1 John 1:6-7—if we walk in the light and practice the truth, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin
  1. 1 John 1:9—God is faithful and just and forgiving if we confess our sins
  1. 1 John 2:2-6—the love of God is perfected in whoever keeps his commandments (for the whole world, not just the elect)
  1. 1 John 2:15-17—he who does the will of God abides forever
  1. 1 John 2:29—everyone that practices righteousness is born of him (Note: Many passages such as this do not necessarily show that one is saved by what one does. It could simply be that people who are already saved will afterward do good works.)
  1. 1 John 3:4-10—no one born of God makes a practice of sinning
  1. 1 John 3:16-24—whoever keeps his commandments and does what he pleases abides in Jesus and by this we know that he abides in us
  1. 1 John 4:12, 20, 21—-if we love our brother, God abides in us
  1. 1 John 5:2-3—for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments
  1. 1 John 5:18—everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning
  1. 2 John 1:6-9—do not lose what we have worked for, walk in and abide in the teachings of Jesus to win a full reward
  1. Jude 1:7—sexual immorality punished by eternal fire
  1. Revelation 2:2-11—good deeds, faithfulness, repentance, endurance as important to be granted the tree of life
  1. Revelation 2:7,17—the one who conquers will be given the tree of life and a new name written in stone
  1. Revelation 2:10—the crown of life goes to those who are faithful unto death
  1. Revelation 3:5—the one who conquers (overcomes) will be clothed in white garments and his name will never be blotted out from the book of life
  1. Revelation 3:8-12—those who kept (obeyed) the word of Jesus are spared the hour of trial and Jesus will write on them the name of God
  1. Revelation 3:20-21—Jesus will dine with anyone that opens the door when he knocks, the one who conquers will be granted a seat with Jesus on his throne
  1. Revelation 20:12-15—each judged according to his works, doers receive his blessing, others thrown into the lake of fire
  1. Revelation 21:5-9—the faithless, the immoral, the idolaters, the liars, etc. will be cast into the lake of fire
  1. Revelation 22:7—the one who conquers will have the inheritance.
  1. Revelation 21:27—no one who does what is detestable or false will enter the New Jerusalem
  1. Revelation 22:14-19—the tree of life is not for those who love and practice falsehood, nor is it for those who add or subtract from the words in the book of Revelation, but rather it is for those who do his commandments

Here is a classic charge of an Arminian toward Calvinism: “But that [the view that God arbitrarily chooses who is saved] totally nullifies the whole ethos of Jesus’ gospel! What was his purpose for giving us the Sermon on the Mount, if what Augustine [an early leader of Calvinist thought] taught was true? What was his purpose in warning us that we must build our house on the rock by obeying his teachings? If what Augustine said were true, we have absolutely no power to obey his teachings! So we can’t do any of the things He asked of us. Why would he exhort us to build on the rock if that decision had already been made by God before we were born? Why would Jesus have warned us that “he who endures to the end” will be saved, if there is nothing we can do to endure? What was the purpose of his parable of separating the sheep from the goats if that separation was already made before Jesus ever came to earth? Why did Jesus denounce the scribes and Pharisees if their actions had already been predestined by God? On what basis did the Pharisees have any guilt if they were simply living out the script God had written for them? What was the purpose of all the other warnings throughout the New Testament?” (David Bercot, The Kingdom Turned Upside Down, pages 204-205.)

Comment: This charge is common, but is largely one of misunderstanding of the Calvinist view. Most Calvinist theologians do not deny either man’s free will, nor the importance of obedience in the Christian life. Here is a quote from my book Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy:

The Greek Language

On the one hand we have a set of Scriptures that suggest that we are saved by the election and grace of God through faith, and that we are incapable of being good enough to earn our way to heaven.  And on the other hand we have a set of Scriptures that suggest that we are saved by what we do—or at least that we must participate in some way (and further that the Bible suggests that people can in fact be righteous, blameless, or upright some 240 times).

At first blush, these passages seem to contradict each other.  Assuming that the Bible is without error, these passages must not contradict each other.  It’s important to note that the writers of the Bible did not see these two seemingly different concepts as contradictory.  Examples from both lists are often seen together, sometimes even in the same sentence!  To make matters confusing, proponents of differing views point to some of the same passages in an attempt to prove their views! 

To believe in Jesus is also to accept the responsibility of that belief.  Accepting that responsibility implies the obligation to act in a way, as best we can—given our sinful fallen nature—to do what Jesus tells us to do.  An examination of the Greek language helps us understand that these two sets of Scriptures are not as far apart as one might at first think.

When the New Testament says that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved (John 3:16) the preposition in is the Greek word eis (Strong’s 1519)This word actually means into; but the English translation says in, because there is no English idiom that would use the term “believe into” something or someone.  But to get a proper understanding of what the Bible is saying, we understand the meaning to be that whoever believes into Jesus will be saved.  This understanding incorporates more than mere assent, as James points out in his epistle.  It implies a connection that is deeper than mere assent—that believing in Jesus means incorporating his ideas and teachings into our life.  So, if we believe in Jesus, we certainly would believe what he says, including his commands to behave in righteous ways.  Thus, the life of a believer in Jesus is, by definition, a changed and obedient life.

Also, we must consider Ephesians 2:8. This passage is a standard one used by Lutheran and Reformed scholars to prove salvation by grace alone through faith alone. However, some modern scholars believe that a key word in this passage has been mistranslated. The passage reads “for by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one may boast.” The key word is faith. These scholars argue that the Greek word here (pistis) is best understood as faithfulness. Strongs (4102)offers several synonyms including belief and faith but also fidelity! See

Lastly, the word usually translated as “obey” (obey the gospel) in Romans 10:16 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8 is the Greek word hupakouo (Strong’s 5219). This word is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority—hearken, be obedient, to obey” (emphasis added). So this instruction is somewhat like what a parent might say to a recalcitrant child: “Listen up, Buster! I’m telling you the truth!” Obedience is the implied result, but it is not the focus of the message. Similarly, 1 Peter 4:17 uses the same phrase obey the gospel. In this case the Greek word is apeitheo (Strong’s 544), which is the same word used in John 3:36 which is explained in the preceding paragraph. Understanding these words softens considerably the Semi-Pelagian’s insistence that obedience is a requisite for salvation.

Paul Verses James

            The most famous “works” passage is James 2:14-26. At first glance, it would seem that Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 passage is denying that works have any importance, while James seems to contradict Paul by insisting that faith without works is dead. The key to understanding this apparent contradiction is found in James 2:14. As translated by the New International Version of the Bible: “Can such faith [a faith without good deeds] save him?” The adjective such modifying faith suggests that there is a correct faith and an incorrect faith. He further explains in verse 18 that good deeds are evidence of a true saving faith.

We are saved by God’s grace through a living, penitent, persevering, and trusting faith in Jesus. Does it really matter whether that faith is purely a gift from God or results from man’s free will?


Every Christian sect makes a statement about how we are saved.  Let’s examine the various formulas in light of what the Bible actually says:

  • Some nominal Christians, when asked if they are going to heaven, will make a statement something like, “I’ve been a pretty good person, so I think I’ll go to heaven.” This statement is decidedly not Christian.  Christianity is unique among world religions by insisting that man is inherently sinful, certainly so imperfect as to be separated from a perfect and holy God.  Man cannot save himself.
  • Some Christians emphasize the second list containing the obedience passages while glossing over the first list.  This would seem to be an arbitrary emphasis given the extensive number of passages in the first list.  Such Christians fall under the category of legalism.  While they may give lip service to the concepts in the first list, they will attempt to explain away the depth of their meaning or conveniently ignore them.  They choose to place their emphasis on what we DO to earn God’s favor.  Legalism is a distortion of obedience that skews motive and purpose.  It can be arrogant and contemptuous of those who do not labor in the same way.  It squeezes humble kindness and compassion out of the heart.  Legalism fails to appreciate the depth of our sin and shows itself in self-righteousness, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.  It is outside the bounds of the historic orthodox Christian faith.
  • A more mainstream Protestant view is that we are saved “by grace alone through faith alone”—but end the story there.  This is, on its face, the formulation that came from the Reformation in a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church’s abuses of legalistic teaching—specifically that of “indulgences” by which people paid money for heavenly favors.  These Protestants say that good works are strictly a result of faith in gratitude for what God has done, but good works play absolutely no part in salvation itself, or at least that we need not persevere to be saved.  But we should see that this limited grace-alone view over simplifies justification.  First, it must gloss over or explain away the passages in the second list!  Those steeped in Reformed or Lutheran theology may be surprised to see how many passages in the second list actually put contingencies on God’s love.  Secondly, the practical aspect of this theology is that it leads to “cheap grace” or “easy believism” or “antinomianism” (which means the law has no place in Christian theology).  The result may be a congregation of “pew sitters” that don’t act out their faith in the way that Scripture requires.  They may become “Sunday Christians” that do not have a complete Christian worldview.  Because of the poor fruit that this view yields, it is suspect.  Actually, this formula if left unexplained is also a distortion, or an oversimplification, of the views of the Protestant Reformers, who certainly did not ignore the passages in the second list.

Further Comments on the Calvinist-Arminian Debate

Calvinists and Arminians often seem to talk right past each other. For example, Calvinists love to say how they believe in God’s sovereignty; but Arminians say, “Excuse me; we, of course also believe in the sovereignty of God too.” Then Arminians insist that what makes them different is that they believe in man’s free will; but Calvinists respond, “Well I beg your pardon; we also believe in man’s free will.”

Calvinists, we think, are often misunderstood. Their opponents often accuse them of believing that man’s sin nature is so ingrained that he cannot even do any good at all. This would be what is called “Utter Depravity.” But that is not what Calvinists teach. Instead, they teach “Total Depravity,” which means that every aspect of man’s nature is touched by sin. But Calvinists do not teach that man can do no good whatsoever. There are other misunderstandings and false accusations between the two groups. For example, Arminians—as well as many uninformed Calvinists themselves—are surprised when they find out that Calvinist theologians teach that man must persevere to be saved. And Calvinists are often surprised when they learn that Arminians agree with them that justification is 100% by God, and not by man.

The debate continues and will certainly not be resolved this side of heaven.

Reconciling the Views

There are really two issues in this debate. One issue is faith vs. works. The other issue is whether man ultimately has free will or not. Various theologians put interesting twists of interpretation on all of this. What about man’s free will? Calvinist Theologian John MacArthur says that man’s free will is limited to choosing among various sins.  But he is not free to choose salvation or righteousness.  (The natural man does not understand the things of God; things of God are foolishness to him; the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, etc.) Yet MacArthur recognizes various passages that suggest free will (Mat 28:19-20, Rom 1:14-15, 2 Cor. 5:20, 1 Tim. 3:2-6). The pleadings in these passages are the mechanism whereby God saves people he wants to save.

Other Calvinists say that man has free will only after God has chosen him to have it. Prior to that, “natural man” cannot possibly come to God.

Every Christian believes in predestination, because that is what the Bible teaches.  But just what is meant by this term varies.  It seems correct to say that predestination includes at least these elements:

  • God has predestined the ultimate outcome of his plan for the world.
  • God predestines the roll of groups of people, for example, the Israelites.
  • God acts to strengthen the proclivities of some people for his purposes (example Pharaoh in Exodus 14:14).
  • There are certain events that could not have failed to occur, such as Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection.
  • Some individuals are predestined to service or blessings on earth.
  • At least some people are indeed predestined to salvation for God’s specific purposes, but that does not necessarily mean that all people are predestined. (Who are the us Paul mentions in Ephesians 1 as being predestined? Could us be limited to those Christians to whom Paul is speaking?)

Perhaps we should be a bit more humble about our understanding of this. The exact relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is really something of a mystery—which theologians in every camp seem to admit when backed in a corner. Perhaps a metaphor from Scripture that might be helpful is the story in John 21 in which the disciples were unable to catch fish, but as soon as Jesus told them where to cast their nets they caught many fish. This would seem to be germane.  It was the men who apparently caught the fish, but only with our Lord’s guidance, initiative, and direction.

Focus on Unity

We believe that it is sinful to foster divisiveness in the church (John 17:20-23, Romans 14:1, 10, 13, 18, 19, 15:7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1-16, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 3:12-16, Titus 3:10). There is too much of this. It is a sad commentary on the Christian faith and it weakens the church. So it is important that we focus on what unites us rather than divides us.  Calvinists Peterson and Williams in their book Why I Am Not an Arminian (see bibliography, pgs. 77-91) make this statement:

Arminians and Calvinists agree that in order to reach heaven, Christians must persevere in believing the gospel [Matthew 10:22, Romans 11:17-24, 1 Corinthians 15:2; Colossian 1:21-23, Hebrews 3:6, 12], loving God and other believers [Matthew 24:10-13, John 15:9, 12, 17], and living godly lives [however imperfectly, John 15:10, 14, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Hebrews 3:13, 10:35-36, 12:14, 1 Peter 4:17-18, 1 John 2:2-6, 29, 3:3-10].  Easy believism, the view that persons are to be regarded as Christians who have made professions of faith but whose lives are unchanged, is incompatible with biblical teaching.

Peterson and Williams also make this most revealing statement (page 147):

Both God and the believer are fully active in the work of salvation, and active at the same time.  God is sovereignly active and man is responsively active.

These statements, which are emphasized and repeated in the book by Calvinists Peterson and Williams, may be surprising to some who may have a superficial understanding of Calvinism.  In addition to the requirement of perseverance for salvation, Calvinists and Arminians agree that man is responsible.  In the Reformation Study Bible, whose notes are Calvinist, says this (page 1821):

God’s promise of salvation is to those with a genuine, persevering faith (Matthew 10:22, 24:12, 13, Hebrews 3:6). True faith perseveres to the end and will inevitably bear fruit (Galatians 5:6, 22, 23).

Calvinist Sinclair Ferguson makes a similar statement concerning perseverance:

The picture is one of a dynamic, living trust in God who actively holds on to us so that we may persevere. There is no blanket guarantee of perseverance. There is no mere doctrine of “the security” of the believer, as though God’s keeping of us took place irrespective of the lives we live. Indeed, there is no such thing in the New Testament as a believer whose perseverance is so guaranteed that he can afford to ignore the warning notes which are sounded so frequently.

Perhaps Christians should be less dogmatic about this topic, and humbly admit that we really do not fully understand the relationship between the sovereignty of God and man’s free will.  And perhaps the best we can do is to agree, as most Christians do, that (a) God is ultimately sovereign, and (b) man is responsible.  As put by Rick Wade, “I have been given the responsibility to obey God.  But I’m thankful that the final burden of accomplishing His will doesn’t rest on me!  For that, I am to trust him.” 


Bercot, David.  Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (a book).  Also two CD’s by David Bercot: Does God View Our Righteous Acts as Filthy Rags and Paul and James. Scroll Publishing, (Bercot is an Arminian.)

Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Christian Life; A Doctrinal Introduction. (Ferguson is a Calvinist.)

Peterson, Robert A., and Williams, Michael D.  Why I Am Not An Arminian.  Intervarsity Press.

Walls, Jerry L. and Dongell, Joseph R.  Why I Am Not A Calvinist.  Intervarsity Press.

Here are some useful websites and links: (This site argues against Calvinism. The following site is a pro-con discussion about Doug Hamp’s article: (This is a discussion of Molinism, a form of Arminianism.) (This site defends Arminianism against Calvinism.)  (This site are about Reformed theology, that is, Calvinism.) and (These are about Lutheran views of Calvinism.) (This article discusses what John Calvin thought about free will.) (This article shows the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism.)

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