“The Purpose and Power of the Gospel in Enabling the Lost.”
Text: John 20:31 and 2 Cor. 5:20
First, I’d like to thank Dr. Patterson for inviting me. We met for the first time at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual meeting where I was asked to speak at the Connect 316 Conference… apparently because I am a recovering 5 point Calvinist.
On that note, I’d like to speak today on one of the truths that led me to leave behind Calvinism, I want us to discuss “The Purpose and Power of the Gospel in Enabling the Lost.”
This is closely tied in with the doctrine of Human Responsibility. Because, after all, God does hold us all responsible to his very Words. Jesus said that his very word would judge us in the final day (John 12:48), and Paul teaches in 2 Thess. 2:10 that those who perish do so because “they refused to love the truth so as to be saved.”
So, clearly God holds mankind RESPONSIBLE to the truth revealed by his Word, the gospel of our salvation.
Now, most Calvinists are quick to say they affirm the Responsibility of Man, but they mean something very different than what most people think of when they say “responsible.”
When a Calvinist says that a fallen man “is responsible” he does not mean that the lost person is actually “able to respond.”
In fact, the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Inability clearly denies that a fallen man has the MORAL ability to willingly respond in faith even to God’s own appeals.
Calvinistic scholar, AW Pink, said it like this:
As a creature the natural man is responsible to love, obey, and serve God; as a sinner he is responsible to repent and believe the Gospel. But at the outset we are confronted with the fact that the natural man is unable to love and serve God, and that the sinner, of himself, cannot repent and believe (Pink, Sovereignty of God, 187).
Now, because of those two underlined words, most of us could actually affirm that statement, because none of us believe we can repent and believe if we were left to ourselves.
BUT WE HAVE NOT BEEN LEFT TO OURSELVES! GOD SENT CHRIST, THE HOLY SPIRIT AND HIS INSPIRED GOSPEL… We are not left to ourselves.
But, you have to understand this… Calvinists don’t believe that is enough. That don’t believe that what God did in sending Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Gospel in sufficient to enable man to respond.
They believe God has to even MORE…He has to regenerate us, or irresistibly change us inwardly to make us want to repent and believe.
Think about this: Calvinists believe that because mankind is born fallen they are morally unable to respond to God’s own appeal to be reconciled from that fall, yet God punishes them anyway.
When Calvinists says that fallen men are “responsible” they really mean they are “justly punishable even through they cannot willingly respond.”
In other words, they believe God punishes people for unbelief even though He decreed for them to be born unable to believe even His own Word.
- The doctrine of Total Inability isn’t to be confused with the doctrine of depravity. I want to go on record now clearly stating that I affirm the doctrine of human depravity… I’m a parent of 4…you cannot convince me that depravity is not true (illus: We drug her)
So, to be clear, I believe all orthodox Christians can and should affirm the biblical doctrine of human depravity.
So, please understand, I’m not just talking about the nature of fallen humanity, I’m talking about the sufficiency of the Gospel which was sent for the purpose of making an appeal to fallen humanity.
Paul said, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)
So, this disagreement with Calvinism is really about the power of the gospel, (the “power of God unto salvation” Rom. 1:16) — it’s not merely about the moral abilities of fallen man.
I can firmly agree with my Calvinistic brothers when they quote from Isaiah 55:11 saying, “my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
But the question is this. What is the PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL?
- Is the purpose of the gospel to inform the elect they were chosen?
- Is the purpose of the gospel, to make an offer you can’t refuse?
- Or, is the purpose what what John 20:31 explicitly states:
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The purpose is clear. God sent the gospel to make an appeal to those who are lost, so that they “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…”
So, please understand my point of disagreement with the Calvinistic brethren. I’m specifically addressing the Calvinistic doctrine of man’s innate moral INABILITY to respond willingly to God Himself…to God’s Holy Spirit inspired Word!
- You need to understand this… Calvinists tend to conflate man’s responsibility to believe and repent with God’s responsibility to save… which is why they will convincingly argue “Salvation is totally of God”
They make man’s responsibility and God’s responsibility into one thing under the label salvation and claim its all God’s responsibility. He is responsible for they saving, but he is also responsible for you believing.
Calvinists will typically argue three points:
- No one can seek God on our own (Rm 3)
- No one can fulfill the Law’s demands (Rm 8)
- All are spiritually dead in sin (Eph. 2)
And all of us can and should affirm these biblical truths …
- It is TRUE that no one can seek God on our own: But hear me brethren, WE ARE NOT ON OUR OWN! How does the fact that we can’t seek God prove that we cannot respond willingly to a God who is actively seeking us by the POWERFUL Holy Spirit inspired Gospel appeal?
Tell me this: Is proof that I can’t call the President on the phone, also proof that I can’t answer the phone if he were to call me?
Of course not. We all agree that God takes the initiative. The real question is whether or not you believe the Gracious Holy Spirit wrought truth of the gospel is a sufficient initiative from God.
- Number 2: We all agree that no one can fulfill the demands of the Law: But how does that prove no one can admit that fact and place their faith in the One who fulfilled the Law in our place?
Listen, the inability to be perfect doesn’t equal the inability to trust in the perfect On
- Third, we can all agree that we were all once dead in our sins and trespasses, but are we dead like Lazarus or dead like the Prodigal son? Calvinists insists this means we were corpse-like dead in the way Lazarus was while in the tomb. But, the scripture never draws this parallel.
Scripture does, however, draw a parallel between being spiritually dead and the Prodigal son while he was living in rebellion against his father. After he returned home to receive the unmerited grace of His father, it was said, “He was lost but now is found, He was dead and now is alive” (Luke 15:24).
- It’s almost like when a father says to a wayward son, “You are dead to me…” It’s an analogy of separateness, being in need of reconciliation or lost-ness.
Deadness is LOSTNESS, not a lack of moral ability to respond to God’s appeals to be reconciled.
No where does scripture teach that spiritual deadness equals corpse like inability to respond to God’s own gracious appeals.
If you want to take the Biblical analogy that far, then why is it that lost people have very different reactions to the gospel?
Remember, corpses can’t respond positively or negatively, or in any way in between — so that biblical analogy simply cannot be taken too far.
- See, the biblical analogy of being “dead” to someone is to be “an enemy…or to be separated ”… for instance Paul taught in Romans 6 that believers we are to be “dead to sin.”
But, obviously, that doesn’t mean believers become incapable of sin. It means that just as we were once “separate from God” and “enemies of God.” We now are to live “separate from sin” and to be an “enemy of sin.”
NOTHING in scripture suggests that the biblical analogy of being spiritually dead means “the corpse like inability to respond to God’s powerful, life-giving, Holy Spirit wrought TRUTH….Truth that Jesus described as having the ability to “set you free” in John 8:32
So we can agree with our Calvinistic brethren that we are born slaves to sin…
But, we believe God’s truth may set us free!
We can affirm with the Calvinists that we are by nature enemies of God…
But, we believe that Christ makes his appeal to all His enemies, “Be reconciled to God…”
We agree with our Calvinistic friends, “Mankind is spiritually dead and needs new life.”
But, we also agree with the apostle John who taught that God sent the gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31 (notice the order of that)
Calvinists insist that new life comes prior to believing, but that is simply not what the bible ever teaches. Let’s observe what the whole counsel of God teaches on this:
“Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”
The order clearly laid out is as follows:
- “Repent, cast away…Rid yourselves…”
- “…make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”
Verse 32 makes it even more simple:
- “Repent and…”
Life comes from repentance, not the other way around.
“yet you refuse to COME TO ME TO HAVE LIFE.”
Now, if Calvinism’s ordo salutis is correct, shouldn’t this read, “I refused you LIFE so that you could not come to me.”
The order is clear:
- “Come to me…” (through faith)
- “…to have life.”
“He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”
Look at the order:
- It is “…by faith” that
- “He purified their hearts…”
It does not say He purified their hearts by regeneration so as to make them have faith. Clearly a purified heart is a fruit of faith, not the other way around.
2 Corinthians 3:16
“… whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
The order clearly laid out is as follows:
- “…anyone turns to the Lord…” (by faith)
- “…the veil is taken away.”
Calvinists are well intending, but the “t” of their TULIP systematic not only undermines human responsibility, it undermines the POWER and the PURPOSE of the gospel itself.
The Gospel was not sent to inform a special elite group of elect people about how special they are, and The gospel is not an offer you can’t refuse…
The Gospel is Christ in you making an appeal and pleading with every man, woman, boy and girl, BE RECONCILED to God through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Cor. 5:20)
—-“Who are you, O man, to question God!?”
Back when I was here as a student of Southwestern–a young, restless and reformed Calvinist, I can’t tell you how many times I uttered those words in defense of my TULIP system.
I was convinced Paul was putting all you Free Will, synergistic idolaters in your place!
That’s what I thought until I came to learn that the objector in Paul’s diatribe is not a Synergistic Arminian standing in defense of free will while objecting to the horrible thought of God choosing to condemn most of humanity to eternal torment before the creation of the world.
Paul’s objector in Romans 9 is the same one in Romans 3 is a Jew who has grown calloused in his rebellion, and though loved by a patient and longsuffering Creator, this rebellious, stubborn Jew is now being “given over” or “hardened” in his rebellion.
And this hardened Jew is asking why he is to be blamed, or why is God just to bring wrath on him IF his rebellion is actually being used by God to bring about redemption.
God is never said to harden anyone who has not already grown hardened by their own free choice. God longs for Israel’s salvation and has held out his hands to them all day long, Paul says in the very next chapter.
In fact, the same Jews who are cut off in chapter 9 for their unbelief, are potentially grafted back in “IF THEY LEAVE” their unbelief according to chapter 11.
The same Jews who are stumbling in chapter 9, are said to “NOT HAVE STUMBLED BEYOND RECOVERY” according to chapter 11.
The same Jews who are hardened in their unbelief in chapter 9, are those Paul hopes to provoke by envy so that they too may be saved according to chapter 11.
So, the diatribe in Romans 9 is not about synergism verses monergism, as some would like to frame it. It is about Israel pursuing righteousness by works of the law versus pursuing righteousness by faith.
Back when I was a Calvinist, I don’t believe I rightly understood the Potter and Clay analogy in Romans 9.
I used to think Paul was teaching that the Potter molded and used His vessels however it suited Him in the pursuit of His ultimate goal of Self-glorification.
It’s was all about God’s effort to glorify Himself, even at the expense of humanity
Later in life, I came to understand this analogy in a much different light. I now believe the scriptures reveal a Potter who manifests His glory by sacrificing Himself for the undeserving vessels, not by making vessels morally disabled from birth so as to condemn them in order to display His glory.
In other words, I have come to believe that God is most glorified not at the expense of His creation, but at the expense of Himself for the sake of His creation.
I like the way Dr. Jerry Walls put it…
“God cannot fail to be perfectly loving any more so than He can lie. You don’t have to have children, but if you do you take on an obligation to love them. God’s freedom was in the freedom to create, or not. He didn’t have to create. But once having created, as a necessarily good and loving Being, He cannot but love what He has created. Love is not an option with God…It’s not a question of whether or not God chooses to love, it is WHO HE IS. GOD IS LOVE.”
This is not a weakness of God, but it is His greatest and most self-glorifying strength. Is it a weakness that I am unable to willingly strangle one of my own children to death? No! That is a strength!
God’s inability to be unloving is not a short coming of God’s strength and power, but the greatest most glorifying characteristic of His eternal nature! To declare God’s universal self-sacrificial love to the entire world reveals God for what makes Him so abundantly glorious! His Love.
We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies.
Jesus taught us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worse enemies, WHY?
Because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.
When God invites His enemies to be reconciled, He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11).
And the Prophet Hosea said, “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hos. 3:1).
Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace. The Gospel is God’s appeal to every man, woman, boy and girl to be reconciled through faith in Christ.
Listen…the only thing more devastating than a lost soul, is a lost soul with no one looking for her. A lost soul that is unwanted by her own God. A lost soul born rejected and hated by her Maker. A lost soul without hope of salvation.
I’m here to tell you that lost soul doesn’t exist on this planet. God genuinely loves and longs for the salvation of every individual and that truth must continue to be the cry of the church, because it was the cry of Christ.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29-29)
HERE is a great resource to support this interpretation of John 20:31 from the original language. (From Thomas “Willie” Adams, PhD)