Posts Tagged ‘Order of regeneration and faith


Leighton Flowers’ View of “Conversion.”


Where Have All The Thinkers Gone?

I have known a few Southern Baptist pastors who have had their heads screwed on properly in regard to sound theology. Thanks to the efforts of Ernie Reisinger, Tom Ascol their tribe is increasing. Still, there are those in the SBC who call themselves “traditionalists” who imagine they have found a middle road between Calvinism and Arminianism, semi-Pelagianism, or Pelagianism.

According to their own statement, if they are not actually Pelagians, they would at least fall on the Pelagian side of Arminianism. Even the original Arminians did not believe sinners are born with a “free will.” They agreed with the Calvinists that sinners are born in a state of total depravity. They did believe God gives prevenient grace to all without exception, enabling all to accept Christ or reject him. I have yet to hear anyone venture a guess as to when God grants this supposed ability. There are a number of mysteries that surround this teaching that no one seems to wish to address. I would like to pose several questions that need to be answered before the discussion between Calvinists and Traditionals (hereafter referred to as TSB’s) can progress to a meaningful conclusion. The following are a few of them:

1. How do TSB’s define “free will?” Do they merely mean that sinners act freely in making their choices, or to they mean a person is able to choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is thoroughly averse? Do they mean a person’s nature has no bearing on his choices? If a will is to be truly free, it cannot be affected by anything, even nature.

2. If “prevenient [preceding] grace” cancels the effects of inherited depravity, does it essentially place the sinner in a state of neutrality? If so, are the recipient’s desire’s equally balanced between an affinity toward sin and hostility toward God and an affinity toward righteousness and love toward God? If so, what tips the balance? How can one ever make a decisive choice if his desires are absolutely contradictory but equally balanced?

3. In receiving this divine favor, has the sinner already received all the enabling God intends to give him? If he is left in such a state, could his condition be described as anything other than a dissociative disorder?

4. These people believe “Fallen man inherits a sinful nature.” This is part of the “O” in their acrostic “POINSETTIA.” When does that nature cease to be sinful and begin to be neutral? At what point is “free will” granted to the sinner? If it is granted at birth, why do biblical writers describe the unregenerate as rebels against God? If it is granted when a person hears the gospel, how can it be universal since all do not hear the gospel?

5. If God is not totally without control in his universe, could he not have caused that all would hear the gospel? In Acts 16:6-10, we learn that Paul and his companions tried to go into Bithynia to preach the gospel, but the Spirit did not allow them to go, sending them to Macedonia instead. Given the assumptions of the TBS’s, one would have to assume a God of love would see to it that every creature under heaven would hear the gospel? If he could have assured a universal proclamation of the gospel and didn’t, is he not being unfair? I speak as a fool.

6. If a sinner has the ability to love God, choose to obey his commandments, believe the gospel etc., why does he need to be regenerated at all?

The TSB’s have made a list of statements they with which they seem to assume Calvinists would disagree. Indeed, we would disagree with many of them, but much of their propensity to get their panties in a wad is based on their misunderstanding or misrepresentation of our beliefs.

Such people as Norman Geisler should be intelligent enough and careful enough to avoid the making brain dead statements. Yet, much of what he and others say in regard to this controversy has little to do with the real issues. He states that Jesus died for all sinners. Does he mean Jesus death is of sufficient value to save any and all who will believe? Does he mean we are warranted to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for sinners to every sinner with which we come in contact? Does he mean it was God’s intention in sending his Son to save sinners who had already perished in unbelief before Jesus died? He should be informed well enough to understand that the issue in the controversy over the atonement is not whether any sinner who believed would be saved by Christ’s death. It is whether Jesus’ death was effective in redeeming all God had intended to save.

The truth is that his problem is not with limited atonement, but with the sovereignty of God in salvation. The issue is whether salvation is all of God and all of grace or a cooperative effort between God and the sinner.

All he says is a misrepresentation of our beliefs. For him to claim Calvinists do not believe in the eternal security of the believer betrays one of two things about him. Either his scholarship is not to be trusted since he clearly has not investigated our beliefs adequately, or after having investigated our views, he has deliberately misrepresented what we believe.

Of course, we believe in the eternal security of the true believer in Christ. What we do not believe is the eternal security of everyone who has made a profession of faith. We believe “once saved, always saved,” but one must be once saved to be always saved.

I challenge some of these people to engage in a discussion of these issues. Please attempt an answer to some of these questions? Learn the real issues, and then confront them. Don’t spend your time burning straw men.


Arminian Presuppostion#7 Refuted

Arminian Presupposition #7. The Holy Spirit convicts all sinners in the same way, and it is this conviction that causes some sinners to believe the gospel.

Perhaps it will surprise you to know there is but one reference to the Spirit’s work of “conviction” in the New Testament Scriptures (John 16:8-11). It may be helpful in dealing with this Arminian presuppostion to consider these verses in some detail. There are several issues we need to investigate in regard to the Holy Spirit’s work in the sinner’s conversion. First, we should investigate the phrase “The Holy Spirit convicts.” Second, we should consider the contention that the Spirit convicts “ALL sinners.” Third, we should consider the idea that the Spirit convicts all sinners “in the same way.” And finally, we need to examine the idea that it is this work of conviction causes some sinners to believe the gospel, while others successfully resist his best efforts.

What does the Bible mean when it says “He will convict the world of sin?” We have been led to believe the Spirit’s work of conviction involves making people feel guilty for their sins so they will leave their sins and believe in Christ. We are told of people who are “under conviction,” which means they are feeling guilty. Sinners may and should feel guilty under this ministry of the Spirit, but the action itself is not the eliciting of feelings of guilt, but the pressing of the evidence on the sinner’s consciousness.

The reality is, “conviction” is about guilt, not about feeling guilty. I am not denying that a feeling of guilt may follow. I am simply saying that it is the proof of guilt not the feeling of sense of guilt that should follow that is in view. Whether the sense of guilt follows or not, the Spirit has done his work in pressing the evidence on the sinner’s conscience. Sinners who remain unregenerate will continue to “resist” [to fall against, or throw oneself against] the Spirit. In this sense the Spirit can be and always is resisted.

The word translated “convict” concerns demonstrating guiltiness. It is the same word Jesus used when he asked, “Which of you convinces me of sin” (John 8:46)? He did not mean to say, “which one of you can make me feel guilty of sin.” Instead, he meant which of you can present convincing proof that I am guilty of sin. The word means “to convince with proofs.” The Spirit’s work is not to make sinners feel guilty but to prove them guilty. A prosecuting attorney does not care whether the accused feels guilty or not. His job is to prove him guilty before the court. The Spirit’s work is to act as a prosecuting attorney. In conjunction with gospel proclamation, his work is to press the evidence of the sinner’s guilt, to convince with proofs. Whenever “the world” is confronted by the gospel, it is brought to a position in which it can no longer gainsay the evidence. It must either come to the light or reject it. As the Paraclete bears witness concerning Jesus, through the witness of the Christian community, the world is brought face to face with stark reality concerning its guilt and the consequent judgment. This work of the Spirit is quite specific. He will convince the world with proofs regarding three issues–sin, righteousness and judgment. The particular sin concerning which the Spirit prosecutes sinners is the crowning sin of Christ rejection. This is a continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry. His ministry was always an “in your face” confrontation concerning the natural person’s failure to love God and hostility toward God. In the previous chapter he had informed his disciples that because they were not of the world, the world would hate them. He, then, told them the world would hate them because it hated him first and that it hated him because it hated the one who sent him. Proper gospel proclamation coupled with the Spirit’s ministry of pressing convincing proofs of the sinner’s guilt on his conscience will leave sinners no quarter in which to conceal themselves. Jesus said, sinners continue in their guilt and condemnation because “they do not believe on me.” Thus, the sin in view is a sin against clear revelation. This is in keeping not only with Jesus’ teaching during his earthly ministry but also with the clear theme of light vs. darkness in John’s gospel. He wrote, “This is the condemnation that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. . . .”(John 3:19). Those Jesus calls “the world” always react in the same way toward him. The same is true of the Spirit’s ministry when he testifies [or causes believers to testify] of Jesus in the proclamation of the gospel. Stephen said to the Jews to whom he was preaching, “. . .you stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). “Always” it the key word in this sentence. Sinners in a state of nature will ALWAYS be guilty of the sin of Christ rejection.

Additionally, the Spirit will produce convincing evidence concerning righteousness. “Of righteousness because I go to the Father and you see me no more.” The evidence of Jesus’ righteousness is that he has gone to the Father and they see him no more. Only a righteous one could enter the Father’s presence and be accepted. This also offers a contrast to their imagined righteousness. Official Judaism had treated Jesus as a sinner, a lunatic, a demon-possessed person, but never as the righteous one he was in reality. The Spirit will press home the evidence that Jesus is all he claimed to be.

Finally, the Spirit will produce convincing evidence of coming judgment. That Jesus is exalted to the throne gives indisputable evidence that the ruler of this world has been judged [stands condemned]. Jesus’ triumph over the wicked one in his death, not only provides convincing proof of their judgment concerning him, but also of their impending condemnation.

I find it interesting that in Peter’s Spirit inspired sermon on the day of Pentecost, his message included these three elements. Of sin–“you have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”(v. 23). Of righteousness–resurrection and ascension–“God raised him up (v. 24). Of judgment–Jesus is enthroned, “Sit at my right hand, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES YOUR FOOTSTOOL” (v.35).

As we consider John’s teaching on these facets of the Spirit’s ministry it should become clear to us that this ministry is not carried on apart from the gospel witness. Since this is the case, there are certain conclusions that must follow:

1. Only if everyone in “the world” hears the gospel can every member of the human race be the subjects of this work of the Spirit. John apparently used the word “world” to indicate either the wicked and ungodly character of those whom the Spirit convicts in this way or that his ministry would be to people of every nation. It is possible it was a combination of these meanings. What is certain is that the Spirit does not “convict” every member of the human race.

2. If the Spirit does not convict “all,” he certainly does not convict all in the same way. However, there is no way of knowing with what variation of fervency the Spirit prosecutes those he convicts. My belief would be that the Spirit convicts all in the same manner.

3. Finally, in regard to the idea that “This work of conviction causes some sinners to believe the gospel, while others successfully resist his best efforts,” it seems to me the Scripture is clear. The Spirit’s work of “conviction,” in and of itself, is not successful in bringing sinners to faith any more than the gospel has the power, in itself, to bring sinners to faith. Consider Stephen’s words again–“. . .you always resist the Holy Spirit . . . .” The gospel is always foolishness to those who are perishing. What sinners need is not proof of guilt alone. What we need is a radial change of nature. The Spirit’s work of “conviction,” although essential and important, is not the only work God performs in bring his elect to himself through faith in Christ. It is God’s effectual call that unites sinners to Christ and ushers us into the blessings of the new covenant and the new creation to which it belongs. This work he performs in accordance with his eternal purpose.

Though I am not sure exactly what they meant by the following statement, even the Remonstrants admitted that faith is impossible apart from regeneration. They wrote,

Saving Faith.—Man in his fallen state is unable to accomplish any thing really and truly good, and therefore also unable to attain to saving faith, unless he be regenerated and renewed by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (John xv. 5). (Third Article of the Remonstrance of the Arminians).