Arminians are Not Christians, and Christians are not Arminians

Jerry Bridges, p34, Transforming Grace—“if you are trusting TO ANY DEGREE in your own morality, or if you believe that God will somehow recognize any of your good works as a reason for your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.”

II Corinthians 5: 15—“And He died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake both died and was raised.”

Let’s talk about II Corinthians 5:15. Who are the all? Is the verse talking to everybody? Or is II Corinthians 5:15 only talking to Christians? If Christ did not die for a person, how in the world could that person be commanded to live for Him who died for Him.?

Those who teach universal atonement (which then fails to atone!) use II Corinthians 5:15 to try to prove that Christ died for everybody. They assume that that we want to tell everybody to live for Christ. We want to tell everybody to be a pacifist. Or we want to tell everybody to kill Muslims to protect religious indifference and tolerance. In any case, the false gospel tells us, to do that, in order to challenge everybody with law and offers, we first need to tell them that Christ died for them.

But what about those of us who know and believe the true gospel? We know that II Corinthians 5:15 is not only about a representation but about a substitutionary representation: the same all for whom Christ died is the all who died. This death is not the new birth. This death is the legal death by imputation, by legal union with Christ. Romans 6: 3 explains: “to be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death.”

So when we read II Corinthians 5:15 to a group of people, we can’t ignore who we are talking to. We cannot fly off into rhetorical heights without asking: which people are being addressed by II Cor 5:15? Who is Paul talking to? And when the ambassadors say “be ye reconciled”, who are they talking to? Who is Romans 6 talking to?

We can’t just think: since we know that you and I are here then we know that the Spirit is taking this text and addressing you and me. We can’t say: I know that God is in love with me. We can’t say: I know that God is in love with you. We need to ask: are you in the new covenant yet? Are you born again yet? Have you been justified yet? Are you reading somebody else’s mail? How do you know if God loves you?

Surely we know that God will not start loving a person. Either God already loves a person or not. Surely God will not start loving a person conditioned on that person doing something or accepting something. We do love each other that way, and we should. Choosing a husband is all about being a “respector of persons”.

But God does not love a person based on a regard for what that person has done or will do. How then do you know if you are one of the ones God loves and for whom Christ died?

Let’s go back to II Corinthians 5:10—“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us will receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad.”

Since the judgment for all whom God loves (the elect) has already happened at the cross, there will no future judgment for Christians. There will not even be a side-judgment where extra goodies and rewards are passed out. Why then is the text, II Corinthians 5, which is talking to Christians, bringing up the judgment? The answer is that Christians are being told in this text that they are “ambassadors”, not so much to each other but rather to those who are still lost

Some of those who are still lost are the elect, who even though God loves them and has loved them, are right now ignorant of the gospel. And their ignorance, their Arminianism, their legal fears, all of that is evidence that these elect have not yet been justified by God.

And since the ambassadors to whom Paul is talking don’t know which of the lost are elect or not, they are to present the good news to all sinners, and to command all sinners to “ be reconciled”. The ambassadors don’t say: some of you have already received the reconciliation but just don’t know it.

The reconciliation is received passively (by imputation) and that has not yet happened for those who are still ignorant of the gospel and still living in legalism. Look back at the time language of Romans 5:10-11—“now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by His resurrection. We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

So why is Paul bringing up the judgment seat, when Christians have already passed through the judgment by imputation? Paul brings up “the fear of God” (Ii Corinthians 5:11) because the justified ambassadors need to remember that there are lost people around them who have not yet been justified who need to hear the gospel and be commanded to be reconciled.

We don’t say: well if Christ died for them, then they are already reconciled and justified. They are not. Nor do we say: well, anyway, it’s sure to happen. God works in history. God imputes in time what Christ has paid for in time. And God uses the gospel as the message heard and believed by the elect as they are being justified. So we “make it our aim to please Him.” (II Corinthians 5:9)

But who is the “we”? Who is the text addressing? The only people who can please God are the people God is already pleased with (and who know that God is already pleased with them).

We cannot and should not rhetorically assume that we are elect, and that we are one of the ones God loves, instead of one of the ones that God hates. We can repeat it, whisper it, emotionally grab your attention to assert that God is in love with us, but that all begs the question.

And this is important for three very important reasons.

1. II Corinthians 5 is not about an in-house talk between Christians about how they used to have had wrong motives. It’s not even Galatians, where some Christians are being tempted by some bad motives. This text is about evangelism. Of course I don’t deny that the text helps teach Christians about how reconciliation works. But the text is also about telling lost people: “be ye reconciled”. In other words, this chapter Is not your mail, but one day, if and when you are justified, then it will be.

II Corinthians 5:20—“we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

As ambassadors FOR Christ, we command and invite, “’be ye reconciled”. Even though the chapter is addressed to Christians only, the message taken by Christians to the lost is not for the elect only. “Be ye reconciled” is for those who have not yet been already justified.

Some “high Calvinists” don’t have a category for lost elect people. They would tell you that you were never lost, but that you only didn’t know you were already saved. I know that there are very few ‘high Calvinists” compared with all the “Reformed” Arminians, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to oppose the false gospel of the “all sovereignty and no righteousness” folks.

Some of the “high Calvinists” say to people who are still legalists: some of you didn’t know the motives and how reconciliation worked, but you were already reconciled.

The elect have already been judged at the cross; everybody else will be judged, since all will be judged. But not all who were judged at the cross have been” baptized into that death” yet. Since this is so, we don’t talk to people assuming that they are elect, or that they are in the covenant, or that we were always in the covenant. We were lost, and some of God’s elect are still lost.

To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, we don’t talk only about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell them that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But we also tell them: if you don’t know the gospel and believe it, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear.

If Christ did not die for you, you should be afraid. Being afraid won’t save you. But legal fear is the reasonable response to not knowing the gospel. Because not knowing the gospel means knowing that you are not yet justified.

I do not want to preach terror to Christians. But I never assume that everybody is a Christian. A guy can whisper as soft as anything that he was identified with Christ. I say some were, some weren’t, and that already. How do you know? Is it because you were baptised with water by a Reformed church? No, you needed to know if you are one of the ones for whom Christ died before you could be baptized with water.

Don’t say: there you go again on baptism. Forget the water for now. Do we address the people in church as if we are all elect, who have been believing the gospel all along? Or do we say: some of you may need to be reconciled. Nobody is born reconciled. Let’s not presume. Let’s not beg the question.

So first, when you read II Corinthians 5, think of evangelism. We are ambassadors for Christ to the lost Be ye reconciled.

Second problem. How do we know if we are reconciled yet or not? We know that Jesus and the all “have died” (verse 14) already. And “Christ reconciled us” (verse 18) also is in the PAST but we should not jump to the conclusion from the verse that this was at the cross, and so the elect were born already reconciled.

As those who read this blog much know, I think reconciliation is received (not made) at the time when there is imputation of the righteousness, the baptism into the death ….But, even on the assumption that all the elect were reconciled (and received it then) back at the cross, how do we know who was and wasn’t reconciled?

if I say I was, does that make so? Does that mean it is so?
You can’t get away from the question: am I elect or not? Did Christ die for me or not? Lots of people who think of themselves as Reformed are always ignoring and trying to get away from that question. They talk about being “born in the covenant”. They talk about becoming believers (in which gospel they often don’t say.)

God will save the elect. But can you say that even for a minute without assuming that you yourself are elect?

And here it gets practical after the emotional rhetoric has cooled off. If there is no before and after in the Christian life, if everybody who’s there listening to the words is being assured: that “God is your God, and God loves you”, some day somebody’s going to ask the naked preacher: how do I know it’s me He loves?

And if the words are “ God is my God, and God loves me”? Still later or sooner, some jerk in the back is going to ask, how do you know? And the sinner in the front can shout louder: I know. The elect just know. I know, and therefore I am elect. Even when I was operating out of fear and didn’t know the gospel, I know I still believed it.

look back to that Jerry Bridges quotation at the beginning of this essay. Instead of saying “I was lost”, most Reformed folks are still saying something else. They are saying “I was already saved”. They are saying .“ I believed the gospel but I didn’t live by it and was not motivated by the gospel.”

The divider in the back of the room, who likes being an accuser, asks ,”If you were operating out of legal fear instead of gospel motives, how then do you know you were justified all along?”

But how can you answer that, if there is no before and after in being reconciled and if all the reconciliation of all the elect all took place at one time? All this stuff this blog talks about such as legal imputation becomes pretty important, especially if you say that righteousness imputed demands immediate life (so that you know and love the gospel and have its motives). See Romans 8:10 (“life because of righteousness”.)

How do I know I am elect and now justified? Because I believe the gospel. Did my believing the gospel cause justification to happen? No! Did my justification cause me to believe the gospel? Yes. So what do you think about saying that ” I was born justified, or I was justified but did not know the gospel”, or saying that “I know that I believed the gospel even though all that time I was operating out of legal fear”?

I am not making a judgment about any person here.. Just because a Peter says he was operating out of legal fear doesn’t mean that he was. Maybe he wasn’t. Well, you could say, he sure got bad results, since he ended up betraying the Lord three times. That’s why he messed up so bad, because of his legal fears.

But we all still sin. We are still all getting bad results. The justified elect are still habitual sinners. They are still not doing so well in morality, when they are measured by God’s standards for morality.

My concern in this essay is not with the sinning, not even the big bad sinning. It’s with the confession that a person is not thinking gospel. If a person is not thinking gospel, then she’s lost. I don’t say always. I don’t say consistently. I know that the Galatians were not always being motivated by the gospel.

But there is a before and after, a beginning to believing the gospel. We can’t say: I was born believing it. We can’t say we were born reconciled and justified.

Maybe the question is about church. Who is the church? It’s the people who are not operating out of legal fear. We can’t be saying: they are Arminians but still in the church who need to be instructed. We can’t be saying: those elders are operating out of legal fear, but they are still in the church.

There’s an in and out. Ecclesia: called out, gathered together here from there, separated by doctrine. And this too is about the gospel. It’s not: “the people who are loyal to me are the church”. The question is: what is the gospel, and do you believe it?

But to talk about that we have to talk about the nature of the imputation and of justification. We can’t just do soundbites. Deciding who’s in the church is about deciding who knows and believe the gospel.

Problem three. What good does it do to hear another person say that he’s elect and thus loved? Better to say that there is an elect and a non-elect, and that Christ died for the elect.

“Christ died for me”. Ok fine, but what does that mean for me? Does it mean that since I am here listening to you say it, then I can say it also?

The gospel is not that you are elect (or that I am). The good news of what Christ did for the elect comes powerfully to those elect and tell them that this is the one way God saves the elect. Not: God loves you. Not: God loves me. But: God loves as many as are believing the gospel of Christ’s death for the elect.

The gospel can’t tell you that you are elect until you are believing it already. If you confess yourselves as still being motivated by legal fear, then how has the gospel made you to submit to what God says?

Either God is pleased with you or not. How do you know? Are you believing the gospel? You need to know this before you try to please God. Because you can’t please God if you don’t already please God. And you don’t please God yet if you haven’t believed the gospel yet.

For Christians only, there is no legal fear. But we do talk about legal fear of God to lost people who are not born justified.

Am I saying that we get lost and saved again every time that we fall into legal fear? No. Am I saying that we never are motivated by legal fear? No. But I am not still an Arminian. No Christian is still an Arminian. And no Christian should be addressed as though they were still Arminians. But plenty of people listening to us should be addressed as Arminians. Many who listen are still Arminians, still lost in their sins.

I am not still an Arminian. I am not characterised by legal fear. I am not threatening Christians with the idea that they are still Arminians. I am threatening Arminians with the idea that they are not Christians

When a person is operating out of legal fear, that person may have a very dutiful prayer and Bible reading life, but it’s all an abomination to God, dead works coming from a dead person.

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3 Comments on “Arminians are Not Christians, and Christians are not Arminians”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    The parallel of this are those who say some Arminians are elect even though they’re still Arminians, which is really just begging the question. How do they know these Arminians are elect? It’s an assumption, I think, born in part from taking the position all the elect are born justified but ignorant about it until a certain time. I mean after all, if the elect are born justified, if they have been justified from eternity but are just ignorant about it, then what’s to keep the Pope from being one of the elect, but only ignorant about his justification? People like James White sleep in this bed, and that’s a bad bed to be in. Means everyone becomes a brother, even when they’re not.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Mal 3:16 A book of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

    Prov 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

    Isa 11:2-3 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord…

    Heb 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.

    Jer 32:38-40 They shall become my people and I will become their God. I will give them one heart and one way of life so that they shall fear me at all times,.. I will fill their hearts with fear of me, and so they will not turn away from me.

    Acts 9:31– Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.

    Ps 103:11-17 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him… As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him… But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…

    Ps 33:18 The Lord’s eyes are turned towards those who fear him…

    Ps 115:13 The Lord will bless all who fear him, high and low alike…

    Ps 34:7 The angel of the Lord is on guard round those who fear him, and rescues them.

    Ps 90:11 Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    You wrote: “cheap grace” and easy believism are just cop outs. It’s a way of saying all things are not from God, through God and for God.

    mark: amen. I don’t know if you have had time to look at the 5 views on spirituality (sanctification) yet, but one thing always bugs me. When we talk about the correct view of the Christian life/response, we tend to imply that a person will get better results if they only take our view.

    On the one hand, I can say that a person taking a legalistic view is getting no results, is an abomination to God. Legalism is hostility to God’s law.

    When Jerry Bridges wrote (p17) that “Christian culture” promotes legalism, he should have said that “what calls itself Christian culture but is not Christian” promotes legalism. (Of course Bridges thinks that Arminians are Christians).

    “Christian legalism” gets results, but all those buildings and all that money and those colleges are not Christian.

    On the other hand, I don’t see much “Christian culture” among people who do know the gospel. I mean me.


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