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The Doctrine of Salvation

1. Introduction

The doctrine of salvation is the central message of Scripture. The Bible is the story of God’s revelation of Himself in terms of His saving acts toward man.

Man had hardly fallen when God promised deliverance from the hold of sin.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen 3:15)

The entire Old Testament anticipates the coming of Jesus Christ, while the New Testament recorded that event and gave us its meaning.

2. Man’s need for salvation

At the foot of the crossMan had fallen and could not out of himself come back to God. His fall was complete, and so the salvation provided – not merely potentially but actually – had to be complete.

To this problem of unity [of nature and grace] of which we have been speaking, the Reformation gave an entirely opposite answer from that of the Renaissance. It repudiated both the Aristotelian and the Neoplatonic presentation. What was the Reformation answer? It rejected the old and growing humanism in the Roman Catholic Church, and it rejected the concept of an incomplete Fall resulting in man’s autonomous intellect and the possibility of a natural theology which could be pursued independently from the Scriptures. The Reformation accepted the biblical picture of a total Fall. The whole man had been made by God, but now the whole man is fallen, including his intellect and will. Only God was autonomous.

This was true in two areas. First of all, there was nothing autonomous in the area of final authority. For the Reformation, final and sufficient knowledge rested in the Bible – that is, Scripture alone, in contrast to Scripture plus anything else parallel to the Scriptures, whether it be the Church or a natural theology. Second, there was no idea of man being autonomous in the area of salvation. In the Roman Catholic position there was a divided work of salvation – Christ died for our salvation, but man had to merit the merit of Christ. Thus there was a humanistic element involved. The reformers said that there is nothing man can do; no autonomous or humanistic religious or moral effort of man can help.1

The Reformers saw mankind as totally fallen, and thus in great need of salvation. For further reading on the state of man read the study Anthropology and Hamartiology.

Man’s total depravity can be seen on our televisions, in our newspapers, magazines, music and what to day is called art. One of the greatest pointers toward man’s depravity today is the homosexual agenda. Homosexual argumentation is wholly based on non-moral terms. According to them it is an alternative lifestyle and merely a matter of one’s sexual orientation.

At the heart of the argument is the notion that one’s sexual behavior is not a matter of choice. Homosexual tendencies are determined by genetic, not environmental causes—or so the argument goes—and therefore homosexuality cannot be inherently immoral. But in the first place, researchers have not been able to establish that homosexual tendencies have any genetic causes. Even if such a cause could be established, however, would that alter the fact that God’s Word declares homosexuality to be immoral? Humanistic psychopathology has been attempting for years to blame all sorts of sinful behavior—alcoholism, drug addiction, habitual criminality, and sexual perversion—on genetic causes. That whole line of argument misses the obvious point that Scripture clearly teaches we are all born utterly sinful. Everyone has an inborn tendency to sin. That does not release us from the guilt of sinful actions.

And what is the next “alternate lifestyle” or “sexual orientation” to be legitimized? Sadomasochism—sex mixed with brutality? Bestiality—sex with animals? Necrophilia—sex with corpses? Or perhaps pedophilia—sex with children?

You might be shocked to know that homosexual pedophiles already have an advocacy group: NAMBLA—“National American Man Boy Love Association.” NAMBLA’s slogan is “Sex by eight, before it’s too late.”2

MacArthur gives more examples of how the homosexual agenda has influenced society as far as judicial levels.

In his first year as president of the United States of America, Bill Clinton appointed as much as seventeen (17) homosexuals and gays to public office and then splashed out on a breakfast reception as a celebration.3 Because two female students in Wisconsin who advertised for a third roommate to share their private residence, rejected a lesbian applicant, they were forced to pay the lesbian applicant $1,500 for her distress by the state Human Rights Commission.4 Groups such as Big Brothers, who match up men with fatherless boys for companionship and role modelling, have been forced by homosexual rights laws to advertise in homosexual newspapers. Government pressure has forced Big Brothers to include homosexual applicants in their processes. Even the Boy Scouts have received pressure to accept homosexuals as scoutmasters.5 Sin and depravity have become something to proclaim from the rooftops and to acknowledge the involvement in all kinds of vile actions has become a badge of honour. Man no longer accepts the things of God. Fifty years ago it would have been very normal to speak openly of God in the marketplace and the workplace. Today it is normal to find God banned from our schools and to be called a bigot or intolerant for standing up for God and morality. That man is not improving but rather slipping deeper into the slums of sin and depravity is a fact. Simply turn on your TV!

Man is totally depraved in his nature. Man’s intellect has been darkened to such an extent that he simply cannot understand the things of God. Why can the natural man—the man without Christ—not welcome the things of God? First, the things of God “are foolishness to” to the natural man (1 Cor 2:14). Second, the unbeliever “cannot understand them.” (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 3:11; Tit 1:15) The unbeliever does not have what it takes to discern the truth of the things of God. It is not that man will not; man simply cannot! Third, the things of God “are spiritually appraised.” The will of man is bound as slaves to sin (Rom 6:6, 16, 17, 20, 22).

[7] because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, [8] and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)

The will of man is not even able to set itself on the things of God. Why can the will of man not break free by itself from its servitude to sin and take that much-needed step to God?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?  (Jer 17:9 RSV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph 2:1)

Read more about man’s “free” will and man’s enslavement to sin in my article called Who’s Free: God or "Man"? A study on the "choices" of man in salvation.

3. Election: The basis of our salvation

What is the basis of our salvation? Understand that I am not asking what are the results of our salvation? What or Who instigates our salvation? It is here that we tackle the subject of election. Election can be seen as a subsection of predestination, which in the Reformed sense is broader, since it includes election—for believers—and reprobation—for unbelievers.

Election is seen differently by differing groups. Here are the views of some.

3.1 Arminian View

Foreknowledge and election are not inconsistent with free agency. The elect were chosen to eternal life, upon condition that God foresaw that in the perfect exercise of their freedom, they could be induced to repent and embrace the gospel.6

As Finney wrote here, the Arminian view of election is squarely based on God’s foreknowledge. Finney, however, does show the illogical notions of many Arminians. Finney writes:

[God] must have had all the reasons He ever will have for election, from eternity, because He always has had all the knowledge of all events that He ever will have; consequently He always or from eternity chose in respect to all events just as He always will. There never can be any reason for change in the Divine mind, for He never will have any new views of any subject. The choice which constitutes election, then, must be an eternal choice.7

A page later Finney contradicts himself:

4. The election of some is no bar to the salvation of others. 5. Those who are not elected may be saved, if they will but comply with the conditions which they are able to do.8

Then, one more page later he writes:

that the only reason why the non-elect will not be saved is, because they pertinaciously refuse salvation.9

If God, as Finney testifies, “always has had all the knowledge of all events that He ever will have,” then did God not see those non-elect that Finney says might be saved if they just “comply with the conditions which they are able to do?” Isn’t it simple double-speak when he then goes back to say that there is a “reason why the non-elect will not be saved?” Finney, in effect, says that election is based on God’s foreknowledge—which is eternal and perfect, or He is not God—and that the non-elect can still get saved if they keep to the rules, but they just won’t. What kind of election does God do here.

The general Arminian view is as follows:

First, election is a sovereign act of God even though God did not have to elect anyone. Second, in an act of grace He chose those who were totally undeserving. Third, election was in Christ and based on the merits of Christ. Fourth, God chose those He knew would believe in Christ. Appeal for the merits of this point is made to Rom 8:29-30 and 1 Pet 1:1-2. Fifth, according to God’s common grace He grants all men sufficient ability to accept Christ.

This [Tit 2:11] results in the freeing of the will in the matter of salvation. In this way man can make an initial response to God, as a result of which God can give him repentance and faith.10

3.2 Barthian View

According to Barth God primarily elected Jesus Christ. Secondarily, God elected the community and lastly, the individual. The final conclusion to Barth’s idea of election is that Christ is the elect One, and all that are in Christ are therefore elect. All that an individual then needs to do is accept the Elect One, and will be part of the elect.

3.3 Calvinistic View

According to this view, God elects unconditionally. There is absolutely nothing in man that merits God’s choice. Berkhof outlines the attributes of election as follows:

  • Election is an expression of God’s sovereign will, which is His good pleasure (Rom 5:8; 9:11; 2 Tim 1:9).
  • Election is immutable and therefore the salvation of the elect is rendered certain (Rom 8:29-30; 11:29).
  • Election is from eternity (Rom 8:29-30; Eph 1:4-5).
  • Election is unconditional. It does not depend on the foreseen faith of man or any good works he has done. Election rests on the good pleasure of God (Rom 9:11; Ac 13:48; 2 Tim 1:9).
  • Election is irresistible (Ps 110:3; Phil 2:13). On this point Berkhof says that it does not mean that man cannot resist election to certain degree, but that resistance will not prevail. However, this also does not mean “that God in the execution of His decree overpowers the human will in a manner which is inconsistent with man’s free agency.”11 Yet, it does mean that God can exercise such an influence on man as to make him willing.
  • Election cannot be charged with injustice. Only if God owed forgiveness to all mankind can it be said that election is an injustice. However, God owes no man anything (Mt 20:14-15; Rom 9:10-14).

In the Calvinistic View the Ordo Salutis—order of salvation—is as follows:

  1. Election( God’s choice of who will be saved)
  2. The call of the gospel (when the gospel is preached)
  3. Regeneration (being born again)
  4. Conversion (faith and then repentance)
  5. Justification (our right legal standing before God)
  6. Adoption (our membership in God’s family)
  7. Sanctification (correct conduct)
  8. Perseverance (remaining faithful to the Lord)
  9. Death (leaving this life to be with the Lord)
  10. Glorification (resurrection and resurrection body)

3.4 What does the New Testament teach on predestination?

It is quite inescapable that there are several passages in the New Testament that seem to affirm very clearly that God beforehand ordained those who would be saved.

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Ac 13:48)

Luke writes this almost in passing, as if this was the most natural thing to write. He seemed to be at ease with the fact that some are appointed to eternal life.

[28] And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. [29] For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30 NIV)

On this verse Arminians tend to believe that this verse speaks of a predestination to a certain privilege—being “conformed to the likeness of” Christ—and not to salvation. However, that notion does not fit squarely into this passage, since those who are said to be predestined are still not children of God, as Paul speaks of predestination here before any calling or justification.

[11] for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, [12] it was said to her, THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER. [13] Just as it is written, JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED. (Rom 9:11-13)

The choice of Jacob over Esau had nothing to do with anything either of the two had done, whether works or faith.

Even within the nation of Israel there were two distinct groups: the elect and the rest.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, (Rom 11:7 ESV)

God’s choice of us as believers was made in eternity past while we were yet a glimpse in the eye of God.

[4] just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love [5] He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, [6] to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6)

There are more passages that speak of our predestination or election to salvation (1 Thes 1:4-5; 2 Thes 2:13; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:1 [12]; Rev 13:7-8; 17:8).

Grudem13 gives us three ways that the New Testament presents election. First, the New Testament presents election as a comfort. In Romans 8:28 Paul tells us that God causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. How does Paul substantiate this statement? In verse 29 he bases his point on the fact of God’s predestinating work. Pauls’ point, therefore, is that God has always acted for the good of those whom He called to Himself. Second, the New Testament presents election as a reason to praise God. Reading in Ephesians 1:5-6, we find that “in love He predestined us” to be believers, which is “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” This salvation that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1, he consistently sees as a reason to praise God (vv 12, 14). Paul picks up this idea of praise for our election in 1 Thes 1:2 - 4. He again does so in 2 Thes 2:13. Third, the New Testament presents election as an encouragement to evangelism. Paul’s very own life and suffering was for the sake of the elect “so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 2:10). Paul has always understood that God has chosen some to be saved, and therefore was willing to endure great suffering, because Paul was encouraged to preach the gospel for the sake of the elect.

3.5 Objections to the Biblical doctrine of Election

3.5.1 Election is fatalism

The essential difference between them is that Fatalism has no place for a personal God. Predestination holds that events come to pass because an infinitely wise, powerful, and holy God has so appointed them. Fatalism holds that all events come to pass through the working of a blind, unintelligent, impersonal, non-moral force which cannot be distinguished from physical necessity, and which carries us helplessly within its grasp as mighty river carries a piece of wood.14

God’s act of election was not impersonal or mechanistic. God’s love was the driving force to the saving of the elect.

[5] In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, [6] to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:5-6)

Scripture in no way sees us as mechanistic in our responses, in fact, we are invited many times to do as the Lord wants for us (Mt 11:18; Rev 22:17; Jn 5:40; Mt 23:37; Jn 3:18 ). Scripture shows us as invited, yet many refuse to respond positively to the invitation. This surely is not a mechanistic picture that Scripture paints for us!

3.5.2 Election is inconsistent with the free agency of man

Does the doctrine of election deny all gospel invitations that appeal to our will to make a choice whether to respond to the gospel or not? This doctrine is fully able to accommodate the concept of us having a voluntary choice whether to follow Christ or not. What is a voluntary choice? It is a choice of what we want to do and what we decide to do. Yet, in everyday life, do we genuinely make absolute voluntary choices? I propose that we are unable to make absolute voluntary choices. We are daily influenced by advertising on TV, radio, in newspapers, by opinions of those we respect and also by those we fear or feel inferior to. We grapple daily with choices. Each influence on our lives has a bearing as to the next choice. There just is no thing such as an absolute voluntary choice. We may think that we have made absolute voluntary choices, but all the years we have lived up to this day have influenced us to make the choice we have just made.

In the same way, God can sovereignly move upon our desires that it can still be understood as a real choice. The fact that God created us also gives Him divine right to ordain those choices as real choices. God therefore causes us to choose Christ voluntarily.

While the act remains that of the individual, it is nevertheless due more or less to the predisposing agency and efficacy of divine power exerted in lawful ways. This may be illustrated to a certain extent in the case of a man who wishes to construct a building. He decides on his plan. Then he hires the carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc., to do the work. These men are not forced to do the work. No compulsion of any kind is used. The owner simply offers the necessary inducements by way of wages, working conditions, and so on, so that the men work freely and gladly. They do in detail just what he plans for them to do. His is the primary and theirs is the secondary will or cause for the construction of the building. We often direct the actions of our fellow men without infringing on their freedom or responsibility. In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions. His will for the course of events is the primary cause and man's will is the secondary cause; and the two work together in perfect harmony.15

3.5.3 Election precludes unbelievers from believing

The Bible nowhere allows us to say that unbelievers had no chance to believe. The rejection of the gospel by unbelievers is cited by the Scriptures as the reason for the damnation of the non-elect. The Scriptures never blame the decrees of God, but only man (Jn 5:40; 8:43-44; Mt 23:37; Rom 1:20).

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:18)

On the other hand, how can the created being blame the One that created it. The potter has absolute command of the clay, and can make with it what it wants.

[20] On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, Why did you make me like this, will it? [21] Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? [22] What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? [23] And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, [24] even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Rom 9:20-24)

3.5.4 Election is unfair

Humans have this warped idea that all should be fair. If you buy a birthday gift for one child that costs $100, then you should buy $100 gifts for each of your children for their birthdays. Life does not work like this. It would be much better to get something for each child that suits that child at that specific time in that child’s life.

When we look at the parable that Jesus told about the owner of the vineyard that went out at different times of the day to get labourers for his vineyard, then we find out what is fair (Mt 20:1-16). Each labourer, whether he worked for the day or just an hour received a denarius. The ones that worked for the whole day complained about this situation. What did the owner of the vineyard say?

[13] ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? [14] Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. [15] Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' (Mt 20:13-15)

What would be perfectly fair for God is not to save anyone. This was His actions with the angels who sinned (2 Pet 2:4). Those angels who sinned He cast “into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” They did not get a second chance. The fact is, that if God saves any at all, it shows His grace goes “far beyond the requirements of fairness and justice.”16 Paul knew how to see God’s choice of some to be saved, those whom He predestined to be adopted as His sons through Christ. Paul saw that election was “to the praise of his glorious grace.” (Eph 1:6)

You may say that it is not fair for God to create people He knew would sin and be eternally condemned; people He did not intend to save. Paul demonstrates the answer to this very objection to election in Romans 9.

[18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. [19] You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"  [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"  [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?  [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— [24] even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:18-24 ESV)

As Creator, God has rights of His own to make with what is His what He desires. We are the creatures, and ultimately we have no basis from which to accuse the Creator of any unfairness or injustice. Justice would have demanded the death of all!

If God ultimately decided to create some creatures to be saved and others not to be saved, then that was his sovereign choice, and we have no moral or scriptural basis on which we can insist that it was not fair.17

3.5.5 Election contradicts the universalistic passages of salvation

According to this objection, election contradicts the universalistic passages of Scripture that say that God wants all to be saved. This would include passages like 1 Tim 2:4 and 2 Pet 3:9.

In the Reformed view—that of the author—a common solution would be that these verses explain God’s revealed will—God’s desire as to what He wants us to do—and not God’s hidden will—God’s plans as to what will actually happen. What these passages reveal to us is that God invites and commands all to repent, but they do not reveal what the rest of Scripture already revealed to us… God’s secret decrees as to who will be saved.

Many Arminians, at this point, will scoff at the concept of the paradoxical notion of two divine wills concerning salvation. However, they never do answer the question as to why all are not saved. The fact that all are not saved, must prove to Arminians that God wills certain things more strongly than He wills the salvation of all mankind. According to their idea of the ordo salutis, God wills to keep the free will of man intact more than He wills to save anyone. This also sets up a two-will dichotomy in the mind of God. Even though God wills to save all mankind (1 Tim 2:5-6; 2 Pet 3:9), He also wills, on the other hand, to keep the free choice of man intact. In fact, God wills the free choice of man more than He does the salvation of man. Therefore, even the Arminian must say that God does not will all to be saved in an unqualified way, but that 1 Tim 2:5-6 and 2 Pet 3:9 refer to only one aspect of God’s will.

Calvinists and Arminians agree that Scripture reveals to us what God wants us to do, and that is that we need to repent and accept the invitation to salvation. However, on either side it must be acknowledged that there is something apart from salvation of all mankind that God has given higher importance to. To the Arminian it is man’s free will, and to the Calvinist it is God’s own glory.

Arminians are the first to say concerning universalistic passages, that all means all. In this regard I believe they simply do not want to look at the context of the word. A text without a context is a pretext.

In like manner the word "all" is unmistakably used in different senses in Scripture. In some cases it certainly does not mean every individual; e. g., of John the Baptist it was said, "And there went out unto him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins," Mark 1:5. After Peter and John had healed the lame man at the door of the temple, we read that "all men glorified God for that which was done," Acts 4:21. Jesus told his disciples that they would be "hated of all men" for His name's sake, Luke 21:17. Paul was accused of "teaching all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place" (the temple), Acts 21:28. When Jesus said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself," John 12:32, He plainly meant not every individual of mankind, for history shows that not every individual has been drawn to Him. He certainly does not draw the many millions of heathens who die in utter ignorance of the true God. What He meant was, that a large multitude from all nations and classes would be saved; and this is what we see coming to pass. In Heb. 2:9, we read that Jesus tasted death "for every man." The original Greek, however, does not use the word "man" here at all, but simply says, "for every." So in principle, if the meaning is not to be limited to those who are actually saved, why limit it to men? Why not include the fallen angels, even the Devil himself, and the irrational animals?18

The word “all” is sometimes used to teach—especially the Jews who wanted to exclude the Gentiles from salvation—that the gospel is for the Gentiles as much as for the Jews. The Jews of Jesus’ time, especially the Pharisees, held to an extreme form of exclusivism, and saw Gentiles as dogs, unclean and common. It was not lawful for a Jew to have any dealings with a Gentile (Jn 4:9). For the Jew, there were only two classes of men; Jews and Gentiles. As a result the salvation of the Gentiles was a mystery not made known in previous ages (Eph 3:4-6; Col 1:27; Ac 10:1-11:18). When Scripture says that Paul was to “be a witness for Him to all men” (Ac 22:15), it simply means that Paul was to be a witness to Jews and Gentiles alike. This passage certainly does not mean that Paul had to be a witness to every individual among men! All Christians in all ages have not been able to witness to every individual among men, how would Paul do that in his own lifetime? Context, context!

When it is said that Christ died "not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world," I John 2:2, or that He came to "save the world," John 12:47, the meaning is that not merely Jews but Gentiles also are included in His saving work; the world as a world or the race as a race is to be redeemed. When John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" he was not giving a theological discourse to saints, but preaching to sinners; and the unnatural thing then would have been for him to have discussed Limited Atonement or any other doctrine which could have been understood only by saints. We are told that John the Baptist "came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him," John 1:7. But to say that John's ministry afforded an opportunity for every human being to have faith in Christ would be unreasonable. John never preached to the Gentiles. His mission was to make Christ "manifest to Israel," John 1:31; and in the nature of the case only a limited number of the Jews could be brought to hear him.

Sometimes the term "world" is used when only a large part of the world is meant, as when it is said that the Devil is "the deceiver of the whole world," or that "the whole earth" wonders after the beast, Rev. 13:3. If in I John 5:19, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one," the author meant every individual of mankind, then he and those to whom he wrote were also in the evil one, and he contradicted himself in saying that they were of God. Sometimes this term means only a relalively small part of the world, as when Paul wrote to the new Christian Church at Rome that their faith was "proclaimed throughout the whole world," Rom. 1:8. None but believers would praise those Romans for their faith in Christ, and in fact the world at large did not even know that such a Church existed at Rome. Hence Paul meant only the believing world or the Christian Church, which was a comparatively insignificant part of the real world. Shortly before Jesus was born, "There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled,"..."and all went to enroll themselves," Luke 2:1, 3; yet we know that the writer had in mind only that comparatively small part of the world which was controlled by Rome. When it was said that on the day of Pentecost, "there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven," Acts 2:5, only those nations which were immediately known to the Jews were intended, for verses 9-11 list those which were represented. Paul says that the Gospel was "preached in all creation under heaven." Col. 1:23. The goddess Diana of the Ephesians was said to have been worshipped by "all Asia and the world," Acts 19:27. We are told that the famine which came over Egypt in Joseph's time extended to "all the earth," and that "all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy grain," Gen, 41:57.19

Even in our own daily lives do we use the term world to mean a certain context, whether it means the business world, the world of technology, the educational world or perhaps the political world. We rarely use the term “world” to mean every individual in the world!

3.5.6 Election discourages exertion on our part

This objection, that election discourages any motives toward any exertion on our part for the salvation of mankind, does not take into account all of Scripture. Why should we even bother preaching the gospel if God has already chosen who will be chosen anyway? This question is itself its own answer. The ends are not determined without the means. The end is salvation and the means the preaching of the gospel. Perhaps no one in Scripture has preached election with greater fervour than the apostle Paul, yet no one has preached the gospel with more fervour than he did.

[9] if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; [10] for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. [11] For the Scripture says, WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; [13] for WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED. [14] How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [15] How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS! [16] However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom 10:9-17)

The believing faith of the elect does not come apart from the preaching of the gospel, since “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom 1:16) We have also been commanded to preach the gospel (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15), and that should count for something.

3.6 Interesting passages: Man’s “free will”

To read more about man’s so-called “free will” at this time, read the article Who’s Free: God or "Man"? A study on the "choices" of man in salvation at the section called Man’s Enslaved Will. One quote from it will suffice for now.

When we look at the Scriptural witness of man’s heart and his ability to choose God over evil, we have to conclude that man is evil and has no ability to choose God over evil. We see this witness in the Old and New Testaments.

3.6.1 John 12:39-40


The Arminian position here would most likely be based on verse 37:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. (NIV)

The Arminian’s response to this verse would be that God holds us responsible for not believing, therefore our salvation is obviously in our own hands. However, the fact that they “would not believe in him” has nothing to do with their own “willingness” so to speak. Verse 40 is a clear Scriptural passage that directly gives the reason for their unbelief. God has “HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART” so that they would NOT believe.

The assumption [by the Arminian] is that if God commands all men everywhere to repent, then that must mean that all men everywhere are morally neutral creatures with free wills who are not enslaved by sin. But this does not follow. God commands all men everywhere to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, but sin does not allow any of the fallen sons of Adam to do so.20

3.6.2 1 Corinthians 2:14

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor 2:14)

There are clearly two parallel statements in this verse separated by the word “and.” It can be represented as follows:

But a natural man {the subject of the argument}
{First statement}
does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, {Why not?}
for they are foolishness to him; {reason}
{Second statement}
and he cannot understand them, {Why not?}
because they are spiritually appraised. {reason}

The two statements in this passage are parallel to each other and to make any sense out of them, they need to be interpreted in light of each other. First, the natural man finds the “things of the Spirit of God” to be foolishness; and second, the natural man “cannot understand” the “things of the Spirit of God” “because they are spiritually appraised.” So, the natural man cannot understand the “things of the Spirit of God” because he simply is not spiritual.

3.6.3 John 8:34-48

[43] Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father… [47] He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God. (Jn 8:43-44, 47)

Jesus here, again, states that word of inability. Jesus portrays the Jews that they cannot hear His word and they do not understand it. Why can they not hear His word? It is stated quite simply by Jesus. They are not of God! Arminians will turn this concept of Jesus on its head by saying that if you act upon what you hear, you will come to belong to God. However, this is not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus directly says that those who are of God will hear Him and those who are not of God will not hear Him. You do not hear Jesus, act and then belong to God. No! You belong to God, hear and then act. The regenerating work of God in the natural man must occur first to bring him to spiritual life and then he will hear.

3.6.4 Romans 3:10-11


This passage is too direct to even bother with an explanation. It speaks for itself.

3.6.5 Romans 8:7-8

[7] because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, [8] and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8)

What does this passage say? The “mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Why is the unregenerate man hostile to God and why can he not please God? The unregenerate man “it does not subject [himself] to the law of God.” Why does he not subject [himself] to the law of God?” Scripture is very clear about the inability of man. He “is not even able to do so!” The unregenerate man cannot subject himself to the commands of God. Man cannot will to do what pleases God.

3.6.6 Matthew 23:37

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. (Mt 23:37)

Did Jesus here mean every individual in Jerusalem when He mentioned Jerusalem? Who was He talking to? We need to ascertain the context of this passage to find out what Jesus meant. Before Jesus introduced this passage He was lambasting the leaders of the Jews promising them judgment. Chapter 23 of Matthew contains the strongest accusation against the scribes and Pharisees in all the gospels.

When Jesus then said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her,” who did Jesus mean Jerusalem to be? Arminians are quick to assume that Jerusalem represents individual Jews who are capable of resisting the will and work of Christ. In the context of this passage Jesus is condemning the Jewish leaders and it is to them that the passage refers. The prophets were sent to the leaders. These same leaders also killed the prophets. In this passage of Matthew Jesus actually differentiate between those He was speaking to and their “children.” It was the “children” Jesus wanted to gather together. This passage does not refer to all individual Jews, but the Jewish leaders.

The Jewish leaders were the unwilling ones, not the ones Jesus wanted to gather.

3.7 Interesting passages: Universalistic salvation

3.7.1 1 Timothy 2:4

[1] FIRST of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, [2] for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. [3] This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim 2:1-6)

The key to any passage is its context. The phrase “all men” appears for the first time at the end of verse 1, and its meaning is unmistakable. Paul is not encouraging us to pray for every individual without exception. Verse 2 starts with what Paul meant when he wrote this passage. Why did Paul instruct us to pray “for kings and all who are in authority?” While Paul was writing this, the Christians were a persecuted group. This persecution was at the instigation of those in positions of power and authority. So, it is quite obvious why Paul would instruct Timothy to pray for those in authority, since, if they were turned from their stance toward Christians, there would be peace.

The point to make here is that when Paul instructs us to pray “for kings and all who are in authority,” he is speaking of kinds or classes of men. Paul uses this pattern of writing many times when he uses the phrase “all men.” This, for instance, can be seen in the way Paul writes in Titus 2:11.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (NASB)

Paul clearly means all kinds of men. The context of this passage clearly refers to different kinds or classes of men (older men, older women, young women, young men and bondslaves).

In the same way, the “kings” and those who are in authority represent different classes of men.

Therefore, when we read that God “desires all men to be saved,” we need to be consistent in our understanding of the context and acknowledge that the “all men” here also refer to all kinds or all classes of men, whether they are kings or people in authority. Why should we pray that all men, even kings and those in authority be “saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?” There is only one way of salvation and anyone without the knowledge of that truth cannot be saved. There is only “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.”

If we take all men in verse 4 to mean every individual person, does it also mean that Christ is mediator for every individual person? If this was the case, then it has to follow that Christ fails His mediatory work every time someone frustrates Christ’s work by his free will. Does Christ mediate for all, but fail to save all?

Is the ransom in verse 6 a saving ransom or a non-saving ransom? If the ransom of Christ is really made for all and it is actual, then all men would be saved. However, we need to remain consistent with the meaning of “all men,” and understand that even here it means all kinds or all classes of men. The context has not changed, so the meaning is the same.

3.7.2 2 Peter 3:9

[3] Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, [4] and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. [5] For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, [6] through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. [7] But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. [8] But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. [9] The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. [11] Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, [12] looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! [13] But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet 3:3-13)

Most Arminians will use 2 Pet 3:9 to “prove” that God desires that every single individual person be saved. We’ll let the context speak for itself. The topic in the context of our text is the Second Coming of Christ.  The reference to the repentance of all is simply made in passing. This passage is a rebuttal against the mockers of Christ’s soon coming return. They are informed that the day of the Lord will be as a thief at God’s own time.

Who is the audience of this passage? He keeps referring to his audience as you and beloved. The audience here is the people Peter wrote the letter to. Who are they but Christians? The audience then in this passage is made up of the Christians Peter intended this letter to reach. So, when Peter writes that the Lord “is patient toward you,” who does he mean? The Christians intended to read this letter, of course! So, is Peter, in this passage, saying that the Lord “is patient toward every individual of the human race?” No! Remember, that “all” and “any” can only mean something as contained in its context. What are the limitations to these words in this context, then? The word “you” in this passage sets up the limiting constraints to “all” and “any.”

As we have said before, Peter wrote this letter to Christians. Who is the patience of the Lord shown toward? Christians. The patience of the Lord then is shown toward His elect people. So, when the Lord is not “wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” the same group of people must be in mind. The “any” and “all” are therefore limited by the “you” of the passage, which would only include the elect of God. What is Peter telling us in this passage? In essence, the coming of the Lord has been delayed in order that all the elect of God can be saved.

3.8 Interesting passages: The words of Jesus

3.8.1 John 6:37-45

[37] All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. [39] This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. [41] Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, I am the bread that came down out of heaven. [42] They were saying, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down out of heaven'? [43] Jesus answered and said to them, Do not grumble among yourselves. [44] No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. [45] It is written in the prophets, "AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. (Jn 6:37-45)

What is the context of this passage? Jesus is speaking to a crowd gathered in the synagogue at Capernaum. This is the same crowd since the feeding of the 5,000 the day before. Naturally, they are seeking more food and more miracles. However, Jesus does not give them what they think they need. He goes into a discourse on who He is and His centrality to man’s redemption. Then, in verse 35 He calls Himself the “the bread of life”, and that all who comes to Him “will not hunger,” and all who believe in Him “will never thirst.”  These statements could not have sat very comfortable in the Jewish mindset of the day. No one, not even Moses, Abraham or their greatest prophets dare say things like Jesus just said. In verse 36 Jesus reminds them that they have seen Him and the wonders that He had performed before that day, yet they did not believe. Now that Jesus told them that they did not believe, He proceeds from verse 37 to tell them why they did not believe.

Who are those that come to Jesus? “All that the Father gives [Christ] will come to [Christ].” (v37). Notice who comes to Christ! “All that the Father gives!” Not some, but all! It is important to notice that the giving by the Father precedes the coming of people to Christ. The giving by the Father determines the coming to Christ. What is the result of (1) the giving by the Father and (2) the coming to Christ? The “one who comes to [Christ He] will certainly not cast out.” Two things are taught here by Christ: (1) Unconditional election and (2) irresistible grace. This makes salvation of the Lord! Who is the promise of never being cast out given? Only those who have been given to Christ by the Father and no one else.

Why will Christ never cast those out that the Father gave Him? It is the will of the Father (v38) “that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (v39) What is this telling us? The salvation that Christ provides is perfect and in no way dependent on man’s will or cooperation and that Christ provides an eternal salvation. This is the plain teaching of the perseverance of the saints. Those who believe in the almighty “free will” of man must explain how Christ is able not to fulfill the will of the Father. However, we know for certain that Christ does fulfill the will of the Father in its minutest detail. To believe anything else is simply sacrilegious.  Is it the Father’s will for Christ to try to save some? No, it is the will of the Father that Christ saves a particular people perfectly.

After this the Jews grumbled about the fact that Jesus told them that He was the bread of life from heaven. Again, what was Jesus’ response? He told them that there was no need to grumble, since “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” No one, not even some, can come to Christ if the Father does not draw them. No one has the ability to come to Christ of his own. Who are the ones Christ “will raise him up on the last day?” Only those the Father draws! It cannot be said that the Father draws every individual person on this planet. In this passage

Jesus surely taught the absolute sovereignty of God, the inabilities of man, the unconditional election of a people unto salvation, the efficient grace of God that infallibly brings salvation to the elect, and the final perseverance of those elect into eternal life.21

3.9 Interesting passages: God’s choice

3.9.1 Romans 9:1-24

[1] I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— [2] that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  [3] For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.  [4] They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  [5] To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. [6] But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."  [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.  [9] For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son."  [10] And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,  [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— [12] she was told, "The older will serve the younger."  [13] As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." [14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!  [15] For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."  [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. [19] You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"  [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?"  [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?  [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— [24] even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:1-24 ESV)

This is the most direct passage on God’s choice of the elect, yet those who believe in “free will” will read all kinds of free-willisms into this passage.

In chapter 8 of Romans Paul announced the wonderful blessings of salvation in Christ. Now he is going to answer the question: What about the Jews? What about the Jews “to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh?” (Rom 9:4-5).

First of all, we need to understand that the salvation mentioned in this passage, is not that of nations as presupposed by Arminians, but of individuals. When Paul says “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v6) he is dividing the nation of Israel in smaller parts. He does not remain on a national level when he speaks of Israel here. He is speaking of individuals within the nation of Israel! Just because a Jew was a descendant of Abraham was not a guarantee of salvation for the Jew! They are not “all children because they are Abraham's descendants.” (v7)  The children of God are not the children of the flesh—Abraham’s physical descendants—but rather the children of the promise (v8).

To further explain and to show that the word of God had not failed according to the promises, Paul now enters his treatise on election. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah was carrying twins in her womb. Remember, just two verses ago, in verse 8, Paul unequivocally set forth the children of the promise—not the physical descendants—as the children of God. Paul now starts to explain how God differentiates between physical descendants and the children of the promise. Before the twins were born, God elected Jacob and not Esau. This election was before they had done anything good or bad “in order that God's purpose in election might stand.” (v11 NIV) Therefore, this election was not based on works—free will, perhaps—but on Him who calls (v12). So, there was nothing in the twins that determined God’s choice of Jacob, not even a foreseen choice! The basis of election is in God, not man.

Then comes another crunch passage within our text. God says that He loved Jacob and hated Esau (v13). “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion'” (vv14-15). The answer for God’s election then follows in verse 16, that election does not “depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.” (NIV) Would man’s desire include man’s free will? You bet your bottom dollar it does! Election does not depend on man’s free ability to choose, but on God’s mercy. Here the NASB says it very clearly. “[I]t does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” No human choice or human action can get him elected to salvation. It all depends on the mercy of God!

Is it still possible to interpret this passage so that God shows mercy and initiates salvation and then man freely embraces salvation by his free will? Paul simply carries on from verse 17 to close the door of this thought. God raised Pharaoh up for the very purpose of showing God’s power in Pharaoh. How does God show His power in Pharaoh? By hardening Pharaoh’s heart at His own desire. God “has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (v18). It is more important that God’s glory be shown (v17) than for a man to exercise his own free will. Those who worship the free-will god simply deny the God of the Bible the glory He deserves!

For the normal argument against God’s own free choice or election of a particular people to be saved, let Scripture speak for itself.

[19] You will say to me then, Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? [20] On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, Why did you make me like this, will it? (Rom 9:19-20).

If you are still not convinced that God can do—and does—whatever He wants with His creatures, then read the next four verses. God can make of the same lump of clay (humanity, as substantiated by the context) “one vessel for honorable use and another for common use.” God can even—from this same lump of clay: humanity—create “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” Why did God prepare some vessels of wrath for destruction? “He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” (v23). Finally, who are those “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory?” Those “whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (v24) God has purposed to elect some from among the Jews, and not only from them, but also from among the Gentiles.

Why, the, does God elect some and harden others? First, “so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” (v11) Second, to demonstrate God’s power “AND THAT [HIS] NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” (v17) It is “to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” (v23) Third, God is free to do with His creation whatever He wants, and need not ask the permission of our free will to do so. We cannot complain because of God’s sovereignty for “on the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, Why did you make me like this, will it?” (v20)

4. Calling: The invitation to salvation

4.1 The effective call

The calling (Rom 8:30) of those that are predestined to salvation must be differentiated from the general gospel call that is made to all people.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8:30 ESV)

How is this calling described elsewhere in the New Testament?

  • called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)
  • called into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor 1:9)
  • calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thes 2:12)
  • called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16)
  • called to be saints (Rom 1:7)
  • called to freedom (Gal 5:13)
  • called to hope (Eph 1:18)
  • called to holiness (1 Thes 4:7)
  • called to patience endurance of suffering (1 Pet 2:20-21)
  • called to eternal life (1 Tim 6:12)

The calling offered to those that are predestined is not a mere human calling, but rather an order from the King of the universe. This is an act of God that guarantees the correct response. It is a calling that removes us from the kingdom of darkness and puts us into the kingdom of light.

This kind of calling is also called the effective calling of God. Just as the general gospel invitation, so the effective call comes through the preaching of the gospel.

It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess 2:14)

[13] for WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED. [14] How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [15] How will they preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:13-15)

Naturally, there are many who hear the general call but still do not respond. On the other hand, there are those to whom this same gospel call is made so effective in their hearts that they do respond: this is the effective call. When this call is made effective to such an extent that a person responds positively to the gospel, it is important to note that that response is a willing response.

The effective call cannot be initiated by the lost person, but only God the Father.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (Jn 6:44)

If the Father does not draw a person—effective call—the person cannot come. We can see this effective call in action in the life of Lydia.

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Ac 16:14)

The general gospel call is in distinction from the effective call, which is a work of God in its entirety. This call which is made to all—even those who do not accept it—is called the external or general call. The effective call is also known as the internal call.

4.2 The components of the call

What is the basic understanding that each person, who comes to Christ, must have of the gospel?

  • The fact that all people have sinned (Rom 3:23)
  • The fact that the penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23)
  • The penalty for our sins has been paid by the death of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:8)

Apart from knowing these facts, a person must also respond to Christ personally in repentance and faith.

[28] Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. [29] 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. [30] For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30)

[12] But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn 1:12-13)

The gospel call must also make sure that people know of repentance from their sin. This call is not just a call to Christ, but also a call for repentance from sin.

[Paul was] solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ac 20:21)

What does the gospel promise to those who repent and believe? Forgiveness of their sin and eternal life in Christ.

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; (Ac 3:19)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)

4.3 The importance of the call

It is important to note that the gospel call is important.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Rom 10:14)

God does not automatically save us—bringing us to the end—without the intended gospel call—the means.

5. Regeneration: New life from God

In regeneration God imparts new spiritual life to us.

5.1 God’s work

In regeneration we play no active part. We can do nothing to regenerate ourselves.

[We] were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn 1:13)

Our passiveness in regeneration is also underscored by it being referred to as being born again. (1 Pet 1:3; Js 1:18)

[3] In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. " [4] "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" [5] Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. [6] Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. [7] You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.' [8] The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (Jn 3:3-8 NIV)

The analogy between physical birth and spiritual birth is important. Just as we are passive in physical birth—by the will of someone else—so we are passive in spiritual birth—by the will of God (Jn 1:13).

[26] Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezek 36:26-27)

So, we have seen that God is the cause of our new birth, not we ourselves.

[God] according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet 1:3)

5.2 Regeneration precedes faith

God acts to awaken spiritual life within us. It is the regenerating work of God that gives us the ability to respond in faith to the gospel. It is when we become Christians at conversion that we enter the kingdom of God. However, before we can enter the kingdom of God, we need to be born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5). It is interesting to note that Jesus was very adamant about the Father’s work alone that will bring us to salvation (Jn 6:44).

no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father. (Jn 6:65)

A wonderful example of regeneration before faith is at the time of Paul’s preaching in Philippi. Lydia was a Jewish proselyte who was present when Paul preached.

the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Ac 16:14)

If a person is not regenerated first to receive the new life and to become spiritual, Paul writes that

a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor 2:14)

Simply put, it is God who, while we are still in our despicable sinful nature, steps forward and makes us alive in Christ (Eph 2:4-5; Col 2:13). The fact is that we have not been regenerated through faith; rather, we have been able to believe because of regeneration.

6. Conversion: Away from sin toward Christ

What is conversion? It is the willing response we make to the gospel call, in which we honestly repent (Ac 11:18; 26:20; 1 Thes 1:9) of our sins and put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation.

6.1 Elements of conversion

6.1.1 Knowledge

Scripture is clear on the fact that we need knowledge of Christ and what He has done for us.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? (Rom 10:14)

The way of hearing in order to gather the knowledge of Christ is through the preaching of the word of Christ.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)

Saving faith, then, is dependent on hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet, knowledge alone is not enough for salvation (Rom 1:32), and even demons know God and what Jesus did on the cross, yet, their knowledge of no value to them (Js 2:19).

6.1.2 Assent

Apart from the knowledge of the gospel we still need to give assent to that knowledge. It is an approval of the heart that needs to set us apart from merely knowing about the gospel. This brings us back to the story of Lydia’s conversion. She was sitting there listening to the preaching of Paul, gathering knowledge concerning the gospel. However, that alone would not have helped her. She needed to give her approval of the gospel. That happened after “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Ac 16:14)

However, knowing the facts of the gospel and giving one’s approval to it does not mean that one has saving faith. We can see this in terms of the words of Nicodemus and how much he already knew together with the fact that he had also given his approval to Jesus.

Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. (Jn 3:2)

At this point Nicodemus still did not have saving faith.

6.1.3 Trust

Knowledge of the truth and assenting to it does not bring saving faith. Trust is the final important ingredient.

Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.22

People who are afraid of flying can know the facts of flying in planes and its related safety. They can even approve of flying… for others! They just do not trust that planes are safe for them.

Faith is not an irrational leap in the dark. Faith is based on knowledge. Faith is trust in Jesus Christ and His ability to save us to the uttermost (Mt 11:28-30; Jn 1:12; 3:16; 6:37).

Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:25)

6.2 Faith and repentance

Repentance is a deep heartfelt sorrow for sin, followed by renouncing sin, and the same deep heartfelt commitment to forsake sin in obedience to Christ the Lord. A mere turning away from sin is just not good enough. That is what the Law was all about.

FOR the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Heb 10:1)

Following rules and regulations can never save us. This is what turning away from sin alone will bring us. We need to forsake sin AND believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation.

[Paul preached] repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ac 20:21)

A mere sorrow for our sins is not enough. It must be a sorrow that leads to action, to repentance.

[9] I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. [10] For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor 7:9-10)

We find the kind of sorrow that leads to tears, yet without repentance. This was the situation that Esau found himself in (Heb 12:17).

Conversion is an instantaneous event of repentance AND faith. Repentance does not save a person, but a forsaking of sin and faith in Christ does. It is not a gospel of works, so repentance by itself does nothing.  A claim to faith in Christ without a changed life for the better—as a result of repentance—certainly does not bear the fruit of salvation or repentance (Mt 3:8).

[19] This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. [20] For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. [21] But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (Jn 3:19-21)

Those who hold on to their evil deeds simply do not show that they are saved. Simply saying “I believe!” means nothing to God. Even demons believe that there is a God, and they are not saved! (Js 2:19)

[13] Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. [14] For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. [15] Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? [17] So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] So then, you will know them by their fruits. [21] Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. [22] Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' [23] And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' [24] Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Mt 7:13-24)

If there is no fruit that bears the marks of repentance in the life of someone who claims to be born again, then this passage is clear, Jesus will respond “DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS” in the day of judgement.

7. Justification: Legal pardon

The Reformation is primarily based on the doctrine of justification. At the time of the Reformation corruption was rife in the Roman Catholic Institution. Indulgences were sold to people making them believe that thereby they could be saved or at least less time would be spent in purgatory. Indulgences had even been sold to the families of those who had died with the understanding that the dead would then be released from purgatory. One of the sayings at this time concerning indulgences for the dead was “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” However, the sale of indulgences was a method by Rome and her alliances to reap great financial benefit to their own riches. It was against the corruption regarding indulgences and its related theological presuppositions that Luther posted his 95-theses against the door of Wittenburg, on October 31, 1517.

However, Luther made a greater discovery some time before the great October day. Luther was a sincere, passionate and deeply religious monk. At the time Luther understood his own sinfulness and good works and penance just did not seem to satisfy him. Luther sought to obey his monastic vows completely and was a good monk; very much opposite to the corruption of the day. To assuage Luther deep felt sinfulness, his superiors suggested many things: the reading of the teachers of mysticism, self-punishment according to monastic rules, etc. Nothing satisfied him.

Finally his superior suggested a position as a lecturer at the new University of Wittenburg. By 1512 he received his doctorate in theology. While preparing lectures on the Bible, Luther started seeing new meanings to what he was used to.

The great discovery probably came in 1515, when Luther began lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans. He later declared that it was in the first chapter of that epistle that he found the solution to his difficulties. That solution did not come easily. It was not simply a matter of opening the Bible one day and reading that “the just shall live by faith.” As he tells the story, the great discovery followed a long struggle and bitter anguish, for Romans 1:17 begins by declaring that, in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed.”  According to this text, the gospel is the revelation of the righteousness—the justice—of God. But it was precisely the justice of God that Luther found unbearable. How could such a message be gospel, good news? For Luther, good news would have been that God is not just, meaning that God does not judge sinners. But, in Romans 1:17, the good news and the justice of God are indissolubly linked. Luther hated the very phrase “the justice of God,” and spent day and night seeking to understand the relationship between the two parts of that single verse, which, after declaring that in the gospel, “the justice of God is revealed,” affirms that “the righteous shall live by faith.”

The answer was surprising. Luther came to the conclusion that the “justice of God” does not refer, as he had been taught, to the punishment of sinners. It means rather that the “justice” or “righteousness” of the righteous is not their own, but God’s. The “righteousness of God” is that which is given to those who live by faith. It is given, not because they are righteous, not because they fulfil the demands of divine justice, but simply because wishes to give it. Thus, Luther’s doctrine of “justification by faith” does not mean that what God demands of us is faith, as if this were something we have to do or achieve, and which God then rewards. It means rather that both faith and justification are the work of God, a free gift to sinners. As a result of this discovery, Luther tells us, “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of  Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”23

7.1 Meaning of justification

Justification is related to our spiritual relation to God, our judicial position. It does not speak of our spiritual condition or our actual state. It is the restoration of our relation to God. Justification is a legal declaration by God. It includes the removal of sin by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (Rom 8:33-35; 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 10:4, 10; Gal 2:16; 3:24).

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)

Justification does not mean that God makes us righteous. It is a declaration of righteousness.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:5)

Justification, in effect, declares us free from the penalty of sin.

THEREFORE there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)

Justification does not merely declare us forgiven for our sins, putting us in a neutral state before God, but actually declares us to be righteous. A beautiful picture is provided for us in Isa 61:10:

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.

Justification was the heart of the dispute between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It is at this point that the Roman Catholic Institution misunderstands justification. To the Catholic system, justification is the sanctifying and renewal of the inner man. Protestantism has always regarded justification to be a declaration of righteousness not based on the actual condition of righteousness or holiness, but on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ.

THEREFORE, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1)

Justification for the Roman Catholics has always been attained by God’s grace (through various sacraments—7 in all), plus good deeds. This justification was given to us at the first sacrament, baptism. However, Scripture affirms that we cannot attain justification by doing things; the works of the law.

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)

7.2 Benefits of this doctrine

First, it gives hope to unbelievers who know they cannot make themselves right with God. Second, we have confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been paid by Christ Himself.

8. Adoption

This is the act of God by which He makes us members of His family. The concept of adoption can be found early in the gospel of John.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12)

Through adoption we are children of God in a special sense.

[14] For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. [15] For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, Abba! Father! [16] The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:14-17)

Through this adoption we placed in a believing relationship with the believing Jews of the Old Testament. In fact, we are now reckoned to be the children of Abraham according to promise.

[6] For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; [7] nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED. [8] That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. (Rom 9:6-8)

[23] But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. [24] Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. [26] For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. [27] For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:23-29)

Adoption is separate from justification. Whereas justification is a forgiveness of sins and a declaration of righteousness of the justified sinner, adoption puts the sinner in a new relation to God as his Father.

9. Sanctification: Growth toward Christlikeness

Sanctification is an on-going, maturing work of God and man that makes us progressively more free from sin and more like Christ in our daily lives.

The differences between justification and sanctification can be explained as follows:

Legal standing
Internal condition
Once for all time
Continuous through life
Entirely God's work
We cooperate
Perfect in this life
Not perfect in this life
The same in all Christians
Greater in some than others24

9.1 Stages of sanctification

9.1.1 Begins at regeneration

Apart from sanctification being a continuous work in our lives, it also had a definite beginning in our lives at regeneration.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11)

Once born again, we cannot continue to practice sin as a lifestyle, since the power of a new spiritual life is within us keeping us from yielding to a lifestyle of sin (1 Jn 3:9). It is at this point in our lives that we need to live lives that are no longer ruled by sin (Rom 6:11-14).

9.1.2 Increases throughout life

As we live our lives we are called to be holy, as God is holy (1 Pet 1:14-16), and not to walk in our former sins. We are to grow in practical righteousness moving away from the rule of sin that worked upon us before regeneration.

For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. (Rom 6:19)

As we walk in obedience to the call of Christ we will continue to grow into the likeness of Christ.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18 NIV)

9.1.3 Completed at death

Even up to the end of our earthly lives we will continue to have sin in our lives. On this earth we will never become perfect.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 Jn 1:8)

One day when we get to heaven after our lives on this earth have expired, we will meet up with “the spirits of righteous men made perfect.” (Heb 12:23) It is only after death that we reach perfection.

Sanctification is of the whole person, which includes the body, meaning that we will not be completed until the return of the Lord and we receive our resurrection bodies (1 Thes 5:23; 2 Cor 7:1; Phil 3:21).

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming… Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.(1 Cor 15:23, 49)

9.2 Co-operation in sanctification

In sanctification there exists a co-operation between God and man. However, we do not have equal roles in sanctification and we do not work the same way as God.

{w]e cooperate with God in ways that are appropriate to our status as God’s creatures.25

9.2.1 God’s role

Sanctification is primarily a work of God (1 Thes 5:23). In order to sanctify us, God has a myriad of options at His disposal by which He may sanctify us. However, one of those ways is discipline.

[5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:5-11 ESV)

It is God who started this good work of salvation in us and it is God who will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). In this work that God has started in us, He causes us to be willing to work toward His good pleasure.

for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil 2:13)

Through the death of Christ, He earned our sanctification for us (1 Cor 1:30); but it is the Holy Spirit that has the task of working in us daily for our sanctification, which He began the day of our salvation, to bring us to obedience to Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:2; 2 Thes 2:13). Our obedience to Jesus Christ—effected by the Holy Spirit—began when we were born again. It is the Holy Spirit that produces His fruit in us (Gal 5:22-23).

9.2.2 Man’s role

We play two roles in sanctification: a passive role while depending on God to sanctify us and an active role in which we work toward obedience to God.

In a passive role, it may be said, we yield to God in confident trust that He will sanctify us (Rom 6:13). We realise our dependence on the Holy Spirit for that sanctifying work in our lives (Rom 8:13).

On the other hand, in an active role, we play a part in our own sanctification, yet by the help of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:13). Paul acknowledges that is “by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body.

It is our responsibility to walk in obedience to the Lord in purity for the sanctification of our souls.

[3] It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; [4] that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable (1 Thes 4:3-4 NIV)

The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means of Bible reading and meditation (Ps 1:2; Mt 4:4; 17:17), prayer (Eph 6:18; Phil 4:6), worship (Eph 5:18-20), witnessing (Mt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal 5:23; Tit 1:8)26

10. Baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit

The Baptism and/or the infilling of the Holy Spirit is a very controversial subject in the church at large today. Those who do not believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a “second blessing” for the believing Christian (the have-nots), but that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the same, or happens at the same time, as the conversion experience, feels that those who believe in such a second experience (the haves), see themselves as superior Christians to the have-nots. I have to admit that this claim of the have-nots is based on some truth. Many, if not most, of the haves have said before that the churches of the have-nots are dead churches. On the other hand, the haves have claimed concerning the have-nots that they only have head knowledge with no personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, and that the have-nots are not making a difference in this world. This claim also has some truth to it concerning the have-nots. However, both of these claims are based on perceptions, and are not necessarily the truth about all those of the opposing camps. In my experience, based on these claims, when it comes to the genuinely saved in the two groups, I have to admit that the claim of the have-nots is easier to verify than the claim of the haves. On the side of the have-nots, there are great men of God with great ministries, such as John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, James R. White, and many more. These men have proven the opposite of what the haves have claimed. Then again, among the haves, there have been men who supposedly had great relationships with the Lord, who have brought great shame on the haves, such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker (who has repented from his sins and his theological errors), and other Word-of-Faith men who have misappropriated funds etc. So, the point is, the claim by the ­haves concerning the have-nots is simply an over-stretched generalisation without looking at the facts, and the claim by the have-nots concerning the haves has proven to be false, since it has been shown that the haves are in no way superior to the have-nots.

10.1 Toward a better understanding of this “baptism”

10.1.1 Traditional Pentecostal understanding

In Pentecostal or Charismatic (from now on this will be known as “PC”) circles they believe that their position can be supported by Scripture. Disciples born-again before Pentecost

It is understood that the disciples of Jesus were born-again before the day of Pentecost, and so it is a second experience. It is believed generally that the disciples were born-again when Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:22) Jesus commanded His disciples to wait for the promise

Even though the disciples were born-again before Pentecost, Jesus, nonetheless, told them to wait for the promise of Father (Ac 1:4-5, 8), who then came on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:1-4). All Christians should ask for a baptism in the Holy Spirit

Christians should ask for this experience to emulate the experience of the early church. As a result, Christians will have more power for ministry. Scripture supports the second experience

According to Pentecostalism and many Charismatics Scripture supports the idea of a second experience, which may be seen in Ac 2:1-4; Ac 8:14-17; Ac 10:44-46 and Ac 19:1-7.

10.1.2   The meaning of “baptism” in the Holy Spirit

This occurrence is mentioned only seven (7) times in the New Testament. In order to find out what it really means we need to look at the occurrences in the New Testament. Five (5) of these passages look into the future and two (2) look back at the event as something that happened in the past.

Looking forward

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Mt 3:11)

I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mk 1:8)

John answered and said to them all, As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Lk 3:16)

I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, "He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 1:33)

for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. (Ac 1:5)

Looking back

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Ac 11:16)

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:13)

The first six verses—apart from 1 Cor 12:13—use almost exactly the same wording in Greek.

Does 1 Cor 12:13 refer to the same event in the Christian’s life as the other six verses, or to a separate event? 1 Cor 12:13: A Pentecostal explanation

The usual Pentecostal exposition of this verse tells us that

this is a baptism into Christ. Therefore, we are “putting on Christ.” … We are not referring to baptism in water, for Jesus Christ is not water. The agent here is the Holy Spirit. The subject is the redeemed believer, baptized into the body of Christ.27

Wuest explains it as follows:

The word “Spirit” is in the instrumental case in Greek. Personal agency is expressed occasionally by the instrumental case. At such times the verb is always in the passive or middle voice. The Greek construction here follows this rule of Greek grammar. The personal agent in this case who does the baptizing is the Holy Spirit. He places or introduces the believing sinner into the Body of which the Lord Jesus is the living Head. We could translate, “By means of the personal agency of one Spirit, we all were placed in one body.”28

Wuest, however, was not a Pentecostal, but the above scenario of how he treated the verse in question is exactly the way PCs would treat it. The only difference is that Wuest did not endeavour to prove what the Pentecostals would like this verse to say, or for that matter, the other verses on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor 12:13: A non-Pentecostal explanation

Many English translations seem to make a distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Jesus and the baptism spoken of here by the Holy Spirit. Translations that translate this verse as “by one Spirit” would include the NASB, NIV, KJV, NKJV and RSV. This certainly makes one think that the Holy Spirit is doing the baptising. Then there are translations that translate this as “in one Spirit” such as the ESV, NRSV and ASV.

We have already seen 1 Cor 12:13 in the NASB above. This is the translation as done by the ESV (English Standard Version):

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:13 ESV)

As an example of the Greek, I give the transliteration of a representative verse from the first six verses and then of 1 Cor 12:13. Follow the superscript bold numbers for the English word order.

Ac 1:5

you will be baptised1

1 Cor 12:13

in1 one2 spirit3 we5 all6 into8 one9


body10 were4 baptised7

The distinction made by some translations does not seem to be supported as shown above.

Apart from one small difference ([Paul] refers to “one Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”), all the other elements are the same: the verb is baptizo, and the prepositional phrase contains the same words (en plus the dative noun pneumati). If we translate this same Greek expression “baptize in the Holy Spirit” (or “baptize with the Holy Spirit”) in the other six New Testament occurrences where we find it, then it seems only proper that we translate it in the same way in the seventh occurrence. And no matter how we translate, it seems hard to deny that the original readers would have seen this phrase as referring to the same thing as the other six verses, because for them the words were the same.29

A similar construct is used in 1 Cor 10:2

and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;

1 Cor 10:2

and1 all2 into5 [the] Moses6 were3 baptised4

in7 the8 cloud9 and10 in11 the12 sea13

In this passage, the cloud and the sea are the elements of the baptism of the Israelites—which was not a physical baptism—and Moses the location of the baptism. As in 1 Cor 12:13, this passage also uses EIS (into - location) and EN (in - element). Here, in 1 Cor 10:2, the element or elements are the cloud and the sea and the location is Moses (representing the life of the Mosaic law). In 1 Cor 12:13, the element is the Spirit and the location is the body.

Looking back then, to the word-for-word translation of 1 Cor 10:2, we can redo 1 Cor 12:13 as follows:

1 Cor 12:13

in8 one9 spirit10 we1 all3 into5 one6


body7 were2 baptised4

The translation then looks something like this:

we were all baptised into one body in one Spirit.

As can be seen, the wording is very similar to that of 1 Cor 10:2, showing that the translation of “in one Spirit” is quite consistent with the other six verses of “Spirit baptism.” We conclude then, that 1 Cor 12:13 refers to baptism in or with the Holy Spirit, just as the other six verses do, and therefore refers to the same event in the Christian’s life. What is the “baptism” in the Holy Spirit?

Since we have concluded that the concept of the “baptism” in or with the Holy Spirit has the same meaning and refers to the same event in all seven verses, we can proceed to what it means when this concept is discussed in the New Testament.

We know what happened externally to the disciples when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Yet, what did it mean to them and the church? Let us briefly return to 1 Cor 12:13.

[12] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  [13] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  [14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:12-14 ESV)

When Paul writes here to the Corinthians that they were all baptised in one Spirit, he also added what it meant to be baptised in the Spirit. By writing “we were all baptized into one body” he put the whole event in perspective. The “baptism” in the Holy Spirit is a “baptism” into the body of Christ. Verse 13 here is in the context of Paul writing concerning the body of Christ, that though there are many members—“baptized into one body”—there is only one body, the body of Christ.

Spirit baptism brings the believer into a vital union with Christ. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit means that Christ immerses us in the Spirit, thereby giving us a common life principle. This spiritual baptism is what connects us with all other believers in Christ and makes us part of Christ’s own body. Baptism with the Spirit makes all believers one. It is a fact, not a feeling.30

Of the seven passages where Scripture mentions this “baptism,” six of them—not 1 Cor 12:13—refer directly to what happened on the day of Pentecost in Ac 2:1-41. Let us then have a brief look at this passage.

Most, if not all, of us have read this passage in Acts 2. Most, if not all, of us have a certain idea of what happened here. After Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem and that they “will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Ac 1:5. See also Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33), the passage in Acts 2 tells us that

[2] suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. [3] And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Ac 2:2-4)

When this happened the response of those in the vicinity varied from total amazement to mocking the disciples that they were drunk with wine. It is at this point—the point of mockery—that Peter gets up to preach. First, Peter denies that the disciples are drunk, it being only about 9am. Second, he relates what happened to that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel in Joel 2:28-32. This passage starts with the words “and it shall come to pass afterward” which Peter reinterprets for us to give us the proper meaning of “and it shall be in the last days.” The passage before this Joel passage—Joel 2:1-27—is an explanation to the nation what would happen if they return to the Lord and follow Him alone. It speaks of all the wonderful blessings that will come upon Israel if they simply follow the Lord. Then, the passage is put in perspective by the words Peter starts with as “it shall be in the last days.” Joel has just been speaking of the last days when he elaborates on some of the more amazing events that would happen, such as the pouring of God’s Spirit on all mankind, prophecy, dreams, visions, all by normal people, and also certain events in the sky. Peter tells his hearers that these amazing events they have read in Joel are what they have just witnessed. These are the last days. Third, the last verse Peter quotes from Joel is


Peter puts this whole event in its proper context. Salvation! The context is the same as in Joel. These events Peter quotes from are related to the salvation of God’s people. The point of this passage is not the Pentecostal experience, but rather the salvation of God’s people!

What was the significance of the day of Pentecost then? It was the transition from the Old Testament work of the Holy Spirit to His New Testament work. The Old Testament work of the Holy Spirit was very limited in the lives of individuals. In the beginning of the gospels we find John the Baptist, the last of the Old Covenant prophets.

[11] Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [12] From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. [13] For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. [14] And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. (Mt 11:11-14)

John is then the first to spell out what would happen under the New Covenant experience of salvation when he said

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Mt 3:11)

John understood the Old Covenant working of the work of the Holy Spirit, but then prophesied of the New Covenant work of the Holy Spirit when Jesus will baptise the Church with the Holy Spirit.

Originally, Jesus is the example for us of the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit at work. First, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus Himself at His baptism by John (Mt 3:16-17). Second, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt 4:1). Third, when Jesus returns from the wilderness temptation, He starts preaching and performing miracles (Mt 4:17 ff; Lk 4:13-14).

The disciples, however, do not receive this full new covenant empowering for ministry until the Day of Pentecost, for Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem, and promises, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). This was a transition in the lives of the disciples as well (see John 7:39; 14:17; 16:7; Acts 2:16). The promise of Joel that the Holy Spirit would come in new covenant fullness was fulfilled (Acts 2:16) as Jesus returned to heaven and then was given authority to pour out the Holy Spirit in new fullness and power (Acts 2:33).31

As a result the Holy Spirit empowered the believers in various ways. First, they received power to be effective witnesses in their ministry (Ac 1:8; Eph 4:8-13). Second, they received power over sin (Rom 6:11-14; 8:13-14; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:10). Third, they received power over the devil’s attacks against believers (2 Cor 10:3-4; Eph 1:19-21; 6:10-18; 1 Jn 4:4).

So, the “baptism” with the Holy Spirit is an experience for every believer at conversion. It is not a second experience for the Christian to seek. Even though the disciples seemingly experienced this as a second experience, it was merely a transition for them from knowing the work of the Spirit in an Old Covenant context to that of the New Covenant.

10.2 Being “filled” with the Holy Spirit

When it comes to a second, or rather a subsequent, experience it would be more correct then to speak of being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. Even though it seems that being “baptised” and being “filled” with the Holy Spirit point to the same concept, we have already seen from the previous section—What is the “baptism” in the Holy Spirit?—that being “baptised” in the Holy Spirit does not point to a second experience after salvation, but to what happens at salvation itself. However, based on the Pentecostal claim that such a second experience exists and that such a subsequent experience can be seen in the book of Acts and in Eph 5:18, we need to have another look at this subsequent experience.

10.2.1 The Biblical examples

There are five examples of being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. They can be found in Acts 2:4; 4:31; 8:14-17; 10:44-48 and 19:2-6. Acts 2:4

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Ac 2:4)

This is the initial infilling with the Holy Spirit. As we have said already, this was the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s New Testament ministry. Everything before this was related to His Old Testament ministry. This event gave birth to the church with the result that “about three thousand souls” (Ac 2:41) were added at once. The day of Pentecost was unique since the Holy Spirit came as Jesus promised.

[16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:16-17 ESV)

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (Jn 14:26 ESV)

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (Jn 15:26 ESV)

[7] Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  [8] And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  [9] concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  [10] concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;  [11] concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. [12] "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  [13] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (Jn 16:7-15 ESV)

Jesus promised His disciples that when He left, He, together with the Father, would send them the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit was to be a Helper to them forever. Second, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth for He “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.Third, the Holy Spirit was said to “dwell with you and will be in you.” It was only on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit indwelt them in the New Testament way. Until then He merely dwelt with them. Fourth, the Holy Spirit “will bear witness about” Christ. The Holy Spirit’s primary function is to witness about Christ and to glorify Christ. That is why, when Jesus told the disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Ac 1:8 ESV), the implications were not that we would speak in tongues or prophesy, but rather that the disciples would become effective ministers for Christ and that they would bear the name of Christ to the world. Last, the Holy Spirit came to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Now that we have seen the purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit in His coming, we can also see that on the day of Pentecost, all five points mentioned above became a reality. He was certainly their Helper to go from timid disciples to very bold disciples. He, as the Spirit of truth did help them to remember all Jesus told them and they were able to preach a great sermon that day. His position concerning the disciples did change from dwelling with them to being in them. Through the disciples He also did bear witness to Christ. Finally, He also convicted those who heard the disciples to the point of asking “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Ac 2:37) This was the purpose of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” all over the world. This was the day that the Holy Spirit empowered the church to be effective ministers in this world. Acts 4:31

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Ac 4:31)

When we follow the events of this passage we find that John and Peter had just been released from prison with a warning not to preach in the name of Jesus any more. Peter and John replied that it was not “right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God.” (Ac 4:19). Upon their return to the rest of their companions in Christ, they relayed this story to them and they all started praying to God to give them even more confidence to preach the gospel. After they had prayed the Holy Spirit filled them all with the result that they “began to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Notice, that in this passage where “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” no mention is made of tongues or any other spiritual gift whatsoever. Once again the Holy Spirit empowered the church to be effective ministers in this world. Acts 8:14-17

[14] Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, [15] who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. [16] For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17] Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (Ac 8:14-17)

Philip had preached to the people of Samaria and they received the word of God from Philip and believed. From this, Philip proceeded to baptise them in the name of Jesus. It was then that “the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God” and proceeded to send them Peter and John who “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” As in Ac 4:31, there is no mention of any spiritual gift as in Ac 2:4. Many claim there had to have been something like tongues or prophecy since “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands.” (Ac 8:18) The passage does not say what Simon saw. It simply mentions in passing that Simon saw that they were filled with the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid their hands on the people. To guess what he saw is to put words in God’s mouth. It was not important to the Holy Spirit to tell us here what Simon saw, so it certainly is not important to us. To want to interpret this passage with anything more than what the Scriptures have given us is to simply perform eisegesis. They could just as well have become very bold preachers of the word at that very moment, which Simon could have seen. The Samaritans had always been outcasts to Jews. We can see that in Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman, telling her that Samaritans “worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) Could it be that God withheld the infilling of the Holy Spirit until the apostles could personally lay hands on them in order to ratify their inclusion in the church and thus the highest leadership in the Jerusalem church could acknowledge that Samaritans are also included in the church? Could it not also be that the Holy Spirit wanted the Samaritans—who did not recognise the Jewish temple in Jerusalem—to recognise the church in Jerusalem? Acts 10:44-48

[44] While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. [45] All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. [46] For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, [47] Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he? [48] And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Ac 10:44-48)

This is the finale of the story where the Holy Spirit told Cornelius, a man from Caesarea, that he needed to send for Peter. The Holy Spirit convinced Peter to go, and Peter ended preaching the gospel to Cornelius and his household. These were unsaved people. They were simply God-fearing, i.e. Jewish proselytes. They had never believed in Jesus before. There is no second experience here. At the point of salvation, which in all probability was a sovereign act—seen in the falling of the Holy Spirit on them while they were still listening, the Holy Spirit fell on them.

What really happened in this case with Cornelius and his household? The Jews have always seen Gentiles as excluded from God’s blessings and salvation, even to the point of calling them dogs. When the Canaanite woman came to Jesus for help to deliver her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus told her “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mt 15:26) This woman must have known the attitude of Jews toward the Gentiles, for she did not deny she was a dog in Jews’ eyes, but simply stated “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” (Mt 15:27)

So, again, what was the point to the event at Cornelius’ household? This event of the falling of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius’ household was to show the “circumcised believers who came with Peter” that even the Gentiles have been accepted into the church. We cab clearly see this from their response. They “were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.” How did they know that the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles? They “were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.” The word “also” that ends verse 45 is very important. Why the “also?” In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit fell upon the Jews—apostles and other Jewish disciples—who then spoke in tongues. Now, the same thing happened to the Gentiles! How do we know that “also” refers to what the “circumcised believers” knew from Acts 2? Verse 46 starts with the word “for”—a conjunction to show reason, inference, explanation—which is there to explain what came before, hence the “also.” What does the “also” refer to? They “were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God!” This event in the lives of Cornelius’ household is not for us to think that we need to follow suit—although the Holy Spirit does empower us for ministry—for we need to see the point this passage makes. The Gentiles have also been included in the church! Acts 19:2-6

[2] He said to them, Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? And they said to him, No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. [3] And he said, Into what then were you baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism. [4] Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus. [5] When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [6] And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. (Ac 19:2-6)

Here Paul encountered a group of “disciples” who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul questioned them whether they did “receive the Holy Spirit when [they] believed.” Paul’s next question was to ascertain what “disciples” they were. “Into what then were you baptized?” Paul queried. This would be the same as asking “Who’s disciples are you then?” They then responded that they were John the Baptist’s disciples. “And they said, Into John's baptism.” These disciples were still waiting for the coming Messiah, not having any New Testament faith or understanding. Paul then proceeded to explain to these disciples of the Baptist what the Baptist’s ministry was all about, that he came to point to Jesus. It was at this time that they believed in Christ and were baptised “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” After they were baptised Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came on them producing tongues and prophecy.

These “disciples” were Jews, having known and believed John the Baptist that the Messiah was on His way. Yet, they had not come to the point of actually meeting or hearing of the Messiah—Jesus—who actually came and died for His people.

But again, one may insist that a believer does not receive the Spirit except by the laying on of hands, quoting Acts 8:17 and 19:6. The act of laying on of hands always signifies identification. In the case of Acts 8:17, the Samaritans who did not recognize the temple at Jerusalem, needed to recognize the authority of the church at that place. Submission to the laying on of the apostles’ hands thus healed the breach between those Samaritans and the Christian Jews, and identified the former with the Jerusalem church. In Acts 19:6 we have Jews coming over into a new dispensation and authority, and a similar situation holds true for them. We have no such conditions today, and therefore the laying on of hands is not needed for the reception of the Spirit.32

As we have seen, the evidence is strong that these “disciples” were not Christians at all, and that this event was an induction into the body of Christ. This whole event, with all its details, simply tells of the Ephesians’ new birth into the body of Christ. The fact that they received the Holy Spirit is no telltale sign of a subsequent experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This passage describes one event.

When we look at verse 2, we find Paul asking them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Many PCs want us to believe that the word “when” should be translated “since” in order to create a two-stage experience for the Christian: salvation and a subsequent infilling of the Holy Spirit. In order to see whether this is so, we need to look at the Greek grammar. The phrase “when you believed” is an aorist active participle which could be translated “having believed” or even “after you believed.” In order to find out whether the participle should be translated as subsequent action or contemporaneous action to the leading verb, we need to look at what the Greek grammar tells us.

Contemporaneous action relative to the main verb is ordinarily expressed by the present participle; but the aorist participle, when used with a main verb in the aorist, often expresses contemporaneous action. Subsequent action relative to the main verb may be expressed by the future or the present participle—more often by the future.33

What this is telling us is that if the participle in use is a present or future participle, then its action happens after the leading verb of the sentence. However, when the participle in use is an aorist participle and the leading verb is in the aorist, then the action of the participle is at the same time as the leading verb. So, taking the translation of the PCs as “Did you receive the Holy Spirit since you believed?” or even “Did you receive the Holy Spirit after you believed?”,  the rules as stated above should be as follows: the participle in question—“since you believed”—must be a future or present participle. If we want to use the NASB translation of them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” which shows contemporaneous action with the leading verb, then (1) the participle—“when you believed”—should be aorist and (2) the leading verb—“Did you receive”—should be aorist. Let us find out what is used in order to conclude our interpretation of this verse. The participial phrase “when you believed” is PISTEUSANTES in the Greek, which is an aorist participle. The leading verbial phrase “Did you receive” is ELABETE in the Greek, which is an aorist verb. So, what do we conclude from this short study in the Greek? When Paul asked these “disciples” “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he did not have in mind an experience that is subsequent to salvation—something that could happen even years later—but had one experience in mind. For Paul, it was not salvation and some time later the infilling of the Holy Spirit. To Paul, one was filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation.

Greek authorities agree on the translation, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?” Or it could be rendered, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit, having believed?” The tense of the participle and verb point to a simultaneous act. That is, the reception of the Holy Spirit occurs at the same instant as the act of believing in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. This is what the Greek grammar here teaches.34

10.2.2 What do we make of this?

There are no texts in the New Testament that encourage us to seek a second experience after salvation. Only one group was told to wait and that was the initial group of disciples and apostles. They waited specifically for the day of Pentecost. We are also not taught in the New Testament to find a group that speaks in tongues in order that they could teach us to speak in tongues.

Passage Sovereign act or human involvement Spiritual gifts? Second “filling?” Simple boldness
Ac 2:4 Sovereign Yes No Yes
Ac 4:31 Sovereign No Yes Yes
Ac 8:14-17 Apostles No No No
Ac 10:44-48 Sovereign Yes No
Ac 19:2-6 Paul Paul No

Table 1: Examples of being "Spirit filled" in Acts

In only one of the examples above were they waiting for the Holy Spirit. That is in Acts 2. Then, they did not have a clue what was waiting for them. There was no teaching involved at all. In fact, nowhere in these examples were they taught to wait, be taught or coaxed into speaking in tongues or have any other unusual experiences. In only two of the above examples were the laying of hands employed for the receiving of the Holy Spirit: Ac 8:14-17 and Ac 19:2-6. This is hardly enough to base a whole doctrine on. From our discussions above we also know that those two cases were special cases of induction. In the other three cases the Holy Spirit fell upon the people as a sovereign act. No one had to pray the Holy Spirit down in His “power.”

Concerning tongues or other spiritual gifts at the infilling of the Holy Spirit, only three of the five cases in Acts present themselves with any gifts. Again, this is hardly enough to base a whole doctrine on. This only tells us that to assume the presence of tongues as the initial evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is presumption and not exegetical fact from the texts in question.

What about contemporary experience among PCs? We can go back to the five examples of the infilling of the Holy Spirit above and notice that there is only one example of a subsequent experience and that occurred in Ac 4:31. We will notice in the context of this passage that they were praying before “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

[29] And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, [30] while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. (Ac 4:29-30)

Notice that they did not pray “to be filled again with the Holy Spirit” but rather, they were praying that the Lord would give them boldness and that He would work wonders in the name of Jesus. Why were they praying this? Simple! They were praying this in order that the gospel would be preached and people would believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! After they prayed this “evangelistic” prayer, the Holy Spirit fell on them and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This was a complete sovereign act of the Holy Spirit when He fell on them! He was not coaxed into it as can be seen in so many PC meetings today. A doctrine cannot be formed that says that we can ask for this experience, however, if a person’s heart is right and his motivation is correct, then I do believe that the Holy Spirit can do this.

What then has happened to people who say they have experienced a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that has brought great blessing to their lives? We must understand first what is commonly taught about the need to prepare for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Very often people will be taught that they should confess all known sins, repent of any remaining sins in their lives, trust Christ to forgive those sins commit every area of their lives to the Lord’s service, yield themselves fully to him, and believe that Christ is going to empower them in a new way and equip them with new gifts for ministry. Then after that preparation, they are encouraged to ask Jesus in prayer to baptize them in the Holy Spirit. But what does this preparation do? It is a guaranteed prescription for significant growth in the Christian life! Such confession, repentance, renewed commitment, and heightened faith and expectation, if they are genuine, can only bring positive results in a person’s life. If any Christian is sincere in these steps of preparation to the receive baptism in the Holy Spirit, there will certainly be growth in sanctification and deeper fellowship with God. In addition to that, we may expect that at many of these times the Holy Spirit will graciously bring a measure of the additional fullness and empowering that sincere Christians are seeking, even though their theological understanding and vocabulary may be imperfect in the asking. If this happens they may well realize increases power for ministry and growth in spiritual gifts as well.35

10.2.3 Be filled with the Holy Spirit!

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (Eph 5:18 ESV)

In many PC circles this verse is used to prove that we are commanded in Scripture—in fact have a Biblical mandate—to be filled with the Spirit. It is taught that since we are commanded that we be filled with the Holy Spirit it should be quite common sense that we should seek it and indeed wait for it.

However, to find out what this verse teaches we need again to look at the Greek grammar. The phrase in English “be filled” is PLHROUSQE in the Greek. It is a passive imperative verb (command) in the present tense from PLHROW, “to fill.” According to Wuest, in the imperative mode the present tense always represents action going on.36 To us, this means that when Eph 5:18 tells us “but be filled with the Spirit” Paul is not telling us to every now and again get a “top-up” from the Holy Spirit. This is a command of continuous force. “Be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit!” It is a command to us to remain filled with the Holy Spirit.

So, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? In order for us to answer this question, we need to find out how PLHROW—to fill—is used in the New Testament. The word is used many times of the Old Testament Scriptures that were fulfilled in the New Testament. Then it is used of something physical that could be filled with something else that was physical such as filling a net with fish (Mt 13:48), filling a house with an odour (Jn 12:3) and a wind filling a house (Ac 2:2). Furthermore, it is used in a more metaphoric sense where “to fill” means to bring to an end a discourse (Lk 7:1), accomplishing something (Lk 9:31), the passing of a certain amount of years (Ac 7:30), the completion of events (Ac 19:21), supplying in need (Phil 4:19). The noun PLHRHS is used in the same manner.

Whenever PLHROW and PLHRHS are used in relation to something that cannot be touched—something without physical substance—such as the Spirit, faith, joy or sorrow, its usage and meaning is different to that of physical substances. In this way we are said to be filled with wisdom (Lk 2:40), joy (Jn 15:11; 16:24; Ac 2:28; 13:52; Rom 15:13; 2 Tim 1:4), sorrow (Jn 16:6), Satan (Ac 5:3), the Holy Spirit (Ac 13:52; Eph 5:18), all types of evil (Rom 1:29), peace (Rom 15:13), knowledge (Rom 15:14), comfort (2 Cor 7:4), fruits of righteousness (Phil 1:11), the knowledge of God’s will (Col 1:9); a city could be filled with doctrine (Ac 5:28).When someone is filled with joy, sorrow, knowledge, wisdom or all kinds of evil they are controlled by it. We are not some type of receptacle that could be filled by some abstract concept such as joy or sorrow. When the Scriptures speak of being filled by these things, we are controlled by them. The same is true of being filled by Satan or the Holy Spirit. When one is filled by Satan, he is then possessed by him and controlled by him. When one is filled by the Holy Spirit, he is then possessed by him and controlled by him.

We must not think of the Holy Spirit filling our hearts as water fills a bottle, or air, a vacuum, or a bushel of oats, an empty basket. The heart of a Christian is not a receptacle to be emptied in order that the Holy Spirit might fill it. The Holy Spirit is not a substance to fill an empty receptacle. He is a Person to control another person, the believer. He does not fill a Christian’s life with Himself, He controls that person.37

Thus, Eph 5:18 can be translated as follows:

And stop being intoxicated with wine, in which state of intoxication there is profligacy. But be constantly controlled by the Spirit. (Wuest38)

Thus, we conclude on this matter that “being filled” with the Holy Spirit, is not to receive a top-up every once in a while, but to be constantly controlled by the Holy Spirit.

What would be the results of such control by the Holy Spirit? When we look at the first word—“speaking”—of the next verse (Eph 5:19), we find that the word is a present participle—see Vaughan39 for a discussion on participles—which in this case will mean that the “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” will be contemporaneous or concurrent with being constantly controlled or being filled with the Spirit. It will be a direct result of being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Under the control of the Holy Spirit, it will mean that our lives will be in accord with Eph 5:19-6:9.

Being under the control of the Holy Spirit may mean that we could speak in tongues or even prophesy, but the Biblical data instruct us otherwise. When we are under His control, we become effective ministers of the gospel, not tongue speaking, chandelier swinging Pentecostals or Charismatics.

[1] Schaeffer, Francis A., The FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER Trilogy: The Three Essential Books in One Volume, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1990, pp217-218.
[2] MacArthur, John F., The Vanishing Conscience, Three Best Sellers in One Volume, W Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, pp69-70.
[3] Ibid., p68.
[4] Ibid., p69.
[5] Ibid., p69.
[6] Finney, Charles G., Finney’s Systematic Theology: The Complete & Newly Expanded 1878 Edition, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1994, p459.
[7] Ibid., p456.
[8] Ibid., p457.
[9] Ibid., p458.
[10] Thiessen, Henry C., Lectures in Systematic Theology, Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted, December 1983, p259. Thiessen represents the Arminian view.
[11] Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, New Combined Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996, Systematic Theology, p115.
[12] For more on God’s foreknowledge, read my article called Who’s Free? God or Man? under the section God’s Foreknowledge.
[13] Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994, pp673-674.
[14] Boettner, Loraine, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1932, p205.
[15] Ibid., p209.
[16] Grudem, p682.
[17] Ibid., p683.
[18] Boettner, p288.
[19] Ibid., pp291-292.
[20] White, Dr James R. White, The Potter’s FREEDOM: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, Calvary Press Publishing, Amityville, NY, 2000, p108.
[21] Ibid., pp161-162.
[22] Grudem, p710.
[23] Gonzalez, Justo L., The Story of Christianity: Complete in One Volume, The Early Church to the Present Day, VOLUME TWO, The Reformation to the Present Day, Prince Press, Peabody, Massachusetts, First Printing – December 1999, pp19-20.
[24] Grudem, p746.
[25] Ibid., p753.
[26] Ibid., p755.
[27] Ness, Alex W. Ness, D.D., The Holy Spirit: Volume One, Christian Centre Publications, Ontario, Canada, First Printing, September 1979, p162.
[28] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume Three, Untranslatable Riches from the Greek New Testament, Copyright renewed 1970, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted January 1979, pp85-86.
[29] Grudem, p767.
[30] MacArthur, John F., Jr., Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, p231.
[31] Grudem, p771.
[32] Wuest, p109.
[33] Vaughan, Curtis and Gideon, Virtus E., A Greek Grammar of the New Testament: A Workbook mApproach to Intermediate Grammar, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1979, p157.
[34] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume Three, Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament, 1973, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted January 1979, p97..
[35] Grudem, p779.
[36] Wuest, Nuggets, p33.
[37] Wuest, Riches, p104.
[38] Wuest, Kenneth S., The New Testament: an Expanded Translation, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reprinted November 1981, p456.
[39] Vaughan, p154ff.
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