Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?

A February 22, 2013 blog by Stephen McCaskell on entitled “Does God HATE the ones whom He will not save?” highlights the primary reason I am not a Calvinist. This is my response to McCaskell’s article.

cross-earthOne of the biggest dilemmas of Calvinism is, how can a loving God elect some people for eternity in Hell? If God chooses who is saved, and who is condemned, then God must not love all people. As McCaskell admits, “It would seem that it’s not exactly the easiest thing to reconcile the doctrine of election and God’s universal love.”

Some Calvinists see no problem here. They believe God loves the elect, but hates the non-elect. But in order to do this, they must twist the clear teaching of Scripture. If this view were correct, John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever God elects will believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.” However, that’s not what it says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Other Calvinists, such as McCaskell, cannot ignore the clear teaching of the Bible that God’s love is universal. This creates the paradox that God loves the very people He sends to Hell. McCaskell explains his solution to this paradox:

In the Scriptures we read of God’s amazing love towards sinners, but normally it’s towards his people, the elect. Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. If he loved everyone in a saving manner, then all would be saved. But we know this is not true. Not all are saved.

Obviously God doesn’t love all people the same way. This solution to the paradox is even more problematic than the paradox itself. McCaskell simply redefines God’s love in a way that is obviously nonsensical. Note some of the comments posted on his blog page:

Sagrav says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:04 am
A love that sits by passively as you are tortured for eternity is a hollow thing indeed.

Sharon says:
February 22, 2013 at 11:28 am
Your definition of love is morally bankrupt if you can say with a straight face that God both loves and chooses some people for damnation.

So, what’s the answer to this paradox?

The problem with Calvinism is that it’s based on a logical fallacy. According to every Calvinist I’ve read or talked to about the subject:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, free will cannot exist.

The fallacy is in point 3. Free will does not take away from God’s sovereignty. God can, and does, remain entirely sovereign, while at the same time granting Mankind free will. Free will is the essence of what it means to be created in the image of God. No other creatures have the ability to make moral choices. God created Mankind in His image so that we would be capable of having a love relationship with Him. Without free will, love is impossible. Love must be chosen, or it’s not really love. God made the sovereign choice to give Mankind the gift of free will in order to allow us to have a love relationship with Him. This in no way detracts from or diminishes His sovereignty, but in fact, affirms it.

How do we reconcile God’s universal love and the reality of eternal damnation? It is only because of Mankind’s free will that this paradox is avoided. God gives everyone the universal invitation to be saved. Those who accept God’s invitation are saved; those who reject it are damned:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

Calvinism falsely teaches that Mankind cannot choose to accept or reject the Gospel, and this is heresy.

On a side note, ironically, Armenianism (the opposite of Calvinism), is based on the same logical fallacy, but with a different conclusion. According to Armenian thinking:

  1. God is sovereign, meaning that God is in absolute, total control of everything.
  2. Free will means that Mankind controls at least some things.
  3. If Mankind controls some things, then God does not control everything.
  4. Therefore, God is not totally sovereign.

This logic is based on the same fallacy as Calvinism, and the conclusion is equally heretical.

Did Jesus Die For the Whole World?

Some Christians would argue that Jesus Christ only died for the “elect” – that God chose, or elected, certain people that would be saved (the Elect), and chose to send the rest (the Reprobate) to Hell.  Human beings have no choice in the matter; if God picks you, you will believe and be saved, but if He doesn’t pick you, you have no chance to be saved.  This belief is fundamental to Calvinism.

There are several verses in the Bible that contradict this belief.  One of these is 1 John 2:2:

 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

First, what does “propitiation” mean?  Propitiation can be defined as the act of appeasing one offended and gaining his favor.  When John says that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, he means that only the blood of Jesus Christ can appease God’s wrath against human sin, and can put sinners into God’s favor.  Only through Jesus Christ can our sins be paid for; only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God.

The problem for Calvinists is the second part of the verse:  “…and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”  Taken in a straight-forward manner, this verse says that the propitiation for sin is available not only to John’s audience, but to everyone.  Who was John’s audience?  Most scholars believe John was primarily writing to Jewish Christians – first century people who were born and brought up as Jews, but who became Christian believers after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John Samson, a reformed pastor, writes on

… we approach the First Epistle of John, and remember that it is a letter written to a primarily Jewish audience. So in 1 John 2:2, as in the rest of the letter, we have the Apostle John, a Jew, writing primarily to fellow Jewish believers in the Messiah. He writes of Jesus Christ being “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” It is possible that the word “world” here refers to every person on planet earth, but in my estimation, not very likely, because of the fact that we have a Jew, writing to fellow Jews. I think it is far more likely that John is here declaring that Christ died not only for our sins (the sins of Jewish people), but for also for those of the whole world (the sins of Gentiles throughout the world).

Samson is arguing that the phrase, “the whole world,” doesn’t mean the whole world, but the elect gentiles.  This is an example of coming to the text with a preconceived idea, and forcing one’s understanding into the text.  Samson presupposes Calvinism, but when the text contradicts his presupposition, he simply forces his presupposition into the text to make it say what he wants it to say.  He even acknowledges that a plain reading of the text doesn’t support his view –  “It is possible that the word “world” here refers to every person on planet earth” – but he then explains why he thinks the text means exactly the opposite of what it says.

What did John Calvin have to say about this verse?  Quoted on, he writes:

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

Calvin is arguing that “the whole world” actually means “the whole church,” which would exclude the reprobate, and only include the elect.  Again, the problem is that John didn’t write, “the whole church.”  He wrote “the whole world.”  Again, this is an example of trying to fit one’s personal beliefs into the Scriptures, despite the fact that they don’t fit.  In effect, Calvinists must claim that John didn’t write what he meant to write; he didn’t phrase his statement clearly.  And, since God Himself inspired John to write 1 John, God must have gotten it wrong, too.  It is ironic that Calvinists, who focus so much on God’s sovereignty, must in effect deny His sovereignty, and argue that God goofed, because  1 John 2:2 doesn’t mean what it says.

What does 1 John 2:2 mean?  Does it mean, as others would argue, that everyone is saved?  1 John 2:2 states that Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world.  This means that in Christ is found everything that is necessary to appease God’s wrath, and gain His favor.   What is doesn’t state is whether the propitiation is actually applied to the whole world.  Other verses, such as John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10, make this clearer:

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Romans 10:9-10 – if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.   For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

These verses, as well as many others, indicate that a person must believe in order to be saved.  Neither the one extreme of Calvinism, nor the other extreme of Universalism, is correct.  What is correct?  I think Calvin himself stated it well, although he didn’t believe it to be true: Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were sufficient to cover the sins of every person in the whole world, but are only applied to those who God elected, based on His foreknowledge of who would choose to receive the gift of salvation.  1 John 2:2 makes it very clear that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world; John3:16 makes it clear that one must choose to believe in order to receive the benefits of Jesus’ propitiation for sin.

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 3

Losing Your Salvation, or Conditional Preservation of the Saints

According to some, once a person is saved – they have repented of their sin, placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and received eternal life – it is possible for them to lose that salvation.  This is the Arminian belief that believers are preserved by God in their saving relationship with Him upon the condition of a persevering faith in Christ. If a Christian stops believing, they are no longer saved.

This makes no sense to me.

In order to analyze this position, one must first understand exactly what happens to a person when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior.

Why does a person need to be saved in the first place?  In Genesis, God created humankind (Adam and Eve) to live sinless lives in a perfect relationship with Him.  However, they sinned, and that sin has been passed to all of humanity (Romans 5:12).  Sin separates us from God.  We are all born condemned because of sin (Romans 5:18).

How does a person get saved?  Romans 10:9-10 states, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  John 1:12 says, “12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name,”  and John 3:16 says, “16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  So, salvation is based on believing in Jesus Christ and His resurrection, and receiving His forgiveness.

What happens to a person when they are saved?  First, the penalty for the person’s sins is removed, and placed on Jesus Christ, Who paid the penalty for sin on the cross.  Second, they are “born again” (John 3:3-8). When a person is born, their spirit – the part of us that connects us to God – is dead.  When we are saved, our spirit is brought to life.  This is eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Third, at the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer; he or she is then sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  The person becomes a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The new Christian undergoes an instantaneous transformation from death to eternal life.  He or she is instantaneously changed from guilty to innocent before God, and immediately saved against the wrath of God.  They are immediately placed into God’s family, and are instantly given the Holy Spirit within them who will guide and direct them.  But, the new Christian does not become instantaneously perfect and sinless. They are still trapped in a fallen, sinful body, with fallen, sinful minds.    But, the process of becoming like Christ – called sanctification – begins immediately.  Christians don’t receive new, perfect bodies and perfect, sinless minds until we arrive in Eternity.

There are numerous Bible passages that allude to salvation being permanent and unable to be lost.  Here is a partial list (links provided for context verification or translation change):

  • John 6:35-37  35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
  • John 10:27-29  27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  • Romans 11:29  29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
  • Ephesians 1:13-14  13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 whois the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
  • Hebrews 9:11-15 But Christ came as High Priest … with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
  • 1 John 5:11-13  11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

There are several passages that seem to indicate a Christian can lose their salvation.  Under closer scrutiny, each passage can easily be understood to either refer to persons who were never saved in the first place, or refer to something other than salvation.  Here are two of the most problematic:

Hebrews 6:4-6  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

The first question is, what is the context?  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians of the first century.  The author has just completed a discussion of spiritual immaturity.  He then continues by discussing the consequences of not progressing from immaturity to maturity.

What does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean?  Some would argue that it means Christians can lose their salvation – “fall away” – and can never be again saved.  I disagree; in fact, I believe the author is arguing exactly the opposite.  It appears to me that he is arguing that since it would be impossible for someone to be saved again if they lost their salvation, it is therefore impossible to lose one’s salvation.  In context, the author is arguing that spiritual immaturity cannot result in a loss of salvation!  The author continues in verse 9:  “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation.”  He is saying that what he just talked about – losing one’s salvation – does not apply to them.  In verse 11, he mentions “the full assurance of hope until the end” – eternal security!  In verse 19, he states that “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Again, our hope – salvation – is an “anchor” that is “sure and steadfast” – eternal.

Another key verse that some claim says that Christians can lose their salvation is Hebrews 10:26:  “26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  The question is, to whom is this referring?  The saved, or the unsaved?  I contend that receiving “knowledge of the truth” is not the same as being saved.  Many people understand the Gospel message, but reject it.  These are the people Hebrews 10:26 talks about.  The author is saying that when a person fully understands the Gospel, yet consciously rejects Jesus Christ anyway, it makes no difference that they understand.  Belief is more than mere intellectual assent; it involves receiving and applying the truth to one’s life.

There are several other passages that proponents of conditional preservation point to in order to support their position, but a closer examination of each shows that the texts either do not refer to salvation, or else refer to the unsaved, not the saved.

With all of this background information in mind, let us now consider the possibility of losing one’s salvation from a logical viewpoint.  How can a person who has been “born again” become “unborn” again?  How can eternal life become temporary?  If the penalty for sin has been removed by Jesus Christ on the cross, does Jesus give it back to the person if they stop believing?  How can a person who has been eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit become unsealed?

When a person is saved, there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The human spirit, which is born dead, is brought to life.  For a person to lose their salvation would mean that they would have to spiritually die again.  The fundamental change known as being “born again” and becoming a “new creation” would have to be reversed.  The Holy Spirit would have to leave them.  And, according to Hebrews 6:4-6, they could never again be saved.

The Christian is promised eternal life upon trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.  If this can be lost, then it isn’t eternal.  If a Christian could lose their salvation, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in and remains obedient to Him should not perish but have everlasting life, as long as they continue to believe and remain obedient.”  However, that’s not what it says.

What then of those who have professed to be Christians, but later deny Jesus Christ?  I see two possibilities.  By far, the most common view is that they were never truly saved in the first place.  Many people have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, but never actually put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I believe these are the people Hebrews 6:4-6 talks about.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

How horrible it will be for those who understood the Gospel, but never received Jesus Christ as Savior!

The second possibility is considerably more controversial.  I believe there are some true born-again Christians who later change their minds, but are still destined for heaven nonetheless.  I believe some people can come to true faith and trust in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life, but at some later time are deceived by Satan, and intellectually conclude that Christianity is false.  Perhaps they backslide to the point where they no longer care; or perhaps they suffer a hurt so deeply that they blame God, and want nothing more to do with Him.  Whatever the circumstances, they are deceived into the intellectual conclusion that Christianity is false.  However, since they are eternally saved, and have eternally received the Holy Spirit, they will still go to Heaven when they die.  And, since they still are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who continues to convict them of their sin and unbelief, they are probably the most miserable people on the face of the earth.  Some of the so-called “angry atheists” may fall into this category.  The only way they can maintain their intellectual atheism is by actively ranting and persecuting anything related to God, the Bible, and Christianity.  I do not think there are many who fall into this category, because it would be extremely difficult for a person to deny the Holy Spirit when He lives inside of them, but I think there are some that do.  How extremely miserable they must be!

In conclusion, I do not understand the belief that a Christian can lose their salvation.  I understand where the belief comes from; but, I don’t understand how it makes any sense whatsoever.  As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12, “for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”  If eternal life can be lost, then it wasn’t eternal life to begin with.

Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 2

Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.

There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand.  I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines.  If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.

The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.

I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines.  The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs.  My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation.  I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.

John Calvin

John Calvin

Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons.  This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.

Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ.  Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.

These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it.  If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved.  Human beings have no choice in the matter.

There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic.  Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice.  It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.

The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines:  what happens to the unelected?  If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved.  If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity.  God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world.  The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving.  How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption?  How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell?  Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone?  How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?”  This makes no sense to me!

It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible.  I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me.  Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin.  The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined.  How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?

If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.”  The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.

BibleThe Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices.  It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time.  It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite.  There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.

If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding.  Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”