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A Curious Contrast

Posted by Matt Postiff September 26, 2015 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

After I spent some time talking to someone about the doctrine of sanctification, a strange thought struck me about Arminian soteriology and a certain form of sanctification as contrasted with Calvinistic soteriology and sanctification. Let me over-simplify and summarize it this way:

Some Arminians say this:

1. I can be saved.

2. I cannot be sanctified unless a certain formula is met.

But Calvinists say the opposite in both cases.

3. I cannot be saved.

4. I can indeed be sanctified after I am saved.

To be fair, both sides recognize in soteriology that God must do something to save man. Christ is indispensable in the view of both; some work of God is wrought upon the heart of man, either by rendering him able with prevenient grace, or working a special grace in his heart at the moment of salvation.

But the similarities stop just about there. The Arminian believes, or at least seems to believe, that every person has a fairly unfettered ability to make a choice to respond to the gospel of Christ. The Calvinist denies this and says that people are dead in sin and cannot respond unless a special work of God is wrought upon their hearts.

The curious thing is that some Arminians who believe the unsaved person has such ability in salvation deny the believer's ability in the subsequent work of sanctification. Believers, on their view, are unable to simply obey the commands of God in the Bible. Some sequence of special things has to happen in their lives before they can have victory over sin. For instance, they have to "reckon" themselves to be dead to sin, or they have to consecrate themselves, or be filled with the Spirit, or be "broken," before they can achieve victory over sin.

The Calvinist on the other hand, who denies ability at salvation, rejoices to point out the new found power of the believer after salvation. The Holy Spirit has taken up ministry within the believer; a new nature has been imparted; new desires have been implanted; regeneration has occurred. The believer is a new creature in Christ and can in fact obey the commands of God. True, the commands are not obeyed in mere human power. But they can be obeyed!

I found the swapping of "ability" before and after salvation in these two systems to be a curious thing. Why should any Arminian who believes a person has the ability to initially come to salvation not believe that at least that much ability, and more, is to be found in the believer after salvation?

Arminian: I can get saved, but once I do, I cannot persevere. God may or may not preserve me.

Calvinist: I cannot get saved, but once I do, I have the ability to persevere. God will preserve me.

Arminian: ability becomes inability. Calvinist: inability becomes ability.

To be sure, some will take issue with how I am, perhaps, over-simplifying things. But I think the contrast is worthy of some thought before dismissing it.

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