The Superiority of Arminianism regarding Assurance of Salvation

Some have argued that Arminianism offers little assurance that one will finally be saved due to the notion, which is an Arminian distinctive, that a believer can forfeit and thus "lose" his or her salvation by rejection of one's prior faith in Christ. What may surprise many is that Arminianism, from my perspective and the perspective of many other Arminians, actually maintains and propagates to the believer a more firm and assuring case for the believer's perseverance than does Calvinism.

First and foremost, a believer cannot lose his or her salvation (cf. John 3:16, 36; Rom. 5:1), since he or she by definition remains in the state of belief or trust in Christ and is, hence, a believer. The one who falls away from salvation is the one who is no longer believing or trusting in Christ alone and is thus not a believer. Second, the believer does not lose his or her salvation necessarily by falling into sin. Though practiced sinful choices may lead one to deny Christ, in the future, the act(s) of sin does not cause one to lose his or her salvation. A person is justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1); and a person is not justified because of unbelief. If a person no longer believes in or trusts in Christ Jesus for salvation, then that person will not be justified by God, accounted righteous in Christ and by His salvific work and righteous merit.

But how may a person be assured that he or she will remain a believer and finally inherit everlasting life? Jesus commands His disciples to remain in Him (John 15:4-5). But Jesus does not teach that a person will, inevitably, remain in Him. As a matter of fact, He states, "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6 NIV) There is no assurance of final salvation in this particular statement of Jesus. He then states, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7) Again, there is no assurance that a person will, inevitably, remain in Him. He frames the matter conditionally, "If you remain in me," in order to draw one's attention to the significance of one proactively and intentionally remaining in Him.

Some suggest that Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election and predestination guarantees that a person, having been unconditionally elected unto salvation from before the creation of the world, is automatically granted assurance of final salvation. This, however, is not the case. Recall that, in Calvinism, an unconditionally elected person is granted or given faith in Jesus Christ when a person is regenerated by God. This experience is something that allegedly happens to a person, like being struck by lightning, apart from any volition of the recipient. A person, allegedly, evolves from unregenerate to regenerate, from unbeliever to believer, apart from any thought or cognitive motion of his or her own -- the individual is saved to faith.

Moreover, since this grace is given by God, owing nothing to the sinner, the same is, evidently, His gift to take back, undermining assurance. Calvin explains:
And this is the only reason why some persevere to the end, and others, after beginning their course, fall away. Perseverance is the gift of God, which He does not lavish promiscuously on all, but imparts to whom He pleases. If it is asked how the difference arises -- why some steadily persevere, and others prove deficient in steadfastness -- we can give no other reason than that the Lord, by His mighty power, strengthens and sustains the former, so that they perish not, while He does not furnish the same assistance to the latter, but leaves them to be monuments of instability."1 (emphases added)
Understand the implications that Calvin is suggesting. God may enlighten you, and cause you to hope in Jesus Christ for salvation, but not give you perseverance; thereby you will, by necessity, fall away from faith and salvation. What deception! What betrayal of the assurance of salvation! Why does God do this? God, allegedly, behaves in this manner in order to make you a monument or trophy of instability. Calvin is using the same language as does St Augustine, the early fifth-century innovator of these doctrines, from whom Calvin assumes his theological cues.

Augustine writes: "It is, indeed, to be wondered at, and greatly to be wondered at, that to some of His own children -- whom He has regenerated in Christ -- to whom He has given faith, hope, and love, God does not give perseverance also."2 As if the novel theories of unconditional election and reprobation, rejected by the early fathers, are not heinous enough, Augustine and Calvin also promote a God who taunts, teases and deceives people with the faintest glimmer of salvation, only to withdraw it from them, leaving them in utter disillusionment and shame -- bound for an eternal torment in hell. There is absolutely no hope of final salvation in Calvinism, for the present believer has no idea as to whether or not he or she is truly one of the unconditionally elect. Yes, God may have enlightened you unto faith in Christ Jesus, but there is absolutely no hope that He will not take it from you in the very next moment, for God may desire and will for you to be a monument of instability.

The above quote from Calvin is no mere slip of the pen. Again he writes: "In fine, we are sufficiently taught by experience itself, that calling and faith are of little value without perseverance, which, however, is not the gift of all."3 Even the Arminian who does not hold to the doctrine of necessary perseverance will not admit to the latter part of that statement! There are those who were called of God, possessors of faith in Christ, who do not persevere. However, Arminians do not attribute their lack of perseverance or falling away to a decree of God making them objects of instability.

Calvin's view of God has more in common with Islam than orthodox Christianity. Dr. Ahmad Shafaat explains: "For these reasons a Muslim is very cautious about making any categorical statement about the ultimate fate of specific individuals, including himself. He never presumes himself to be a soul already saved but humbly leads his entire life in a state of mind that lies between hope and fear." Hope and fear. The late Bible teacher Dave Hunt recounts the story of a Calvinist who once existed in the same manner of hope and fear. Quoted at length, Hunt recounts his experience:
Al immersed himself in a detailed study of each of the five points of TULIP. And that turned out to be the start of a downward slide in his faith . . . Al realized that if he had been elected unto salvation, it could only have been unconditionally and thus completely apart from any "faith" he could have placed in Christ. That faith had to be given to him after he was saved and could not have involved belief on his part. Looking back on what he had once thought was a clear memory of responding to the gospel by simply believing in Christ, his confusion only grew . . .

The fact that he had read at least some, though not all, of that imposing and intellectually challenging volume, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, had once given Al considerable pride . . . With horror Al read what now seemed to be sadistic reasoning: [Calvin writes that] ". . . experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them . . . Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of His goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption.

"Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment . . . Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize His grace; but that conviction He distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which He gives to His elect in this respect, that the reprobate never obtain to the full result or to fruition. When He shows Himself propitious to them, it is not as if He had truly rescued them a manifestation of this present mercy. In the elect alone He implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. There is nothing to prevent His giving some a slight knowledge of His Gospel, and imbuing others thoroughly" [3:2.11-12].4
The Calvinist can only hope without assurance that he or she is truly one of God's alleged unconditionally elect -- a person whom the Lord will grant perseverance and final salvation. But there is and can be no guarantee to that end. Calvin quotes some very reassuring passages about the salvation of those whom the Father has unconditionally given to Jesus from John 6:37-39, 10:27-28, and other places. But this only begs the question: How can a person be sure that he or she will not be the one whom God does not grant perseverance? While it is a gift of God, it is most certainly not the gift of all. Again, in yet another place, Calvin promotes the God of the Taunt:
Besides this there is a special call [the effectual call of the elect, as opposed to the general call to all people], for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit He causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, He communicates it also to those whom He enlightens only for a time, and whom afterward, in just punishment for their ingratitude, He abandons and smites with greater blindness.5
Contrast this confused, distorted, unbiblical and ghastly view of God, salvation, and perseverance with that of Arminius: "He who is of opinion that it is possible for him to decline from the faith, and who, therefore, is afraid lest he should decline, is neither destitute of necessary consolation, nor is he, on this account, tormented with anxiety of mind." In other words, the believer who is concerned about his or her salvation need not think that his or her soul is without comfort. "For it suffices to inspire consolation and to exclude anxiety when he knows that he will decline from the faith through no force of Satan, of sin, or of the world, and through no ... inclination or weakness of his own flesh, unless he willingly and of his own accord yield to temptation, and neglect to work out his salvation in a conscientious manner."6 Obviously, neither should such a one be anxious in thinking that God Himself will withdraw His grace, and cause the forfeiture of one's salvation.

Let us assess what is conceded by Arminius. If a person thinks that falling away is possible, and of one not remaining in Christ (cf. John 15:4-7), that thought does not deter from one maintaining assurance of salvation or gaining consolation in a time of doubt. The only individual who will cause a person to fall away is the individual him- or herself: no human being, no devil, no angel and not even God Himself will cause a person to lose faith in Christ and forfeit one's salvation. Not so in Calvinism. God Himself causes some to fall away. Hence the superiority of Arminianism.

Furthermore, in Arminianism, the fact that a person fears that he or she could fall away from the faith and salvation is 1) a tell-tale sign that the person is a regenerate child of God; for those who fear not being saved show that the work of God is active in their heart; and 2) a motivating factor for him or her to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Arminius's view of assurance and perseverance urges believers to seek and remain in the Lord by continual faith, the pursuit of holiness, and the seeking to live to honor Christ. Calvin's model of assurance and perseverance teaches that God has unconditionally chosen some for heaven and others for hell. But even some from among those chosen for hell, God may delude and confuse into thinking that they are Christians, saved and enlightened and regenerated children of God.

What is my point? Let me be very clear. Among the various reasons why Calvinism should be avoided by orthodox Christians, assurance of salvation and perseverance is certainly a contender. In Calvinism, the only hope for the lost is unconditional election. In Arminianism, the only hope for the lost is a Spirit-induced faith in Christ Jesus by the proactive grace of God -- a God who genuinely desires their salvation (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11;1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) -- a God who would never deceive some people into thinking that they were saved when they were not saved.


1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 2:5.3.

2 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999), 58.

3 Calvin, 3:24.6.

4 Dave Hunt, What Love is This? Calvin's Misrepresentation of God (Sisters, OR: Loyal Publishing, Inc., 2002), 385, 387, 390, 391.

5 Calvin, 3:24.8.

6 James Arminius, "Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighed: Article XXII. On the Assurance of Salvation," in The Works of Arminius, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 2:726.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.