92. Are Arminians Saved?
Question: If we are saved by grace alone (and we are) how can anyone be saved if they believe salvation is a cooperation between man and God and that you can lose your salvation? If one believes they can lose their salvation does not that faith then become a work, rather than a gift of God? If someone believes they can lose their salvation, do they really believe that it is the finished work of Christ, and not the "work" of faith, that saves them? If someone believes that they can lose their salvation, would it be true that their faith is no longer a free gift from God, but something the sinner needs to muster up daily to keep their salvation? So here is the hard question. In this matter, can we be saved in spite bad theology? If someone truly held to the five points of Arminianism, could they have "real" saving faith? Can you have real saving faith without understanding Grace Alone?
Response: Important question. If they are consistent, since they do not believe grace is effectual, Arminians must ascribe their repenting and believing to their own wisdom, humility, sound judgment and good sense. However, I tend on the side of being generous if Arminians affirm that they justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ's mercy alone, which most Arminians do. So we do not exactly hold the view that Arminians are lost. Much bad theology turns out merely to be inconsistent theology and it is possible to be saved in spite of bad theology, but only if you are inconsistent, and you don't really believe what you think or say you believe. I find, in my many encounters with Arminians, that this is usually the case. Thankfully I think a good number Arminians are inconsistent, and they don't really believe what they say. For example, they pray for God to bring friends and neighbors to salvation - why? God has no power (or right) to do that, according to Arminianism. But some Arminians (I would argue, the ones that are saved) know in their heart that salvation IS all the work of God and IS all by grace. So they pray for God to save sinners! Their true theology comes out in their prayers, even if they don't want to admit it. I feel that, over time and with patience, these people would become reformed in theology if they had good teaching and instruction.
There are some Arminians who agree that salvation is all of Christ - that even faith is only the instrument by which we receive Christ. Most Arminians I engage with will clearly acknowledge that they have no hope save in the mercy of Jesus Christ alone and if it were not for prevenient grace they would never come to Christ on their own. In fact most classic Arminians believe this. As long as all their trust is in Christ, and they see faith as nothing more than an instrument to receive Him, then it is probable they are saved and we should be generous in thinking they are. You may say, how can "everything be of Christ" if faith is from us? I would answer, it is possible to be inconsistent! (we all are to some extent) But it is a happy inconsistency, as long as they truly rest on Christ alone. On the other hand, if they say they rest on Christ alone, but really ultimately trust in their own work of faith, they are not saved. There are Arminians who see faith as the "work" by which God accepts them, because Christ has made it possible for God to now accept this new "work" of faith instead of the "work" of the law - such people are not saved. If an Arminian was consistently self-consciously opposed to the truth that salvation is resting on the finished work of Christ alone, they would not be saved.
However, in answer to your specific question, an Arminian who affirms that someone can lose their salvation is delving into very dangerous waters because this means they believe Jesus is not sufficient to save completely, but that we must somehow attain or maintain our own just standing before God. This is a rejection of the gospel. But oftentimes I think this is again an inconsistency because they would never consciously say that Jesus work is insufficient. Their theology denies that at one point and embraces it at another. our job is to point out the inconsistency. We leave the persuading to God and I thnk we should be patient with the result, espcially if people have been taught otherwise all their lives.
There are, however, certain vocal Arminians that my heart becomes heavy with concern with. For example, a prominent Arminian, when recently speaking against the Reformed view of God's meticulous sovereignty over all things said, "The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil." When I hear such rash comments coming from a person who claims to be a Christian I cringe because in reality they are essentially calling God, the devil. The heart is hardening to a point I consider to be playing with fire. Other Arminians may not be so crass but speak of the reformed view of God's sovereignty and salvation by grace ALONE so mockingly that I again find myself concerned for their souls because, in fact, they are speaking this way about God and His word, not just another viewpoint. If the Reformed view is a true representation of God then they actually end up mocking God, a place I do not wish upon anyone.
So, to sum up, a fully consistent Arminian is not saved - but to be fully consistent you would have to be an open theist or something like it. But some Arminians are inconsistent, truly trusting in Christ alone, grace alone, but not thinking through what that means when it comes to faith, perseverance, etc. They are very weak in their understanding, and need to be taught the truth. IF they resist that teaching, and cling to their own contribution to salvation, it may be evidence that they are not saved. If they receive the teaching, and say, yes, this is true - it is grace alone, and grow in this, then they are saved and perhaps were before, but not enjoying their salvation, because bogged down in inconsistently bad theology. Consider that if someone is truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit but has sit for years under the false teaching of his denomination, he will become resistant to hearing the truth, especially the first time because his tradition has largely replaced it. If confronted with Scripture long enough it is probable they will be stripped of all poor understanding and self-effort, BUT many of these persons will likely NEVER have the opportunity to be confronted on this in their environment, that is, until Jesus returns. There are many Chrisitans in China in remote places who could not possibly come into contact with a theologically reformed church but the Holy Spirit may have quickened them while reading the Scriptures. I will not count out the fact that such a person may be saved.
Every time you sin and every time you think wrong thoughts about God you are acting or thinking inconsistently. This does not mean you are unsaved. God often leaves us in weakness so we will trust more in what Christ has done for us. Having perfect theology certainly does not save us, Christ does, even if we understand this less than perfectly as I indeed do.
So for some Arminians, becoming Reformed truly marks their conversion to Christ. Others I think are "reformed" without knowing it. They might call themselves Arminians, but they aren't. That's why I resist making blanket statements that "all Arminians are not saved."
Notes adapted from Pastor Eric Tuininga
For Further Study
The Bane of Neo-Gnostic Calvinism by Greg Fields
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