Calvinists, Arminians and Assurance

In my previous post I summarized the conclusions of Keith Stanglin in his recent book Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. In this post, I want to offer an extended theological comment on the nature of assurance for Calvinists and Arminians. I will indulge this for one post before I move on to more personal concerns next week with the anniversary of my first wife’s death on the horizon (April 30). Your comments–even disagreements (surely there will be none, however 🙂 )–are welcome.

My basic opinion is that in practice Calvinists and Arminians experience assurance by the same means. At one level they both claim the same objective grounds–the promise, love, mercy and grace of God (that is, that Christ died for us) and they claim the same basic subjective evidences–faith, fruit of sanctification, religious experience, etc (that is, the work of the Spirit in the believer).  The epistemology of present assurance (how do I know I am saved?) is answered with the same kinds of words, expressions and evidences. At root, both Calvinists and Arminians are assured by grace through faith.

It seems to me that this is an arena in which Calvinists and Arminians can acknowledge common ground. It is in the theory that they differ–and theories that often operate at inferential levels rather than with the plain statements of Scripture. I would rather we speak of assurance through faith than drawing out inferences to “make sense” of that assurance in the light of our theories. But, alas, our historical situation does not permit–so it seems–a unity at the pragmatic level of faith but we feel the incessant need to debate the theories as well. Nevertheless, this is where I tend to concentrate my thought and practice.

But–to speak of theories :-)–my further opinion is that Arminians have a better theological ground for assurance than Calvinists. Or, perhaps to put it another way, Calvinists–in my opinion–obscure their assurance with a speculative doctrine of election that entails a postulate of “temporary faith” (Jean Calvin, Institutes 3.2.11; comment on Matthew 13:20 in his Harmony of the Evangelists). This notion salvages the Reformed doctrine of election from shipwreck on the rocks of those who lose their faith (a reality that we know from both Scripture and experience). It seems necessary to Calvinists–given the doctrine of election–to postulate that those who lose their faith never had authentic faith in the first place.  And, in fact, there are some people who apparently never really did have faith (cf. 1 John 2), but that does not mean that everyone who loses faith never had authentic faith unless we are protecting, as in Reformed theology, a particular understanding of the doctrine of election or seeking to harmonize that reality with a particular interpretation of a text.

That is fine as far as a logical move to seek harmony among various texts of Scripture. But the problem becomes how is one sure whether they have “temporary faith” or have “authentic faith”? Those who have temporary faith believe they have authentic faith–they can’t see a difference. For example, I remember a conversation with a friend at Westminster about a mutual friend who had lost their faith. My friend thought it was an example of “temporary faith” (or temporary loss that would later appear again in perseverance) but it puzzled me that our mutual friend when he believed really thought he did believe. By all appearances and, according to his own confession (unless he was dishonest), he fully embraced the gospel in heart and soul.

How can those who have authentic faith know their faith is authentic when those who have temporary faith think they have authentic faith? It is in this context that the doctrine of election is controlling how we think about assurance and faith. It introduces a reason for doubt in the minds of believers. And this is not a doubt about the subjective evidences of their faith, but a theological doubt  rooted in a theological theory that undercuts the objective ground of assurance itself. Because, if they have “temporary faith,” then God does not really love them, that is, he has not chosen (elected) them.

It seems to me better ground to say that God loves all, seeks the salvation of all, and that no one should doubt that Christ died for them and that God desires their salvation. Faith is trusting the love of God in Christ and knowing, by God’s own declaration, that Christ died for all and that God has salvific intent for me. I don’t have to know whether I am one of the elect to trust the word of God that Christ died for me, but rather through faith in God’s work for me in Christ I know that I am one of the elect. And I don’t have to wonder whether I am one of those who will eventually “go out” because I never really was one of the faithful. Instead, through faith I know I am one for whom Christ died and there is no necessity to entertain a theological doubt about “temporary faith.”

Now I believe Calvinists can mitigate this idea of “temporary faith” with Calvin’s own notion that the assurance of salvation is the assurance of election. But this places the mode of assurance in the same frame as Arminians themselves. We know our election through our present faith in Christ and not the reverse. Consequently, it seems to me that however one views election it does not have a telling effect on one’s assurance unless one places the doubt of “temporary faith” in the mind of the believer in order to protect a doctrine of election.

Assurance is faith in Christ; united with Christ we are assured our of salvation and we are united to him through faith. Here Calvinist and Arminian can stand on common ground with common faith: we are both saved by grace through faith. Even though I think Arminianism holds a better theory of assurance than Calvinism, I readily acknowledge that both access assurance by the same means: trust in the work of God for us and bearing the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

But I am an Arminian–as much as I can use categories of myself (in my opinion one who says they are neither or they transcend the discussion doesn’t really understand Arminianism or Calvinism–but that is just my opinion 🙂 ). Consequently, according to my “theory,” I believe my present faith assures me because I know Christ died for me whereas the present faith of Calvinists logically wonders whether their experience of faith is actually temporary faith which contains no assurance that Christ died for them.  So, in that sense, I know that Christ died for me and through present faith I experience his love, but Calvinists are potentially uncertain whether Christ died for them because ultimately they do not know whether their faith is temporary or not until it perseveres to the end. Only in the perseverance of faith are Calvinists assured. And only through present faith and its perseverance are Arminians assured.  The two stand, pragmatically, on the same ground–we are saved by grace through faith.

49 Responses to “Calvinists, Arminians and Assurance”

  1.   a helmet Says:

    Good thoughts. There’s a third category of faith to be considered besides temporary and authentic faith: “thorny-ground-faith”, which can also be described as no-fruit-faith. So you don’t even need to lose your faith in order for you to be possibly deluded 🙂 You might walk in faith all your life, however on a thorny ground without realizing it.
    Anyway, you are absolutely right that calvinism boils down to what can be described as “check-if-you-are-saved-ism”. Since there’s no objective ground for assurance, the scrutiny of the authenticity of one’s faith becomes a life long exercise. Thus, it seems, in calvinism it takes nothing to become chosen in the first place, yet it takes all of eternity to keep it.

    -a helmet

  2.   Keith Stanglin Says:

    Hallo, brother. I don’t visit here as much as I’d like to, but Nathan Bills alerted me to your present blog topic. Sorry about the book’s expense. If all your readers write to Brill Publishing and demand a paperback version, they might accommodate.:)

    Thank you for inspiring me, among other things, to dig into (historical) theology. Peace- Keith

  3.   Jr Says:

    Indeed, by grace we are saved. Now, to assurance:

    Jesus told us that neither He nor the Father will let us go if we are in Him. Period. (John 10:28-30) I am comforted (assured) in His Hand for eternity. An Arminian (as I understand it) cannot say this. An Arminian cannot be comforted with verses like that because they believe they can “choose” to remove themselves from His hand after once being saved with their “present faith.” Assurance, then, is based on a choice of faith. I do not see how one can be so assured when their faith is based on something as fickle as human “choice” without any divine power keeping anyone for certain.

    Now I admire the linguistic gymnastics Arminians must participate in to interpret Ephesians 1; but within it is a key to our assurance; for all of us. Listen now, Calvinists and Arminians, to how great the grace of our God is:
    If you believe that you are saved when you truly believe, then “[h]aving believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13b). And what does this Spirit do for those who truly believe? He “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (v.14)

    We are “sealed” and nowhere does Scripture say we are “unsealed”. This is our assurance all the way to redemption. Praise God!

    Arminians cannot (and don’t, as far as I can tell) believe in this; because they believe they can have the Spirit (sealed) and then lose it (unsealed) – so it is no “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption” at all. It is this thing that we can take and reject at the behest of our own fickle, human, rebellious will. And they call that assurance?

    This is what happens when Arminian’s rest their salvation on free will (as they would understand free will). They cannot believe they are guaranteed anything beyond what they control.

    Indeed, we are saved by grace through faith. An Arminian understanding is that one receives this faith by human choice; a Calvinist understanding is that one receives faith by the blood of the Cross as an act of God according to His particular will to the praise of His glory and grace (God opening Lydia’s heart in Acts 16:14 as one example). Thus, Arminians limit the effectiveness of the atonement.

    But regardless of these differences, we can all continue to preach and teach the Gospel so the sheep can hear the call of their Shepherd and be gathered into His pen. And let us all, by the grace and power of God, be witnesses to the following results: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

    “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” Hmmm – they were appointed to eternal life so they believed. This couldn’t mean that there are some who are not appointed and therefore don’t believe, could it? And who is doing this “appointing” anyway?

    Man, even in my call to unity the Scriptures speak loud and clear.

    Grace to you, JMH, and thanks for your indulgence with these topics of late –

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      Surely you know that Arminians take these texts into account in formulating their own understanding just as Calvinists take 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 into account as well. But I’m not interested in an exegetical debate at this time–perhaps another time.

      My point is that Calvinists can’t be sure John 10 applies to them unless they already know they are one of the elect since they might very well have “temporary faith.” I take confidence that God holds me in his hands through faith. I have no such assurance without faith, and neither does a Calvinist since only those who persevere in faith are the elect. I think we are in the same boat, Jr., but Arminians have a little better assurance that their faith is authentic faith since they do not have the doubt about “temporary faith” in their theological heads. 🙂 All “guarentees” are through faith and without it there is no “guarentee.”

      Indeed, Jr, we can all continue to call people to Jesus and God will give the increase. Grace and peace, my friend.

  4.   Royce Says:

    Let me see. Perhaps an overwhelming majority of your readers are members of churches of Christ. And, I have met only one man in a Restoration Movement tradition church who is not firmly Arminian. And, never in any group of believes have I met more people who doubt their salvation. That is just a fact. How else can you account for the high percentages of multiple baptisms, trying to get it right?

    I don’t know where you guys are getting your information but I think it is wrong. The idea that Calvinists have no objective security is nonsense. If I had only the promises of Jesus about salvation it would be enough for me to never doubt that I am saved. I am not a 5 point Calvinist, but I do believe what Jesus said over and over again is true and can be trusted.

    Arminians believe they can loose their salvation. If so it must be sin that seperates one from God so how could their assurance be objective? One must, at least to some degree, trust his own ability to please God if not doing so will damn.

    Is the perfect obedience of Jesus(to fulfill all righteousness), his sacrifice of his own body (to satisfy the penalty of sin), and his resurrection, enough to pay the penalty for ALL my sins, and fully meet the Father’s demand for flawless obedience? Indeed it is! And, can any of my personal goodness or obedience add to what Christ has done? No, it cannot and need not.

    So, I rest in the finished work of Jesus on my behalf, safe because He lives in me and I cannot die unless He dies. My obedient life, as imperfect as it is, is not to make Jesus Lord of my life, or to keep Him as Lord of my life, but rather because He IS Lord of my life. The lavish love God has for sinners and His grace to all who will look to Jesus and live causes the true disciple to say no to sin and yes to everything God wants with thanksgiving.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      I would suggest that you probably have met more Pelagians than Arminians in Churches of Christ. Doubters, however, transcend the Arminian/Calvinist divide–history is literally strewn with both kinds. It is the function of doubt among Calvinists that engendered the whole “assurance” controversy in the Netherlands in the first decade of the seventeenth century in the first place. I use “Arminian” in its classic sense–the theology of Jacobus Arminius, sometimes known as “Classical Arminianism.”

      Neither am I a Calvinist but I trust in the work of Jesus as well. I don’t add any righteousness to his faithfulness. This is where I rest too, my brother. By faith, Arminians trust in God’s work for salvation just as Calvinists do.

      Royce, I would ask you to read it again carefully. I did not say Calvinists have no objective sense of assurance. In fact, I said both Arminians and Calvinists have objective ground for assurance, even the same objective ground.

      My point–which is taken from Calvin himself who recognizes the reality of doubt among believers–is that part of the Calvinist system is the notion of “temporary faith.” This idea itself introduces doubt since one can never know whether they have authentic faith or temporary faith. This is not a problem for Arminians since faith–trust in the work of Christ for our sakes–is experienced authentically by resting in Christ without the doubts that some doctrine of election means that I might only have “temporary faith.”

  5.   Royce Says:

    John Mark,

    You are right, I did mis-read and misunderstand what you said. We disagree, but as you clearly state, we expect the same outcome.

    I admit that Calvinists reach for scripture to shore up their theology of salvation. And, I think you will agree that Armenians do the same.

    Until this post I have never heard of the idea of “temporary faith”. The fact that you say it and give a source is good enough for me, but it is news to me. Perhaps what is meant by the term is this. I have seen people come to church, make a profession of faith, and be immersed, and in a few weeks they are right back at the old haunts. They had some measure of belief (faith) but prove by living a sinful lifestyle they were only “make believers”, not “believers”.

    1 John is one of my favorite books of assurance. It plainly tells who is in and who is out. In the 5th chapter those who are in are those who are “in Christ” and their lives have proved up their faith. Or, “works that fit repentance”.

    All I want, and earnestly desire, is for my dear friends and brothers to trust Christ alone and nothing else. In my best effort, I disappoint myself, oh how I fail at pleasing God. My only hope is Jesus, my only ground of faith is Jesus, I can plead only his shed blood, I have nothing to offer to a Holy God.

    It grieves me to see men teach that if we shun others who call Christ Lord, God will be pleased. And that if worship is done just so, at this time, in this order, God will approve you and damn you if you don’t.

    Thank you for always being a gentleman and loving teacher. I want to be more like you.


  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I am with you Royce. I do not want to see people on a yo-yo kind of assurance but put their firm trust in Jesus and experience the transformation of life that comes by the presence of the Spirit.

    Some that you have described may come under the category of “temporary faith” (as Calvin called it), but also those who have been believers for years only to give it up, e.g., like those in Hebrews whom some Calvinists believe had only temporary faith and became apostate.

    Whatever the case–temporary faith or not, believers are assured through faith in the work of God and by the evidence of the Spirit in their lives (even if that comes in meager ways and through difficult struggles).

    Blessings, my friend. John Mark

  7.   rich constant Says:

    thought i would throw this in you guys .
    thief on the cross.
    what a neet read
    much thanks and blessings..

  8.   rich constant Says:

    an example of no fruit
    except the trusting hart of a sinner

  9.   rich constant Says:

    another p.s.
    and he was numbered with the transgressers.
    i wonder royce how many times that fellow was judged during his life…

  10.   randall Says:

    OK, if I understand this correctly: Calvinists who believe their salvation is sure b/c it depends on God’s certain faithfulness are less assured of salvation than Arminians who believe their salvation is only as certain as their own faithfulness. And this is because Calvinists believe a person can have “temporary faith.” It seems a bit of a stretch but I suppose, in theory, the potential exists that a person could doubt the genuineness of their own faith and thus doubt their salvation. I hope I got that right. At face value it seems unlikely, but there have been those in all types of denominations that appeared to be genuine in their faith for years – and then they left the church completely, and I don’t know if they ever repented and returned. So was it temporary faith or some other kind of faith; maybe just a claimed faith? How would I know?

    It hasn’t played out that way in my own experience as I have felt most assured of salvation these past 30 plus years. But I could be fooled by my feelings/thoughts and I can’t even speak as to the condition of the heart and mind of another person. The Calvinists with whom I am personally acquainted appear most assured to me.

    Hebrews: I probably should not even go there, but I will try to be ever so brief. Perhaps an exhortation to a large group of people, some of whom no doubt are true believers and some of whom may be make believers, and as part of the exhortation the author (Priscilla – all the internal evidence points to her doesn’t it?) encourages them to keep the faith and not turn away. And then the author says she is “convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.” So the author employing this manner of speaking – what’s wrong with that. In my mind that sounds like an appropriate exhortation to a large audience. Also, at the end of chapter 10 the author notes “we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”

    As to Priscilla being the author note chapter 13 verse 22 in which she says “I have written to you briefly.” In the 13th chapter of the letter she says she has written briefly – had to have been a female that wrote it! 😉

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Both Calvinists and Arminians can live in doubt–Calvin himself, for example, commented on it in numerous places. But both can live with assurance as well as long as they trust in Christ. It is not their theory of salvation that engenders this assurance; indeed, some theories can create doubt (as I believe the notion of “temporary faith” does as well as a “yo-yo” notion of assurance where one is in and then out on a daily basis due to sins) and some theories can create presumption (whether it is self-righteousness or whether it is a theory about one’s own election). Arminius and Calvin dealt with both problems. And they both had essentially the same solution: trust in the work of Christ and take joy in the work of the Spirit in your life.

      I think Arminius’ point is right on target: trust yields certainty without presumption and dispels doubt. Calvin can make the same point. Here is the common ground which I promote rather than the endless debates between Calvinism and Arminianism (though I did, in fact, engage the debate a bit in these two posts 🙂 ).

      The problem with “temporary faith” is that those who have it feel like they have authentic faith. This is fundamentally the Calvinist explanation that they lost their “faith” because they never really had faith in the first place. And danger in that, to me, is that it places a potential doubt into the heart of every beleiver since they can’t be sure they have authentic faith when so many who thought they did ended up not having it (according to the theory).

      It seems to me that Hebrews is fairly clear (to my mind) that some who were truly enlightened and believed are in danger of loss and some have, in fact, brought themselves into judgment. But that is a detailed exegetical discussion that cannot be pursued in these limited comments. I think Scot McKnight’s material on Hebrews and apostasy is a wonderful approach to the topic. Scot McKnight, “The Warning Passages of Hebrews: A Formal Analysis and Theological Conclusions,” Trinity Journal 13.1 (1992): 21-59.

      As for Priscilla, I’ve known some men to call their speeches “brief” when they were far from it. 🙂

      •   randall Says:

        Thanks John Mark. When I mentioned Priscilla I almost added that if it wasn’t Priscilla then it must have been a close relative or mine. I do admit my “brief” comments are sometimes not all brief.

  11.   Keith Brenton Says:

    Jr, I’d have to say that a person can quench the Spirit of God within himself/herself.

    And that there is precedent in scripture that the Spirit can and will leave a person – King Saul, for example. He was, as you might say, “unsealed.”

    I think you mischaracterize the Arminian opinion by saying “An Arminian understanding is that one receives this faith by human choice” as if it were the only factor involved in receiving the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8).

    And superimposing a cause-and-effect on the phrase “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48) doesn’t anywhere imply that this appointment cannot be refused by choice.

    So what the Arminian view says, if I understand it correctly, is not that it is merely by human choice that one receives saving grace through faith … it is more that God, desiring all to receive it through faith and repentance (John 3:16, Acts 17:30, 2 Peter 3:9 et al), still offers first right of refusal. The metaphor is more of partnership (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:11) with God (and it is possible to receive His grace in vain) … or of marriage (Ephesians 5) to Christ, in which both parties choose each other or not.

    With either opinion of the way God’s grace works, I would have to say that trusting God and Christ (John 14:1) over ourselves (Proverbs 3:5) is crucial, whether one views one’s own trust and faith as causal or not.

  12.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I am not sure where this comment fits into this discussion regarding assurance as per Calvinism/Arminianism trajectories, but I’ll press on any ways.

    I have been preaching through the book of 1st John and 1 Jn 1.5-10 has always intrigued me as to its claims. Specifically, v. 6-7 read “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies from all sin” (TNIV). It seems to me that this passages assurs the gift of salvation to those who remain in the covenant established by the blood of Jesus (e.g., we are to “walk in the light”). Salvation is not jeapordized by sin in and of itself, for we all still sin (to deny this is to be a liar and thus sin) and therefore it is the blood of Jesus which still assures us of our salvation. Salvation is only jeapordized by “a choice” to walk in darkness (the conditional clause of the grammar implies a choice). What does it mean to walk in darkness? John R.W. Stott suggests the present tense structure implies a habitual or ongoing sinful lifestyle (Stott, “The Letters of John,” p. 79).

    Pastorally speaking, this text does imply that we have a choice to make, to either live in the light or in the darkness. Regardless of our choice, we will still sin but we need not worry about our salvation if we are living in the light because we are assured of cleansing from the blood of Jesus. This frees us from any need to worry as to how we might bring about our assurance of salvation based upon our own merrit because clearly the assurance is what God is doing. We live in the light and trust the promise of God even if we cannot understand just how, when, and why God continues to cleanse us from sin in the blood of Jesus. As an illustration (and a visual illustration)…turn out the lights in a room at night where it is all dark and then turn on a flashlight upon the ceiling. You will see a circle of light. You will not see specifically where that circle of light ends and the darkness begins. However, you will still clearly see where light is and where darkness is. You also will observe that as you progress further from the center of the light, the light will progressively fade as darkness slowly sets in. On a practical level this should do at least two things: 1) keep us from making *strong* salvation judgments on others since we are not sure where the light ends and darkness begins, and more importantly 2) since we do not know where light ends and darkness begins except to say that darkness is outside of the confession of Christ, habitual sinful living, and failing to love (to borrow from 1 Jn 2-3), our call is to live in the center of God’s light; this is a relational call to draw as close as possible to God; this means we are not called to simply just try and remain on the “right” side of the fence but to live in the fullness of God’s revelation – Jesus Christ.

    Any ways…I am not sure if that settles the question of “temporary faith” or “authentic faith” but then again, those are more contemporary catagories rather than of scripture. Just based upon 1st John, it seems to be a difficult stretch to say that someone who onced walked in the light but now walks in darkness only had a “temporary faith” rather than an “authentic faith” as those catagories are used in the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion. Instead, it seems more consistent with scripture to say that such a person had a real faith at one time, which is why they walked in the light BUT made a choice to turn back to the darkness.

    Well, there is some thoughts…

    Grace and peace,


  13.   Anonymous Says:

    Love the way people categorize Christians as groups like Calvinism/Arminianism. It amazes me how people think they know so much about what ALL OTHER Christians believed based on what they’ve read on what one or two people have believed.

  14.   Anonymous Says:

    I would not judge and say ALL Christians in the coC believe the same as what I have read a few other people in the coC believed.

  15.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Actually, anonymous, there are typical understandings of Calvinism and Arminianism (classical type), but my discussion is really oriented toward Arminius and Calvin in particular. I agree we need to be rather specific and if we speak generally to use general language without painting all with the same brush. I know, however, that I don’t always follow my own advice on that one. So, thanks for the warning.

  16.   Royce Says:


    The point of 1 John is “that you may know” (1 John 5:13), not “that you may find out”. All of those numerous conditions set forth are markers to tell the reader who is “in Christ” and who is not.

    If you miss this verse you might not understand the whole book. 1 John 5:18 says “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

    “EVERYONE who has been BORN OF GOD does not KEEP ON SINNING.” It doesn’t matter if a fellow was a baptised member of your church or even an elder or a preacher, if that person persists in habitual sin he was NEVER SAVED. He was not saved and then lost his salvation, he had not been “born of God”. It can’t be more clear.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      John offers markers “that we may know.” These are the subjective evidences of authentic faith (obedience, etc.) that are fundamentally grounded in our faith in God’s work through Jesus.

      Those who have been born of God sin and don’t sin. They sin but they don’t keep on sinning. They sin but they don’t commit themselves to the “habit” of sin (but even “habitual sin” needs defining). It seems to me that John is saying that believers do not practice the habit of sin as a descriptive qualifier.

      I don’t think this is as clear as you do. I would not say they were never saved, but they came to deceive themselves and lost faith through which God worked in their lives for sanctification.

      But, as for me, I am ready to move on from this discussion…but everyone is welcome to respond as they desire. Blessings, JMH

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:


      Perhaps I was not clear enough. I was in no way trying to suggest that the conditional clause leave us with ambiguity as to whether we are born of God in Christ. I do agree that John writes so that “we may know” and as I suggested, John seems to say we may know by the markers of our confession (Jesus is the Messiah from God), not living in a habitual lifestyle of sin, and loving our fellow believers (the alternative to sinful living). The present tense language seems to indicate a habitual and rebellious lifestyle of sinful living (at least according to most of those scholars who have a better grasp of NT Greek than myself) but, as JMH mentioned, I too think such a sinful lifestyle needs more defining.

      When I preached from 1 John 2.28-3.10 (a somewhat difficult text regarding what John means by “sinning”) I told my congregation that if we are unsure of whether our sin struggles (which we all have) could be deifined as a “habitual and rebellious lifestyle of sin” then 1) such a question most likely indicates that we are still living in the light rather than darkness even if at the present we are not as close to the center as God wants us to be; and 2) such a question is also an admission (confession) that we are not walking as close to God as we should and now we have the opportunity to change.

      Any ways, I hope that clarifies a little more.

      Grace and peace,


  17.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I wish there were shorter and simpler answers, but it’s hard to apply Occam’s Razor to the question of “once shaved, always shaved.”

  18.   Royce Says:

    John Mark and Rex,

    I am in general agreement with you both.

    Keith, that is cute. While I do believe in the security of the believer, I also believe you will rip what you sew.

    Hoping each of you have a great Lord’s day tomorrow,

  19.   rich constant Says:

    after 40 years it seems to me every one of us is an habitual sinner with alot of although’s
    anyway we all know we are dead to sin as we were once dead to god rom.6 and we are now servants of righteousness through christ’s life and contenunally excersise our minds in the word of righteous to learn to decern good and evil… heb.
    the good of god.
    christ’s life of righteous loving faith that gloryifed his father

    thanks all i learned.

    john mark i do think there is something seriously wrong with keith did you not see what he just wrote on YOUR blog and then there is royce….
    you are a school teacher you should have a ready response for these guys.

    thanks for the good read you always stop a little to soon john mark…
    blessings all rich

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:


      Indeed sometimes are sin is numerous and great (perhaps moretimes that we’d like to admit). Existentially speaking, someitmes I think what constitutes the difference between walking in the light and walking in darkness is not amount of sin but whther we throw in the towell and hand our soul back over to Satan.

      Grace and peace,


  20.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I can’t disagree with the fact that there is something seriously wrong with Keith.

  21.   Jr Says:

    Funny thing you mention Scot McKnight, John Mark. He was on a panel a little bit ago with Tony Jones defending the whole emergent thing. I ended up writing a post on the atonement a few weeks ago and mentioned Tony Jones’ terrible position on the matter. I guess Tony picked up on my post because he then quoted me in his post
    (The Irony of the Young, Restless Reformers). Guess I know what my next post will be about…

  22.   randall Says:

    I suppose there is no topic of discussion so heated as Calvinism. Though I was not raised one I embrace much of that understanding of God’s sovereignty now. It seems in other areas I/we can look at presentations of new ideas and appreciate some/much of the perspective presented. Recently this has been true for me regarding who should participate or be excluded from the supper. Also, the traditional understanding of hell is eternal conscious punishment, but Edward Fudge can present the view of a period of punishment followed by annihilation and it is at least worthy of consideration. I know I have not studied that issue as much as others.

    Regrettably, it seems that with a discussion of the sovereignty of God as it relates to salvation we drop into debating mode rather than really striving to understand and find something to appreciate about the other point of view. I confess I am as guilty of it as anyone else. I wonder if it is best left to quiet reflection and personal study all the while asking God to lead us to a better understanding of the issue no matter how we understand it presently.

  23.   rich constant Says:

    an answer to occom’s razor
    god does not play dice in his new creation.
    because he made the razor a vertuial freeway for the ELECT… now if i only knew what i just implied i’d be as smart as you guys…
    so there… 🙂

    also this queston does not in any way have any thing to do with fulfillment of law.

    this will answer the auestion of rom.9.14

    is their injustice with god …paul says no way..


    was the christ righteous under gods law.
    if yes….
    explain how god is righteous to curse his son born under the law and without sin.


  24.   rich constant Says:

    ya know
    i was thinking 🙂 AGAIN…




  25.   kangaroodort Says:

    Great post. I made several of the same points a while ago here. I especially like the way presented the C view of assurance in the context of the difficulty inherent in their doctrine of limited atonement.

    God Bless,

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks for the link, Ben.

    •   Jr Says:

      It is actually Arminians that limit the atonement. Apparently Jesus died for every single human being; but He doesn’t actually save every single human being. THAT is limitation.

      Calvinist believe Jesus saved every single person He was sent to save. A complete job done absolutely perfectly.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Perhaps we can say it this way: Calvinists believe the number whom God loves with salvific intent is limited whereas for the Arminian the number whom God loves with salvific intent is universal. In other words, God loves a limited number in the Calvinist system?

        In terms of efficacy, both Calvinist and Arminian believe that the atonement is wholly the work of God.

  26.   randall Says:

    I am sure that I am not as well studied as I should be. I admit I had never heard of evanescent faith but I am familiar with the concept that a person may appear to have saving faith and then appear to no longer believe. The parable of the soils comes to mind as that is the most common explanation of this apparent change of heart. Man looks and sees only what he is capable of seeing. God looks on the heart and knows the true condition of it. Dust/soil/dirt is not an uncommon metaphor for man and God knows what he has made and how he has made it. (e.g. from the same lump he made one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable.) I think the question is whether faith is a gift from God that he brings about in the life of his children or something that man comes to and can stick with it or give it up. May he mold and make each of us after his will. I hope that is not too shallow or unfair.

  27.   The Seeking Disciple Says:

    Good post. I too share your opinion that Arminians have a stronger basis for assurance whereas Calvinists with their view of “temporary faith” often lack personal assurance. The necessaity of perseverance in the Scriptures is so clear.

    •   Jr Says:

      Nobody has denied perseverance in any case. Calvinists believe perseverance is proof of being truly born again; therefore perseverance is a defining thing – hence the “P”.

      I am zero lack of personal assurance because I believe what Jesus said about not letting me go. To me, Arminians lack personal assurance because they simply don’t believe such Scriptures. The can’t if their belief that one can “lose” salvation holds. It’s one or the other in my view.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Calvinists don’t deny perseverance, nor do Arminians. However, some “Eternal Security” advocates do–the “one point” Calvinists. See my post on this topic. Many misunderstand the difference between the “P” in TULIP and the “Eternal Security” of a Charles Stanley, for example. I also deal with this in my article on “Mediating the War Between Arminians and Calvinists.”

        I am grateful that you have full assurance; I am assured as well. We both trust in Jesus. But I think it problematic to say that one theological school does not “believe the Scriptures” when it is a matter of hermeneutics and perspective on the text.

        Blessings, my friend.

  28.   Royce Ogle Says:

    The perseverance of the Holy Spirit is just as clear

  29.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    It is both the perseverance of faith and the Holy Spirit as Calvinists also believe.

    Agreeing that faith is a gift of God (though understanding that differently in Arminian and Calvinist circles), it is still a question within the Calvinist system whether a person has been given “temporary faith” by God (for this is who gives it according to Calvin) or whether they have authentic faith. This is the question of assurance and knowing whether one’s faith is authentic or are we deceived by the temporary faith. That is one of my problems with the Calvinist system.

    But the systems should not bother us ultimately because grace saves through a persevering faith. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree on that.

  30.   Royce Ogle Says:


    There are lots of miles between here and Calvin. Just as you and I, and most others, disagree with some of Alexander Campbell’s teaching we are still gladly under the umbrella of the Restoration Movement. Just because Calvin said something doesn’t mean that is a widely accepted belief today.

    I have never heard one prominant Calvinist espouse the view of “temporary faith”. In fact, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, when I read it here was my first introduction to that term or concept.

    Among today’s Reformed preachers and thinkers perhaps John Piper is most clear on Calvinist doctrine and I know he doesn’t teach such a thing as “temporary faith”.

    In my admittedly limited view Calvinist doctrine on it’s face is more God centered and Armenians are more man centered.

    Thank as always for thought provoking stuff.


  31.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    “Temporary faith” is not a common expression among contemporary Calvinists. The Puritans overused it and it fell into disrepute. And it is a “sore” point in the history of debates between Calvinists and Arminians.

    But the idea is very, very common. Every Calvinist believes that those who “fall away” from faith never really had authentic faith or else they would have perservered or will eventually persevere. That is the idea of “temporary faith” because these people generally believe they have authentic faith.

    Just a quick look at John Piper’s website revealed this quote which is exactly what Calvin was saying. They are both commenting on the parable of the sower. It only took my five minutes to find…and I am sure I could find many more examples from his writing if I took the time.

    “Verse 13, the second soil: they think they have the Word and true spiritual faith and joy, but they have no root to sustain them in time of trial. Their faith is a superficial enthusiasm that is real only for fair weather days. And so when the trial comes, what they think they have is taken away.” See John Piper’s sermon on the Parable of the Sower. See also this confessional statement which states the same point and even stresses that one must examine themselves to be certain that they do not have that kind of faith which is fleeting.

    Human-centered and God-centered? Depends, I think. Calvinists are certainly more God-centered as they center the focus on the glory of God. But I think Arminians are more God-centered as they center the focus on the love of God. Ultimatley, both believe in grace through faith, and that is where Paul places our salvation.

    Oh, and I’m not Jay. 🙂 Royce, you and I spend too much time on this blogging stuff. 🙂


    John Mark

  32.   Royce Ogle Says:

    Thanks for the clarification. You nailed them most important thing. Hopefully, all of us who are actively trusting Jesus and trying to follow him want the same outcome no matter what banner we march under.

    Are you really sure you are not Jay?

    Love you John Mark. The story you shared about visiting your wife’s grave side brings fresh emotions since as you know I too have walked that road.


  33.   randall Says:

    The steadfast love (hesed) of the LORD endures forever. Even in light of Gomer’s behavior Hosea modeled the lovingkindness (hesed) of the LORD.

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