By Tyson Thorne

March 28, 2024

GMM Large

Systematic and Biblical Theology Defined: An approach to the Bible that seeks to draw biblical teachings and themes into a self-consistent, coherent whole, in conversation with the history of Christian theological reflection and contemporary issues confronting the church. This is distinct from—yet related to—the approach of biblical theology, which focuses on the development of theological themes within individual books of the Bible or across one or both Testaments. The practice of biblical theology is often more closely intertwined with the practice of biblical studies, whereas systematic theology is usually viewed as a discipline that goes beyond the scope of biblical studies into church history, philosophy, and pastoral application. 

Calvinism Defined: Calvinism is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice of John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians. It is most famously known for five points of systematic theology: 1) Total depravity of man, (2) Unconditional election of some to salvation, (3) Limited atonement (Jesus died only for the sins of the elect), (4) Irresistible grace, and (5) Perseverance of the saints (once saved that person is always saved).

Armenianism Defined: Arminianism is a branch of Protestantism based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. They have their own five points that counter those of Calvinism, which are: (1) Humanity has a free will, (2) Conditional Election of some to salvation, (3) Universal Atonement (Jesus died for the sins of all humanity), (4) Resistable Grace, and (5) Fall from Grace (the idea that one can lose their salvation).[1]


It is a favorite past time of Bible professors to explain the views of salvation for both Calvinism and Armenianism to students, and then set them loose to argue which has more merit. The truth is, both systems are problematic on certain points. While both come to a logical conclusion based on their starting points, the basis for their arguments are in error which invalidates some of their conclusions. Here’s how salvation works.

Let’s start with the notion of “free will.” By definition, a will that is free must be unencumbered from undue influence. That is not unregenerate man’s natural state. Paul describes our condition:

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” (Romans 6.17-18)

The practical consequence is that our will is never without undue influence and is, therefore, never free. So how does unregenerate man ever become saved? Through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2.8). And where does this faith come from? It comes from God and is given equally to every person:

“For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith.” (Romans 12.3)

This measure of faith that God gives through his grace is set adjacent to our will. The presence of this faith presents a choice unregenerate man would not have otherwise, but this alone is not enough. If humanity is incapable of making a choice for or against faith in God then the gift of faith is irrelevant. How does a person know that they should live by faith and not by their own will? The Bible answers that question with two words: the Law. Here is Paul’s explanation:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Romans 3:19–22.)

The law reveals our will is broken, that we are sinners and need to live a different way, and the faith imbued in us is that way. A clear choice is now presented and a decision must be made.

Who is capable of making that decision? So far we see that faith is given by God to all, the Law is available to all of humanity, so logically we are able to say that all of humanity can decide how to live. We do not need to rely on logic alone, however, as we are told that “...this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, emphasis mine). “...That everyone who believes in Him...” is the operative phrase. The Greek word for “everyone” (paV)is referring to a whole with focus on individual parts such as each, every, and any indicating all of humanity and not an elect few. Despite our fallen state, our enslavement to sin, our being dead in our transgressions, all humanity is capable of belief.

Therefore, we have a decision to make: to live by faith or by our own sinful will. If we select faith we find salvation in Jesus, and if we select our will we die in our sins and are eternally damned. When writing to the church in Corinth, Paul tells them that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5.7), which is to say by faith in Jesus rather than doing what is right in our own eyes.

What does this mean for the Calvinist\Armenian debate, then? The Armenian is wrong in assuming our will is free and the Calvinist is wrong in concluding that the only way to salvation is through election. So then, how is a person saved? That is, how do we come to live by faith in Jesus? The Bible describes three ways a person can come to Christ.

The first is that God has chosen them. I know that at this point the Calvinists are shouting, “See! See!” and the Armenians are rankled. But it is undeniable that God has chosen some people throughout history for specific tasks. Jeremiah would be one (Jeremiah 1.5) and Paul would be another (Acts 9.15-16). Clearly God’s sovereignty grants him this right (Psalm 115.3}. But this is not the only way one can come to Jesus.

The second way a person may come to faith in Jesus is by seeking him. There are times in Earth’s history where “no one seeks God, not even one” (Psalm 14.1-3), but David tells Solomon that “if you seek him, he will let you find him” (1 Chronicles 28.9). While it is likely few ever seek God, it is a possibility the Bible mentions.

The third way for a person to come to Jesus is by being led to him. This is the message of the Great Commission:

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18–20)

We go to others and tell them about Jesus — and we tell them not only the gospel but all that Jesus commanded. I’m amazed every time I hear a Christian say, “Our job isn’t to change anyone, our job is to tell others about Jesus and let God be responsible for the change.” While it is true that no change toward righteousness can come to a person apart from God, we are not to simply make introductions and abandon the new saint. We are commanded to teach them everything about Jesus, and to baptize them. That’s discipleship. We are used by God as an agent of change. This is the way most people come to Christ.

In conclusion, we see that there are at least three ways Scripture teaches a person can come to Jesus, and that salvation is a product of one’s being confronted with their sin through God’s law, deciding to live by faith which is given us by God, so that we might be forgiven by God. While no one will live by faith perfectly (our corrupted will does still impact us), the key to victory is to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1-2) as we learn and obey all that Christ commanded.


[1] All definitions supplied by the Lexham Bible Dictionary ©2024 Logos Library System

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