In the previous post, we discussed bit about the nature of man and the extreme Arminian view of the UPCI with respect to the contributions that man must make through obedience to the faith in bringing about his own salvation.
It must be noted that if man has the ability to contribute faith and obedience in response to God’s offering of grace to bring about regeneration and salvation in man, it could be argued that this view holds a rather elevated view of man as compared with the view that appears to be espoused in scripture. One might argue that this view is born out of man’s rebelliousness against God in denying God sovereignty in the area of salvation and making it about man and man’s freewill decision. It is certainly a denial of God’s ability (whether self-imposed or not) to alone bring about salvation or work his will to his own glory in bringing about the salvation of man. God cannot bring about man’s salvation for God is limited to the extent man is willing to cooperate.
The alternative view is that salvation is entirely the work of God. Man can contribute nothing towards his salvation. His salvation is unconditionally by grace through faith. Faith itself is a gift from God and is not the cause of man’s salvation but evidence of God’s regenerative grace having worked in man. There is absolutely nothing meritorious on the part of man to warrant the work of God in his life but it rests completely on the good pleasure of God’s sovereignty. God knows that man, based on his rebellious nature, spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, is both unwilling and incapable of doing good and believing on his own. Therefore, God’s working his salvation in our lives is completely an unmerited gift of grace based on nothing in man.
Again, this view begins with the premise that man is unable on his own to come to God because the “natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor 2:14). As a result of man’s having no spiritual life in him and being spiritually dead in his, man has no moral ability to come to Christ apart from the drawing of the Father (Eph 2:1-3, Col 2:13, John 6:44, 63-65). Man is in the business of repressing the knowledge of God and creating idols – of elevating the role of man to that of God – he can do nothing in accordance with the standard of God’s law (Rom 1:18-25, 3:9-12). Man is the enemy of God, in rebellion against God and incapable of acting in according with God’s law. Therefore, God must supernaturally act in the heart of man to bring him to a place where he will have faith and repent. If unregenerate, sinful man is to believe in God, God must initiate a change in man to bring man to a place where he will place faith in Christ. Thus, regeneration or new birth is the change that God brings about in man to initiate relationship with him rather than the ultimate goal of salvation as asserted by the UPCI.
John 3 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [Greek here is uncertain/ambiguous and can both ‘again’ and ‘from above’] he cannot see the kingdom of God….Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sounds, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of Spirit….. Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
The UPCI views this passage as teaching both the need for baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit with speaking in other tongues as part of the new birth/regeneration. As noted in the passage, the Greek is ambiguous and may be more properly rendered as born from above rather than born again. This is evidenced by the emphasis on contrasting born of flesh and spirit and the earthly rather than heavenly source of these things. Nicodemus understood this to be a rebirth. What we can see is that this birth is a spiritual birth that originates from God. As man has no control over the wind, man has no control with respect to the blowing of the wind – the wind blows where it blows, and so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit is a sovereign act of God.
Ezekiel 36:2-7 – I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my rules.
Many cite to this passage in Ezekiel when looking at John 3 and being born from above. As the Spirit is does what it does and being born again is initiated as an act from above, in Ezekiel we also see that God is the one taking the initiative to remove our heart of stone and to give us a heart of flesh – a new heart and a new spirit within us. It is once we have this heart of flesh and a new spirit that we come to believe and obey.
This is demonstrated in the example of Lydia. When Lydia was taught the gospel by Paul, the “Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). Lydia did not open her own heart and the ability to give heed or pay attention to the words of the gospel as proclaimed by Paul were a direct result of God opening her heart to pay attention. The UPCI would say that the Lord opened her heart but it was still up to her as to whether she would pay attention to the word of the Lord. Lydia could have resisted the will of God. This would appear to be a contrary statement to the express statement of scripture – the Lord opened her heart with a purpose, that Lydia would pay attention to the words of Paul.
When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16:17). The revelation of Christ is a direct result of the act of God in regenerating the heart of man.
John 1:12-13 – Those who receive Christ are those who believe in his name. Those that receive Christ have been born of God. Verse 13 emphasizes that being born of God is a divine action and not something that is tied to the will of man. The person who receives Christ has first been born of God.
If man is truly in this lost state of sin and incapable to act on his own, it requires a sovereign act of God to move in the heart of man to bring him to a place of repentance and faith. This is not something that man can bring about on his own – faith and obedience – to merit salvation but man must be utterly dependent on the sovereign grace of God to bring man to a place where he will bow the knee in faith and repentance. Further, if God is to sovereignly act in this respect in man’s heart, it is inevitable that man will bow the knee. There is an inevitability in the notion that, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30).
The UPCI view tends to elevate man beyond that which scripture would seem to dictate. The UPCI would ascribe to man a moral and spiritual capability to possess and act according to faith in obedience to God’s will even while in an unregenerate state. It must necessarily follow that the UPCI also diminishes the idea of sin. The scriptural teaching on the doctrine of man’s sinful state and nature and what that ultimately means. The UPCI also must diminish the sovereignty of God and his role with respect to salvation. God would be unable to accomplish his will – man has the ability to thwart the will of God. Thus, man is not as bad and God is not as capable or powerful as scripture would seem to indicate.