Calvinism and Arminianism - An Introduction

This lesson, a follow-up to last weeks discussion in class, attempts to characterize, albeit simply, a general view of Reformed and Arminian theology and how they relate to the words of Jesus in John 6.
• My aim is to be fair.
• My intent is to familiarize those, especially in my class, with these two views and understand some of the implications of each. 


Continuing where we left off last week, we need to begin at what are, at least on the surface, typically considered common ground among the Arminian and Reformed views.
• The common ground is the (1) depravity of mankind; (2) God’s work; and (3) man’s belief.
• In other words, man is depraved and God has to do something about it so that we can believe.
• It is important to see the common ground on these issues, even if significant differences exist just below the surface.

(1) Depravity of Mankind:
• As we have seen in our study of John, Jesus Himself finds the depravity of man so stark that he cannot “entrust” Himself to the unbeliever.
• John 2:24–25 (ESV) — 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

How does the Bible describe the depravity that is “in man”?
• We are dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1-2).
• We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
• We love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19-20).
• Our hearts are hard like stone and our minds lack understanding (Eph. 4:18).
• We are unable to submit to God or please God (Rom 8:7-8).
• We are unable to accept the gospel (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14).
• We are unable to come to Christ or embrace him as Lord (John 6:44, 65; 1 Cor. 12:3).
• We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).
• We are slaves of Satan (Eph. 2:1-2).
• No good thing dwells in us (Rom. 7:18).
• Our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9).

(2) Work of God:
We just saw last week that Jesus Himself recognized the relationship between belief/unbelief and the work of the Father in the hearts of depraved men.
• And most evangelicals agree with Jesus that a work of God is required to reach through man’s depravity and draw him toward Christ.

How does the Bible describe this work of God?
• John 1:13 (ESV) — 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
• John 3:5 (ESV) — 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
• John 6:65 (ESV) — 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
• Titus 3:5 (ESV) — 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
• James 1:18 (ESV) — 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
• 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
• Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

(3) Belief of Man:
In our discussions on the two “whoevers” in John 3, it is clear that all of mankind is either a “whoever” that believes or a “whoever” that doesn’t.
• Most will agree that the “whoevers” that believe do so in response to the work of God.

How does the Bible describe man’s response to God’s work?
• John 1:12 (ESV) — 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
• Mark 1:15 (ESV) — 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
• Romans 10:9–10 (ESV) — 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
• Matthew 10:32 (ESV) — 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
• 1 John 4:15 (ESV) — 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

All of the above verses address the relationships between man’s depravity, God’s work and man’s belief.
• When we begin to dig deeper and understand the relationships between the three and the rest of Scripture’s revelation pertaining to salvation, we encounter the beginning of the disagreements between the different camps.
• There are a many verses we could use to tease out these differences.
• We will, however, begin with John 12:32 and 1 Timothy 2:3-4 for the Arminian view and use our text from last week in John 6:35-37, 44, 65 for the Reformed view.


John and Paul provide an aspect of God’s relationship with mankind that, depending on how they are taken, have a profound implication on the relationship between mankind’s depravity, God’s work and mankind’s belief.
• 1 Timothy 2:3–4 (ESV) — This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
• John 12:32 (ESV) — 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

These verses beg the following questions:
(1) Do these verses speak of the fact that God’s saving grace is for all men “without exception” wherein every man has been given the ability to respond in the affirmative to the Gospel?
• (2) Or, do these verses speak of the fact that God’s saving grace is for all men “without distinction” wherein salvation through Jesus is not just for Jews but also for Gentiles?

If (1) then the relationship between man’s depravity, God’s work and man’s believing is much different than if (2).
• I don’t have time here to review the variety of ways people come to these 2 differing conclusions.
• Suffice it to say that each side is certain of their interpretation and argues persuasively that the other side is mistaken.
• This gives you a great reason to dive in to the text and study God’s Word.
• And in so doing, remember context is king!

Now let’s look briefly at the Arminian direction and explore its implications.
• They go with option (1) from above.
• We will call this the Saving Grace Synergistic Model.
• This is opposed the Saving Grace Monergistic Model which we will deal with under the Reformed view.
    o Synergistic Model emphasizes the moral ability of all mankind to respond to the Gospel.
    o Monergistic Model emphasizes the moral inability of anyone to respond to the Gospel.

Saving Grace Synergistic Model:
This model assumes that God makes a well-meant offer to every person to choose Jesus.
• And to make this well-meant offer genuine, God has acted in every person in a special way to put them in a position to either accept or reject Jesus.
• This act of God in every person is sometimes referred to as “prevenient grace” or “overcoming grace”.

What is prevenient grace?
• H. Ray Dunning characterizes this grace as “the awakening activity of the Spirit [that] is universal in its scope”.
• This grace is “a benefit that flows from Christ's death on the cross, neutralizes human depravity and restores to pre-Christians everywhere the ability to heed God's general call to salvation" – Demarest.
• John Wesley puts it like this, "there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man".
• "Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. . . . In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him" – Lectures in Systematic Theology [Eerdmans, 1949].

How does this relate to three common ground doctrines we previously discussed?
• This grace is a work of God that mitigates man’s depravity and gives Him a fair chance to believe and respond to the Gospel.
• If God did not provide this grace to mitigate man’s depravity then His gospel offer to mankind could not be seen as a well-meant, genuine offer.
• In fact, it is argued that man cannot be held responsible for his sin if a genuine offer does not exist; if a “range of options” are not available to him.
• And a God who “so loved the world” will most certainly make a well-meant, genuine offer.
• Given the Synergistic Model’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 12:32, God has to have provided this grace to all men or Scripture contradicts itself.
• If man responds with belief empowered by the prevenient grace of God, he is born again and enters into the kingdom of God – belief first and then the new birth.
• Finally, the mystery of who is saved and who isn’t resides with man.

Now let’s take a look at the Reformed Monergistic Model of Saving Grace.


In our lesson last week, Jesus Himself provides an aspect of God’s relationship with mankind that once again, depending on how it is taken, has a profound implication on the relationship between mankind’s depravity, God’s work and mankind’s belief.
• John 6:37 (ESV) — 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
• John 6:44 (ESV) — 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
• John 6:65 (ESV) — 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

These verses beg the following questions:
(1) Is Jesus suggesting that the crowd’s unbelief is due to the fact that they weren’t drawn by the Father?
• (2) Or, is Jesus suggesting that the crowd’s unbelief is due to their rejecting the drawing of Father?

If (1) then the relationship between man’s depravity, God’s work and man’s believing is much different than if (2).
• In our lesson last week, I suggested that (1) is the intention of Jesus.
• Again, this is another reason for you to dive deep into the Bible and research the answers for yourself.

Now let’s look briefly at the Reformed direction and explore its implications.
• They go with option (1) from above.
• As stated earlier, we will call this the Saving Grace Monergistic Model.
    o Again, the Monergistic Model emphasizes the moral inability of anyone to respond to the Gospel.
    o Whereas, the Synergistic Model emphasizes the moral ability of all mankind to respond to the Gospel.

Saving Grace and the Monergistic Model:
This model assumes that God only draws, as in brings to salvation, His chosen elect.
• This drawing of God is actually regeneration and the granting of a new heart.
• And it is from this new heart that man always chooses to believe in the God who gave Him eyes to see and ears to hear.
• This act of God in the elect is sometimes referred to as “irresistible grace” or “effectual grace”.
• There is, of course, a sense that God draws all men via general revelation, conscience, etc.

What is irresistible grace?
• “Irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If our doctrine of total depravity is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, totally unable to submit to God, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion” – John Piper.
• “Man is so corrupt that he will not decide and cannot be wooed to follow after God, sovereign efficacious grace is required to convert him. This is done by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit whereby a fallen man who has heard the gospel is made willing and necessarily turns to Christ in God-given faith” – Theopedia.
• Charles Hodge puts it like this, unlike “prevenient grace”, irresistible “grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will”.
• In other words, man’s will is not persuaded to respond, it is supernaturally remade and so wants to respond in belief.

How does this relate to three common ground doctrines we previously discussed?
• This grace is a work of God that removes man’s depravity and remakes his heart so that he will believe and respond to the Gospel.
• If God bestows this grace the receiver doesn’t have a shot at being saved, but will most certainly be saved.
• Man has zero moral ability to ever respond to the Gospel unless God breaks through his depravity and saves him by this grace.
• Given the Monergistic Model’s interpretation of John 6, mankind is always free to do what his heart desires, but it is not until God draws man via the new birth that man desires to believe in and seek after God.
• An important implication of this is that the unbelievers’ problem is not simply an intellectual one rooted in his reason and will, but a profound moral inability.
• But with the Arminian Synergistic Model, Jeff Spry puts it like this, “The true nature of sin and guilt is denied. Sinners are told they are guilty of a major mistake of not accepting the wonderful benefits that God longs to give them. His unbelief is really no more than a mistake…At the point where a helpless sinner needs God’s help and power the most, the sinner is pointed away from God and told to look to himself. He is told that God has done all He can do”
• When God extends this grace to the elect, they are born again and then believe and then are received by Christ – new birth and then belief.
• Finally, the mystery of who is saved and who isn’t resides with God, our creator.

Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
• The Scripture you read will be filtered through either the Synergistic or Monergistic model.
• It is important to understand why you believe either and be aware of its influence.
• We must be careful to not be judgmental and vitriolic towards the other view.
• In my mind, it is a wonderful thing that on many levels of this issue mystery is involved.
• This mystery, and even ambiguity, has motivated me and others to dig much deeper into Scripture than they otherwise would have.


John 6:28-34 – What Must We Do?

Our Diving Deeper lesson title comes from the crowd’s words in verse 28 – “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?
• Just prior to their question, Jesus taught them that the kind of food worth laboring for is spiritual food not junk food (food that perishes).
• Their question today seems to indicate that they understand Jesus is trying to make an important distinction but we will see they misunderstand the distinction Jesus is making.
• Like the woman at the well, they can’t seem to get past either the literal sense of Jesus’ words and/or the cultural baggage they carry with regards to “works”.


John 6:28–29 (ESV) — 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

To really appreciate the exchange in these 2 verses, we need to do a brief word study.

We need to first look at the crowds question in John 6:28.
• The word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “doing” or “work” in “to be doing” or “that we may work” is the same word Jesus used in John 6:27 translated as “labor” or “work” in “Do not labor” or “Do not work”.
    o This is important to understand because it shows us that this is the word the crowd latches on to when they question Jesus.
• It is the Greek word “ergazomai” and literally means to accomplish, carry out – BDAG.
    o The crowd apparently took this word to carry with it a physical connotation only.
• The word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “works” in “the works of God” is the related word ergon.
• Ergon means deeds that God desires/requires, righteous deeds – BDAG.
      o Again, the crowd considered only the physical connotation here.
• And finally, the word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “do” in “What must we do” is the Greek word poieo.
• Poieo means to undertake or do something that brings about an event, state, or condition – BDAG.
    o In line with our context, the crowd continued to consider only the physical connotation here also.

The point of all this is that we see the crowd sought to gain some insight into what Jesus was telling them in John 6:27, but they clearly were only focused on the physical dimension of His words.
• Kostenberger says the crowd’s question “suggests a basic understanding that Jesus is urging them to look beyond their physical needs…[but] what Jesus had intended as a reference to people’s proper pursuit [in verse 27], the crowd took as an invitation to literally ‘work the works of God’ [in verse 28].”
• A paraphrase of the crowd’s question in John 6:28 might help us to understand this further.
• What must we bring about by our effort to be carrying out the righteous deeds or “food that endures” (vs. 27) that God desires?
• D.A. Carson says sarcastically of the crowd’s question, “They display no doubt about their intrinsic ability to meet any challenge God may set them.

The crowd’s notion of a works based, legalistic relationship with God is one that Jesus encountered often.
• Matthew 19:16 (ESV) — 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
• Luke 10:25 (ESV) — 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Curiously, when perusing Exodus and Leviticus we can understand why a Jew’s relationship with God was mistakenly understood to be rooted in a physical, works based relationship.
• However, when we look at God’s words, the works he instituted were never intended to be the source of salvation.
• Leviticus 20:22–23 & 26 (ESV) — 22 You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them…26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
• We have at least two reasons for God’s OT works and statutes (there are plenty more).
   (1) To be holy and separate from the other peoples
   (2) So the land “may not vomit you out”

What does it mean that the land “may not vomit you out”?
• Leviticus 26:3–5 (ESV) — 3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.

And if (a conditional covenant) they don’t walk in God’s statutes, among other things:
• Leviticus 26:26 (ESV) — 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Moving on, we see that Jesus then answers the crowd in a way that makes plain His intention – working for the food that endures is not grounded in physical work.
• He says the “ergon of God” (deeds that God desires/requires) is to BELIEVE in Him, Jesus.
• So the “work” is a spiritual undertaking not a physical one.
• Kostenberger characterizes Jesus’ words as being radically contrasted, “with people’s apparent confidence that they are able to meet the demands of God.

Think about it, if it is not the things we physically do that supply us with confidence, there is a sense in which we are not in control.
• Most of us like to know that if we do “A” then “B” naturally follows.
• Jesus is telling the crowd that not only does “A” not lead to “B” but your “A” is not even the “ergon of God”.
• Romans 3:28 (ESV) — 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
    o “And even the faith that we must exercise is the fruit of God’s activity” – D.A. Carson.
• This is indeed a radical thing for anyone to hear, especially a Jew.

Seeking a Sign – More Evidence Required:
John 6:30–31 (ESV) — 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
• They respond to Jesus’ radical claim with another question that confirms their preoccupation with the wrong things Jesus addressed in John 6:27 and John 6:29 and confirms that they, like the disciples, had no grasp at all of the meaning behind the feeding of the 5,000 many of them benefited from.
• If the feeding wasn’t a sign, then what was it?
    o John 6:14 suggests that it may have been enough to suggest he was a prophet.
    o John 6:15 suggests that it may also have been enough for the crowd co-opt Jesus power for political reasons.
    o But, apparently, for them it wasn’t enough to demonstrate Jesus as Messiah.

Whatever else Jesus’ sign was, the crowd made their opinion known to Jesus that it did not compare to the works of Moses in the wilderness.
• They wanted more.

D.A. Carson provides insight that sheds further light on the crowd’s request for further signs.
• There is some evidence of a belief that the Messiah “would call down manna from heaven, as did the ‘first redeemer’, i.e. Moses.
• “If this is what the synagogue crowd means, it is a demand that Jesus prove his messianic status by duplicating or surpassing the miracle of the manna” – D.A. Carson.

This demand for additional evidence would follow Jesus all the way to the end of His life.
• Matthew 27:39–40 (ESV) — 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

In what way would Jesus supplying additional signs or evidence make a difference?
• It seems evident that one’s response to evidence depends solely on the state of one’s heart – ears to hear and eyes to see, etc.
• We have seen that the hard hearted crowd took the evidence, Jesus’ signs, and made of it what they wanted.
    o Jesus was a prophet (John 6:14).
    o Jesus was a political deliverer (John 6:15).
• They were unable to accept it for what it really was, yet because they couldn’t ignore it either, they spun it to suit their needs w/o challenging their beliefs.
• They had a mixture of truth and error.
• It is no surprise that this still goes on today.

Jesus Correction:
John 6:32–33 (ESV) — 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

Jesus makes clear that like him, Moses worked under the authority and at the direction of the Father.
• It is the Father that is due the praise for the manna not Moses.
• Exodus 16:4 (ESV) — 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
• Exodus 16:32 (ESV) — 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I [Father] fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”
• This is something they should know!
    o The fact that they mistakenly credit Moses as the source of the manna makes sense.
    o This mistake flows from the same hard hearts and blind eyes that have just mistakenly credited works for salvation and that are rejecting Jesus.

And then Jesus takes it up a notch, as usual.

John 6:33 (ESV) — 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
• D.A. Carson sums this up fantastically.
• “The true bread from heaven, the true Torah, is Jesus himself (vv. 35, 47ff.). This does not mean that the manna was not in any sense bread from heaven, or that the Torah was not truly given by God. But the manna from heaven was comparatively crude: it perished with time, and the people who ate it perished with time. One of its chief functions was to serve as a type of the true bread from heaven.
• We will see in the coming weeks how Jesus elaborates on His words here.

John 6:34 (ESV) — 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
• And finally, like the woman at the well, the crowd, naturally, says they want this bread that “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
• However, in the coming verses, we will see that it is not possible for them to have it.

Lessons for Us:
Our verses today bring us to a very important discourse Jesus makes starting in John 6:35 on the bread of life.
• And yet, already some very profound questions are cropping up that concern Jesus and humanity.
Why does Jesus teach those that he knows will not believe?
For the unbeliever, is evidence the issue or is it something else all together?
Can man bring about his own belief in God?

Over the next week or two, we will try and open up this can of worms and examine the different answers to these questions.