Richard Coords, “Gospel”

, posted by Martin Glynn

The message of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which there is life in His name, for whosoever believes in Him. John 3:16 summarizes it well: “‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’” So, everyone in the world has a Savior, and if they will place their trust in Him, they will receive His promise of eternal life. John 20:31 also states: “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” So, a major aspect of the New Testament gospel is the message of how you can be saved by Jesus Christ.

Calvinists, however, don’t believe that just anyone is able to receive the gospel on their own. Calvinists believe that due to the fallen state of man, God must give people an Irresistible Grace in order to overcome the effects of the Fall and believe in Christ. Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach an inborn inability to receive the gospel, except perhaps for those who have already, persistently rejected it and have thus become hardened in their heart—which even then can still be rectified. The Calvinist claim is inconsistent with anything that we are able to relate to. For instance, saying that a person is unable to confess their sins and accept forgiveness from Christ is like saying that a person entering AA cannot admit their alcoholic addiction and freely accept help.

The point in saying this is that there is an underlying reason for why Calvinists make the claim that not just anyone can receive the gospel. It has to do with logical consistency with TULIP Calvinism. If the gospel was actually open and available to just anyone, then salvation couldn’t be limited exclusively to Calvinism’s elect. So, that’s the theological pre[1]commitment that is driving this.

What do Calvinists believe?

Jay Adams: “As a reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ Himself who are His elect for whom He died.”169

Our reply:

The Apostle Paul didn’t seem to follow that advice. He had no problem telling unbelievers that Jesus died for them.

1st Corinthians 15:1-5: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

The key point is that Paul was recalling the gospel message he taught them, not after they were saved, but before they were saved, and His message included the fact that Jesus died for them, according to the Scriptures. That means that any unbeliever can be told that Jesus loves them, died for them on the Cross and made a way for their salvation if they will believe in Him. Realize what is at stake. Paul states at Galatians 1:6-9: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” In this particular context, the “different gospel” pertained to Judaism. However, any gospel that is contrary to what the apostles taught is subject to a curse, and which becomes relevant when Calvinists claim that Calvinism is the gospel.

What do Calvinists believe?

Charles Spurgeon: “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.”170

Our reply:

So is that what the apostles defined as the gospel and preached? One of the biggest concerns about Calvinism is that it has far exceeded the actual writings of the apostles. In other words, if Calvinism is the gospel, then why didn’t the apostles lay out the gospel in the form of a well defined, 5-Point system, and then push it on to the congregations with all of the same clarity and vigor that Calvinists aggressively do today?

Calvinism has taken the gospel of Jesus Christ and boiled it down to the “good news” of a romantic idea that God eternally selected you to be one of the few and favored ones, although which is actually bad news for billions of people who would have been eternally passed over for grace, and also bad news for countless individuals who are left to speculate on whether they may truly be one of Calvinism’s secretly chosen ones.

Steven Hitchcock: “As far as what the gospel really is to the Calvinist, which is his election, we find that what the Calvinist preaches is not so much an offer to sinners, and certainly not that God loves them, but rather, an in-house idea to those already saved that God has saved them, in such a way, that He has even caused them to believe. This in-house idea of an absolutely done[1]for-you salvation is the gospel to the Calvinist. The Evangelical Calvinist is forced to compartmentalize the gospel in two contradictory ways. On the one hand he must assert that God personally and genuinely invites every non-Christian to respond to the gospel while on the other hand his Calvinism necessitates the assertion that God does not really will the salvation of all. Countless sermons by those on either side of Calvinism have emphasized a particular understanding or dogma while failing to present the actual promise that is to be personally felt by the hearer. It must be a matter of focused attention that it is for every person, that the hearer is to know that the message of the gospel is for him or her personally. The gospel preacher is an Ambassador making a personal appeal to the hearer that the good news is to be personally owned. Therefore, the preacher must have the confidence that God Himself does truly want every person to turn to Christ in faith and he must not be uncertain because God may have secretly willed to not save them.”171

Calvinist objection:

How is the gospel message of salvation “open” to the Reprobate, who are known to God from the foundation of the world?172

Our reply:

Restated: How can salvation be “open” if God “closed” salvation through eternal election and reprobation?

The simple answer is that God didn’t “close” salvation through eternal Election and Reprobation. There is no reason why a non-Calvinist should accept the Calvinist’s premise that the Reprobate is of God’s own creation. (The purpose of rephrasing the Calvinist’s own question is to unmask their presuppositions. Therefore, it can be helpful to restate a Calvinist’s own question twice in the following two ways: [1] Restate it in a way that unmasks their presuppositions, and [2] Restate it a second time in a way that replaces their presuppositions with your own, so that the answer to their question is made self-evident. So the restated question above successfully achieves [1].)

Restated a second time: How can salvation be “open” to everyone if God eternally knows beforehand who will choose to meet His genuinely free and well-meant offer of salvation?

Simple. He’s omniscient and knows what people will choose for themselves. God’s well-meant offer of the gospel remains open until people close it. This successfully achieves [2]. People make their own self[1]determined choices to “close” salvation for themselves, and an eternal God (who created time and is thus independent of time) can know ahead of time what our self-determined future choices are. We become “elect” when we join the Elect One, Christ, and conversely, we become “reprobate” by our own conscious choice to participate in Adam’s Fall and remain as a reprobate until or unless a person accepts God’s “open” offer of the gospel.

What do Calvinists believe?

Fallen man cannot repent through the gospel’s appeal while suffering from the debilitating condition of spiritual death, in terms of being a dead sinner, without God first regenerating them.

Our reply:

Calvinism dumbs down the gospel, which effectively becomes:

“I was dead. I needed a resurrection. God made it irresistible to me because I’m elect.”

However, ask the Calvinist: “Did you know that the prodigal son was described by his father as being dead?” A Calvinist will readily agree:

“Oh, absolutely!” says the Calvinist.

Luke 15:22-24:‘But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate.’”

Then ask the Calvinist: “Did you know that the prodigal son was also lost? “

A Calvinist will respond: “Of course.”

Reply: “Obviously, the prodigal son was physically alive. Being figuratively ‘dead’ and ‘lost’ is like the familiar expression: ‘You’re dead to me!’ The father didn’t mean deadness in terms of skeletal remains. He simply meant separation. So, do you think you may have taken the Bible out of context with your citation of deadness as requiring a resurrection?”

Calvinist objection:

For Arminians, the power of the gospel is in one’s own abilities to conjure up the faith to believe and rescue themselves unto salvation.

Our reply:

Everyone has faith in something. Even Atheists have faith in their theory of Evolution for how they came to be, and they also have a host of modern scientists to place their trust in. The cults also have faith. For instance, the Jehovah’s Witnesses place their trust in the authority of the Watchtower Society to be God’s voice to them.

The Bible doesn’t question whether people have faith, but what people place their faith in. Is it in idols? Is it in riches and power? Or, is our faith placed in God?

A significant problem for Calvinism is that there can be no power in the gospel to lead to the conversion of lost sinners, unless the gospel is accompanied by a preceding regeneration of Irresistible Grace. So, for the Calvinist, the real power of the gospel is in regeneration, without which, the gospel is dead and lifeless to lead to the conversion of any lost sinner.

John Calvin described this very thing:

What do Calvinists believe?

John Calvin: “The minister’s teaching and speaking does no good unless God adds his inward calling to it. … Preaching alone is just a dead letter, and we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word on which faith depends.”173

John Calvin: “Now let Pighius asseverate that God wills all to be saved, when not even the external preaching of the doctrine, which is much inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, is made common to all.”174

John Calvin: “In a word, Paul indicates that all clamorous sounding of the human voice will lack effect, unless the virtue of God works internally in the heart.”175

However, the apostles didn’t seem to connect those same dots when they described the power of the gospel:

Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

For the Calvinist, the power of the gospel is completely ineffectual and insufficient unless accompanied by an irresistible regeneration, by first making a person Born Again in order to be able to repent, believe and be saved. So, while it is agreed that fallen man, if left to themselves, will not seek God, what about when God seeks and calls man through the message of the gospel? In such a case as God seeking and calling man to repentance, are we going to say that man cannot answer God, unless He first regenerates them? If so, then Calvinists are essentially agreeing with unrepentant Israel at Jeremiah 18:11-12: “‘So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.’” But they will say, “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.”’”

What do Calvinists believe?

That would mean that the appeal of the gospel itself would be sufficient to instill regeneration.

 Our reply:

No, the appeal of the gospel is sufficient to motivate repentance, by supplying a compelling reason to turn to the Lord (Acts 26:28-29), and for those who do, God gives the free gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who delivers regeneration. Ephesians 1:13 states: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

Calvinists want to say that God works to make the gospel have power by infusing regeneration onto an elect recipient, while non[1]Calvinists are saying that the gospel is powerful, in its own right, because the gospel is a work of God from start to finish. It is a message of divine truth, and for that reason, it is compelling to our God-given conscience.

Those who embrace it receive peace; those who reject it receive guilt, which if persistently rejected eventually turns into a seared conscience.

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169 Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970), 70.

170 Charles Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism. http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/calvinis.htm

171 Recanting Calvinism (Xulon Press, 2011), 74.

172 See also the topical discussion on Omniscience.

173 The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), 278.

174 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 109.

175 Ibid., 104.