He Will Save His People from Their Sins:
How Calvinists Don’t Bother Looking from the Other Side
One of the more inane proof-texts for Calvinism is Matthew 1:21: “…for he will save his people from their sins.” Calvinists argue that this is a statement of definiteness — that it does not say that Jesus will merely provide the opportunity of salvation for “his people,” but instead, Jesus will definitely save his people. They claim that this flies in the face of Arminian assertions, that through Jesus, God provides a way for everyone to be saved.
The quick Arminian retort is simple: “What!? Do you Calvinists think that Arminians deny that Jesus will definitely save his people? Of course we Arminians affirm that Jesus will definitely save his people, just as the text says.”
The claim that this is a Calvinistic proof-text for definite atonement registers 9.8 on the silly scale. The ultimate question is a matter of defining “his people.” Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, the issue which is pounded is whether “his people” consists of Abraham’s descendants only, or whether “his people” is actually the community of faith, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers; obviously, Matthew favours the latter position.
This is instructive for us. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus saves his people, and his people are his true disciples — those who do the will of his Father in heaven. Matthew does not define “his people” in terms of a murky Calvinistic election as birthed in the dark secret counsels of God, but rather in very concrete terms of taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus saves his people from their sins, but “his people” consists of his true brothers and sisters and mother — those who do the will of his Father in heaven (12:46-50).
So, Arminians do indeed believe that Jesus will definitely save every single one of his people. This does not prevent them from also affirming that Jesus died for everyone. Indeed, one gets the strong impression in every passage of Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus preached to everyone, urging them to repent and believe the Gospel, even those whom he knew would reject him. After all, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, precisely because they would ultimately reject him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…, how often I have longed to gather your children…but you were not willing” (Matt 23:37).