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Monday, February 19, 2018

The great straw man

Posted by Gary on January 17, 2007

If you have never applied yourself to consider the claims of Calvinism and Arminianism, you owe it to yourself and the kingdom of God to do so. I regard Arminians as brothers but their doctrine is harmful and must be opposed. Often in the midst of debate between Calvinists and Arminians the Arminian will allege that Calvinism fosters sinfulness. The argument goes something like this: “You teach that a person cannot lose their salvation and that leads people to think that they can do whatever they want, you are promoting sin!”

Before responding to this accusation I would like us to acknowledge something about the gospel. The gospel is such good news that it leaves itself open to just such an accusation. I have always found this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans interesting:

Romans 3:7-8 “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come “? Their condemnation is just.”

Note the accusation being made against Paul and those with him, they are accused of teaching that we should sin so that good (God showing mercy) might come. This is essentially the Arminian accusation, you are teaching that we can sin and sin and God will continue to keep us as His children.

The gospel is such good news that it leaves itself open to abuse. Because salvation is absolutely free to the sinner and God has promised to keep His children to the end, one might think that sin no longer matters and that we can do whatever we like because our sin has been paid for. If I am preaching the gospel faithfully, I expect that some mistaken people might think I am teaching that we can sin and it doesn’t matter. The fact that some may think this and maybe even act upon it cannot keep us from preaching the true gospel that is gloriously free, the potential misunderstanding did not keep Paul from preaching the good news nor must it stop us.

Now to the accusation itself, what is our response to those concerned that we are promoting sin? The answer quite simply is that the person who believes they can sin all they want without fear of losing their salvation has never had salvation to begin with. This person needn’t fear having salvation and then losing it, they never had salvation to begin with.

On what basis do we say this? By very nature a person who has been born again is a person who has come to recognize the evil nature of sin. A person cannot become a Christian without coming to the place where they hate sin and turn from it. If you want a picture of a person who has truly become a Christian here are two:

Luke 5:8 “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'”

This person the Arminian holds forth who believes they can continue in sin and yet go to heaven is a straw man. The Calvinist is not willing to accept the premise. The Arminian claims this is a child of God who thinks he can sin all he wants, the Calvinist responds, “He is not a child of God”.

The gospel is not a revamped system of works, it is what it claims to be, “Good news” news so good some in their sinfulness will try to distort it to indulge their sinfulness. That being said, the good news must be preached and the person who has come to understand it and has truly believed it is a person who hates sin.


8 Responses to “The great straw man”
  1. Bill says:


    Do educated Arminians actually use this (promoting sin) as an argument?

  2. Dear Bill,

    Yes, educated Arminians use this argument and as the passage from Romans that I included in the post tells us, many were making the same charge in Paul’s day.

  3. Bill says:

    It just amazes me…it seems like a fly off the handle arguement that has not been well thought out or by someone who is not a Christian or a well read Christian.

  4. Bill says:


    What about the group of us who neiter adhere to all five points of Calvinism…but, we don’t agree with all the points of Arminianism? What are people in this group…like me…called?

    It seems the same as politics….I have agreements and disagreements in the ideology of both democrats and republicans…I am often suspect of a person who says they are 100% of one party.

    My question then being…why does someone HAVE to give full allegiance to either Calvinism or Arminianism?

  5. IVOR THOMAS says:

    “… and I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, ‘If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.’ It may seem a harsh sentiment; but he who in his soul believes that man does of his own free will turn to God, cannot have been taught of God, ARMINIANS ARE UNREGENERATED. IVOR THOMAS.

  6. Dear Ivor,

    The gospel is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” not “Understand the nature, operation and faculties of your will”. I believe it is very possible for someone to have faith in Jesus but to be mistaken about how they came to possess that faith.

    I am quite troubled by Arminian doctrine and fear that many of them believe in a system of probation not salvation and are depending upon their works to save them.

  7. IVOR THOMAS says:


  8. HomeSchooler says:

    I grew up Calvinist, but went to an Arminian college for my first degree, and as a result had many very interesting conversations during theology classes!

    Scripturally, I knew what I believed, but it was never more enforced into my heart by what God allowed me to see.

    Not unsurprisingly, I dated a Wesleyan man for some time while at college, which gave me the opportunity to observe closely what a deeply-held belief in Arminianism can do to a faithful person. How he behaved and prayed caused me to increasingly see that he was not only a slave to sin (as all of us are, until set free), but that because he did not realise that he had the freedom I had, he was perpetually a slave to fear.

    Like the Pharisees of old, he often seemed entwined as he avoided anything that was either remotely sinful, or that might, potentially, lead to sinful thoughts. Just as the Pharisees in trying to keep the law took it to extremes, in the attempt to keep himself constantly “pure” he isolated himself from the world, usually to the point where he could not be a light because that would bring him into contact with sinners who may tempt him.

    With the goal (reward?) of Christian Perfection and the fear of eternal damnation should he die having not confessed his most recent sin/sins, he lived life enslaved. There was little evidence of freedom, and constant fear over his own freedom of choice, for the wrong choice could condemn him.

    I am now married to a systematic theologian who is (mostly!) Calvinist, and what a blessed difference! Though sin may constantly try to enslave him, and though he may sometimes fall prey to temptation, he doesn’t need to fear. Oh, he does regret sin, confess it, and strive to do that which is right, but the terror of hell cannot overcome him, for he knows the price has been paid.

    What joy is found in that freedom! What wonder and thankfulness that grace is not given, then removed, then given again; but that God’s grace is constant and cannot be torn away by our fleshly failings!

    There is no question, sins may be punished, and consequences of sin must still be faced, but through punishment and/or consequences we know we are not abandoned. We know that we have been forgiven, that we are loved, that we are secure. All of our sins: past, present, and future, have been covered by the blood of Christ, for with God time as we know it is not a hindrance!

    “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
    John 8.34-36

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