The Conservative Seminarian

Theology ~ Religion ~ Culture | Tidbits from me | Links to others |

Category: Hamartiology (Sin)

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 2

See Part 1 here for an explanation of this series. This explanation includes attribution of credit and clarification of what material below represents my own interjections. Let’s jump into Part 2.


Overview of the Work of Christ (Big Picture)

We’ll come back and fill in lots and lots of this, but this is how I see the theological puzzle fitting together. It’s a roadmap.


  1. Humans are sinners. We haven’t measured up to God’s glorious standard. (Rom. 3:23)
  2. We deserve God’s wrath. (Rom. 1:18; Jn. 3:18)


  1. God loved people in spite of their sin. (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9)

But here we must ask: Does God limit His love and the provision of salvation only to the elect?

Limited Atonement

Remember the two sides of the coin (from Part 1): provision and application. The question here is not about application. The only people who don’t limit the application of salvation are universalists. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is only applied to some. So the question here is does God limit the provision of salvation? In other words, is salvation actually provided as a possibility for all people, or only for the elect?

On the one hand, we have to admit at minimum that when God prepared to send His Son to the cross, He knew who would accept and who would reject. Therefore, God had to plan to apply to some what He would offer to all. It is not God providing for all and then sitting back and waiting to see who’s going to take advantage of it.

In fact, I think you can make it more specific. I think you can argue that in the atonement there is the intention to secure the application of the atonement to the elect. He does something for the elect that He doesn’t do for the non-elect. He provides salvation for all, He secures the application for the elect. If you are elect, the work on the cross was actually intended to bring you to salvation. (Rather than being a fearful doctrine, this should actually provide great comfort to the believer.)

So if the question is, does God limit His love and provision of salvation only to the elect, you can’t answer that question by appealing to application passages (passages that aim to answer the application question, but do not aim to answer the provision question). He died and rose again to save His people. But logically that doesn’t mean that He didn’t die and rise again to make salvation possible for those who don’t believe.

Limited atonement has a positive side and a negative side. The positive side is not the problem (He died not just to make salvation possible for his elect, He died to get them saved). A passage that limits the application of the salvation to the elect is not sufficient to prove that a provision for all was not made. There are plenty of passages that prove the positive side. I have yet to find a single passage, even from the most committed proponent of limited atonement, which proves the negative side. (Translation: Orthodox Christianity teaches that the application of salvation is limited to the elect. The opposing view is universalism, the belief that all will be saved eventually. Additionally, Calvinists believe that God actually intended to apply salvation to the elect when he sent Christ into the world. But limiting the provision (or possibility) of salvation only to the elect is neither a logical nor theological necessity. I personally do not believe in limited provision, but I am not offended by Christians who do.)

A standard proof text that is used for unlimited provision is John 3:16-21 (the cross always does something: it justifies believers, it condemns unbelievers).

The Sinner’s Condition

  1. Sin separates us from God
  2. God’s back is turned on the sinner in wrath.
  3. The sinner’s back is turned on God in revolution, or rebellion.

All three need to be dealt with:

  1. Redemption deals with the sin. 2 Peter 2:1 (takes care of original sin for all men; see also Rom. 5:12-21)
  2. Propitiation (satisfaction) is the Godward aspect that turns God toward the sinner. 1 John 2:2
  3. Reconciliation is the manward aspect of the work of Christ, turning humanity as a whole back toward God, 2 Cor. 5:19-20. Just as with sanctification, there are past, present, and future aspects of reconciliation. (NOTE: Theologically, God is never the One who is reconciled. It’s always the party in the wrong who needs to be reconciled. Keep this in mind in counseling. If you are speaking to an injured and an injuring party and you say “I want you two to be reconciled to each other,” what you are saying is “You’re both wrong.” That may not actually be the case so be careful how you say it. Properly speaking, only the offending party needs to be reconciled.)

If you approach these passages prima facie you come away with the idea that these three are all dealt with for all humanity, not just the elect. To come away with the elect-only view, you have to come at it with an a priori theological assumption.

So you don’t have a logical case for limited atonement (can’t make the jump between provision and application). And you don’t have a Scriptural case that Christ has excluded anyone from the benefits of the atonement in terms of their provision. You do have a prima facie case that the benefits of the atonement were provided for the benefit of all human beings. It’s not a bulletproof case, but that’s true in every area of theology.



The only condition of salvation and eternal life is trust in the finished work of Christ (Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10). This means, first of all, that no one is actually saved until he believes. The offer of salvation is open to everybody. This is where all of those “whosoever” passages come into play (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:11, 13; Rev. 22:17). Two questions arise:

  1. Does God give any indication as to who will?
  1. Why is it that some people trust Christ while other people reject Him?


Arminianism and Calvinism as Systems of Thought

The main difference between these two systems of thought is not eternal security or limited atonement. It involves unconditional election and irresistible grace, but properly speaking the dividing line is… (Saved for later! This will be fleshed out more in the next few blog posts than it will be here.)

Points of Agreement:

  1. All humans are depraved (not merely lost, but rebels against God).
  2. Unsaved humans in their natural state, left to themselves, will never trust Christ.
  3. If anyone is ever going to be saved, God somehow has to free that person from the depraved intellect and from the depraved sensibilities.
  4. God is not obligated to restore moral ability to anybody.

So how does God restore it, and when does He do it, and who does He do it to?

Picture 1:

God partially restores moral ability, and God does it for all people. He does it as part of His common (prevenient) grace. God restores the possibility of a human making an initial positive response toward God, which effort God will meet with even more grace.

Picture 2:

God restores moral ability efficaciously, and only to the elect, as part of saving grace. All people are responsible to trust Christ, therefore all people are equally culpable before God. Nevertheless, God has chosen some, and to those who He has chosen God totally restores the moral ability to choose Him. They will believe. He doesn’t force them, but they will because they can. God does not refuse salvation to anybody who wants to believe it. The problem is, nobody wants to believe it in their natural state. He has to restore the moral ability to do so.

Can you determine which picture represents Arminian thought and which represents Calvinistic thought?

Let’s flesh out each picture to show where it leads. It will lead us to the one main dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism, which might surprise you.

Views on the order of the decrees (note the position of election within each view; click on image for larger view):

What is a hyper-Calvinist, and how does he differ from a 5-point Calvinist?

You can see there is a spectrum of beliefs even within Calvinism. Don’t make the mistake of lumping all Calvinists necessarily into the same set of beliefs when it comes to the place election has (logically) within the other decrees God made in the past. One of the worst things you can do is give the label “Hyper-Calvinist” to everyone who has any Calvinistic thinking whatsoever. This is slanderous and unfair. As you can see above, Hyper-Calvinists have a distinct set of beliefs that, when held together, other Calvinists do not share. These include supralapsarianism (explained in the first chart above), reprobation (the doctrine that God predestines the non-elect to damnation), the refusal to give the Gospel to the lost (a direct contradiction of the commands of Scripture), a refusal to acknowledge God’s common grace upon the lost (in my view this also contradicts Scripture), and the belief that the elect were never legitimately under the wrath of God prior to salvation because they were always going to get saved anyways.


Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 4

<– Part 3

I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:


Does a believer still have a sin nature?

For those of you in counseling contexts, Jay Adams and some of his followers do not believe in a sin nature for believers, only a regenerated nature. Essentially, ongoing sin in the life of a believer is the collection of habits left over from pre-conversion. So ongoing sin is a matter of habit. These habits reside mainly in the body. This would be the nouthetic counseling folks, not the CCEF folks. I side with the CCEF approach on this one. I get concerned with how much Adams links sin to the body. Is sin an enduring habit, or is it something that remains in us? This is partly a quibble over terms and definitions. It seems to me that believers still have something inside of us that wants to sin.

The NT does not use the word “nature” in combination with sin, nevertheless it does clearly intimate that there is some aspect of our being that is still sinful even though regenerate (1 John 1:8-10). Verses 8 and 10 are not redundant. Normally, verse 8 is taken regarding disposition to sin (indwelling sin) and verse 10 is talking about ongoing acts of sin. See also Romans 6, in which the idea of “dead to sin” doesn’t mean that sin has died. The “old man” is not the same thing as the sin nature, it is the connectedness to Adam. That connectedness is crucified. This is a text Jay Adams would use to show the connection between sin and body, but I don’t think that is what Paul is saying. It’s not that the body is sinful, but that we express sinful acts through our body. Notice how Paul personifies sin here: not died to sinning, but died to sin.

Look at it this way: before you are saved, you don’t have a choice of if you are going to sin. You simply choose between sins. Which will I commit? Sin is your master. After salvation, you have a legitimate choice of whether or not to sin. Sin is no longer your master. There is still some kind of sin principle going on. It has not died. You have died to it, its power over you has been broken. See Romans 7 also. There is some kind of abiding sin, some kind of principle, that leads Paul to want to sin even when his “better nature” doesn’t want him to sin. That sin principle is what sometimes gets designated as “the flesh.” Classic text on the flesh: Galatians 5 (esp. vv. 16-18; capitalize “Spirit”).

So is it all reducible to a black dog fighting a white dog and asking which one will win this time? Maybe. But if so, it’s a white wolfhound against a black Chihuahua. I’m not going to go to the mat for the term “sin nature.” But yes, something is still there and we still fight it (Jay Adams isn’t going to say there’s nothing there, he’s just not going to want to call it a nature. He doesn’t want to say there’s some substance there that inhabits part of us. Well I don’t think it’s a substance either. I think it’s a disposition. But I think we still have it.).

Is a believer still totally depraved?

Clearly an unbeliever is totally depraved, but the answer to this question depends on definitions. If totally depraved means that every aspect (mind, heart, will) is affected by sin, then yes, we are totally depraved. If it means every aspect of us is totally depraved, that argument becomes harder to sustain. I like Tozer on this: “God is impossible to satisfy, but He’s easy to please.”

How does sin progress in our lives?

Desire (or attraction, by which I mean whatever Jesus felt when He thought about bread in the wilderness)






“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise.”

“If you are the son of God, tell this stone to turn to bread.”

Temptation begins with desire. Desire, used simply, the way we are using it here, is not sin. If desire is itself sin, than apparently Jesus sinned. The temptation is not just the desire, the temptation is the inducement to fulfill the desire in some way that God forbids. The Devil can’t create new desires. Our desires are created by God. What the Devil can do is tempt us to misplace those desires, to feel them at the wrong time or in the wrong way or on the wrong object.

How do you get rid of a desire? Tell it to go away? That doesn’t work. You have to replace it with something else to turn aside from it. If you don’t, you begin to entertain the desire. If you want to stop thinking about all the things you can eat, you start to think about something else. The more you ponder those illegitimate ways of gaining food (for example) the more likely it is you will gratify that desire. This leads to consenting to the desire. Somewhere between entertaining and consenting is where the sin occurs. No overt outward act has been committed yet, but you invariably commit the sin in your heart before you ever openly act. Acting is that next step. And it is a very small step between entertaining/consent and acting. Now, I don’t mean no sin ever occurs between desire and entertaining. You certainly can sin there. You can have sin at each of the lines between these steps even before any act has occurred.

Sin has multiple effects:

  1. Guilt (which requires) Justice ( which requires) Retribution
  2. Harm / damage (which requires) Reparation
  3. Weakness (which requires) Reformation
  4. Pollution / “dirt” (which requires) Restoration

The Solution?

1. The Gospel is the answer to all of these, which is one reason we need to be reminding ourselves of the Gospel daily. Live in the Gospel.

2. Confession is a discipline that not only strengthens us in the fight against sin, it also cleans us from the pollution that comes with our sin.

If unaddressed, at some point, sins become habits and to live without them seems like committing suicide.

At this point we have covered the in-class discussion of Hamartiology. In our next post we will begin the portion of this series on Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), which is related to Hamartiology for obvious reasons.

Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 3

<– Part 2

I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:

Moving from guilt to depravity….let’s talk about the inner effects of sin:

The human moral makeup was altered at the Fall. Every aspect of our being has been changed. We can do nothing in ourselves that is pleasing to God. We are in some sense not free. We are naturally free but not morally free. We find ourselves completely hopeless in terms of escaping the penalty of what our sins have brought us. This is Total Depravity. Guilt is imputed, depravity is imparted. Depravity is a matter of what you inherit. We inherit a moral nature that has been corrupted and is in rebellion against God.

We get our best description of depravity in the early chapters of Romans. In Romans 1, Paul has been discussing the Gospel up until verse 17. Before he can go any further into the good news, he has to give us the bad news. This begins in 1:18.

Regarding the idolatry described in Romans 1, G.K. Chesterton’s words ring true: “those who won’t worship God will worship just about anything else.” Regarding God’s judgment in this passage, it is outlined by the Apostle Paul as occurring in stages: Stage one, God gives them over to sexual sin. Stage two, God gives them over to homosexuality. Stage three, God gives them over to a depraved mind. This is the lowest stage now. God corrupted the very thinking process. And next comes the list to which they will stoop (vv. 29-31). These are the things of which all human beings are now capable. The capacity is now part of every human heart. These stages were done by God in the past, very early in human history. These are not things being enacted now, it’s already been done.

You get the final description over in 3:9-20. Verse 20 says, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” In other words, humans have a total inability to please God. But we are also unrighteous in character verses 9b-18. All of us. Every one. If you could find a single righteous human being, it would overthrow Paul’s entire theological system. He is based here. How many people in their natural state can be found seeking God? Zero. Zip. None. Nada.

Not only is no one able to save himself, no one has any merit to commend him to God. No one is going to want to accept salvation on God’s terms. So…Ephesians 2:1-3.

Humans are not sick in trespasses and sins. Humans are dead in trespasses and sins, in which we walked in times past, according to the course of this world, the flesh, and the devil. Because of this we are under wrath. This is all part of what we mean by total depravity. See also: Jeremiah 17:9 (the heart, in Scripture, is not the seat of affections but the inner man, the control center); 2 Cor. 4:3-4

People are not restrained from being saved, except by their own moral will.  And they are restrained by it. So how can anyone be saved? There are basically three very different ways that people have attempted to answer that question.


Three Approaches

1. Human beings are capable in and of themselves, of doing all that God requires (a heresy known as Pelagianism)

Pelagius, a British monk, argues that the only effect of Adam’s sin was to set a bad example. (Well-known examples of this belief: perhaps the famous American heretic Charles Finney; theological liberalism)

2. God meets us halfway, or God helps those who help themselves. (a false teaching known as Synergism)

God meeting us halfway is grace. Grace is the divinely given ability to do what God wants, to measure up. (Roman Catholic theology + some nuances they would want to add)

3. God does it all. (Monergism)

Everything comes from God’s side. Humans can’t do anything or contribute anything, God does it all. (Karl Barth / Barthianism)

(Notice that whichever position you take you will probably be taking common ground with some who will be your enemies on other points of theology. That’s the point. No one out there agrees with you on everything, and sometimes it will be very uncomfortable when you have to agree with them on something. Get used to it. It happens all the time. This also lets you know that one of the least ethical ways of arguing theology is to blacklist a view because it’s held by this person or that group. Don’t get rattled if you find yourself agreeing with someone who you wouldn’t expect. Argue against views, not against associations.)

Monergism has to be the correct answer if total depravity is correct, which I believe it is. This brings us near the end of our discussion of hamartiology and puts us on the doorstep of soteriology, except for a final handful of ideas.

In Part 4, our final article on the doctrine of sin for this series, we will discuss these ideas starting with the problem of the sin nature.

%d bloggers like this: