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Author Topic: In Defense of The Cross (An Orthodox View of Salvation)  (Read 341 times) Average Rating: 5
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Gebre Menfes Kidus
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« on: April 24, 2014, 04:35:19 AM »

 I recently read this statement by a prominent Reformed Presbyterian preacher:

“Jesus suffered the wrath of the Father only for the elect, not for all sinners.”

This is, of course, the common teaching of many evangelical Christians who espouse a “systematic theology” predicated upon the doctrinal innovations of John Calvin and the theological errors spawned by the Protestant Reformation. The theology behind this single statement is deeply flawed on many levels, but I will simply try to summarize the main heresies that are implicit within.

In my former Evangelical days, I too once embraced these erroneous ideas of “limited atonement” and “penal substitution.” But now I cringe when I encounter such gross distortions of the holy gospel and the life giving Cross. Thank God for the truth of apostolic Teaching that set me straight. You see, the apostles, the ones who actually walked with Christ and wrote the gospels and the epistles, well their theology is actually a bit more reliable than Martin Luther's, John Calvin's, or any other “Reformed” theologian’s.

Now, I want to be fair to my Reformed Protestant friends. I realize that their soteriological doctrines stem from a sincere desire to attribute all glory to God and none to themselves. But sometimes the noblest intentions lead to the worst mistakes. And rather than bringing glory to God and elevating the Cross, the theology of Calvinism perverts the divine nature and distorts the message of Calvary.

The wonderful truth is that Our Lord died for all people, not just some. (St. John 3:16) This is the clear Teaching of the apostolic Church. To assert that Christ died only for the elect is to assert that God pre-ordained some men to hell and some to heaven. That is blasphemy, for our loving God would never create human beings in His image and then condemn them to an everlasting hell against their wills. Such a god would be a monstrous god, and any theology that teaches that human beings are divinely destined to eternal torment is a dark and hopeless theology. In fact, it would be wrong to call it “theology” at all. God has nothing to do with such a fatalistic mortal philosophy.

All men bear the image of God, and therefore all men are worth redeeming - not because of our own meritorious righteousness, but because we are the very image of God. And God’s image is not “totally depraved.” God’s image is indelibly imprinted upon all human beings. To accurse the image of God as “worthless” and “utterly damnable” is to blasphemously malign His creation. St. Paul writes: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before appointed that we should walk in them.” [Ephesians 2:10] Do we suppose that St. Paul means that only some people are the workmanship of God, but others are not? Do we suppose that St. Paul contradicts the words of Moses who wrote: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” [Genesis 1:27]

God looked upon His image and saw our fallen state. He saw our sorrow, our sin, and our despair. He saw that mankind, who was created to love Him, was wandering in darkness and succumbing to evil. And God’s divine love compelled Him to become a man and suffer and die so that man would be compelled to come to Him. 

God created us with free will, and the volitional component of man has remained with us even after the fall. Our free will has certainly been affected by sin, but it has not been negated. The Bible contains hyperbole, and St. Paul’s expression "dead in our trespasses and sins” [Ephesians 2:1] is a hyperbolic statement to emphasize how much we need the grace and mercy of God to redeem us and give us new life through the Cross.

God loves all the world, all people, all of creation. God the Father is not separated from God the Son. To teach that the Son had to appease the wrath of the Father is heretical theology, for it pits God against Himself and does violence to the essential Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. No man can come to God apart from the grace of God, and yet every man must choose to accept God's saving grace by an act of their own volition. It's called a paradox, and the Christian Faith is full of such divine tensions. And I thank God for these holy antinomies, for they have liberated me from the narrow and suffocating confines of systematic heterodoxy. Our eternal God cannot be contained by mortal rationales, and He will not be reduced to human legalisms.

The Orthodox Church has retained the apostolic Faith for 2,000 years. I hate to argue with my dear Protestant brothers, but when it comes to heresies that undermine the nature of God and corrupt the glory of the Cross, then I am obligated to refute them with sound apostolic doctrine. It doesn't matter what I think or what any Protestant preacher thinks. In fact, it really doesn’t matter what any individual person thinks. “The Church is the foundation and pillar of truth” [I Timothy 3:15], and “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of any private interpretation.” [II Peter 1:20] So the only doctrine, teaching, or opinion that matters is the doctrine, teaching, and opinion of the apostolic Church – that Church which is the guardian and repository of “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.” [Jude 3]

Divine truth is both convicting and comforting. And the good news of the Gospel is the greatest truth there is. But if God created human beings and destined them to hell against their wills, then the Gospel is not good news at all; in fact, it’s nothing more than a cruel joke created by a capricious deity. But the good news is that Christ has saved the entire world. (St. John 3:16) Whosoever will may come and partake of the joy of salvation. (Cf. Rev. 22:17) It is freely and abundantly offered to all. But God will not force His will on any man. We must accept His gift of free will and choose to follow Him or deny Him. And following Christ is not a single, momentary decision; salvation is a long and narrow road, and we must carry our own cross along the way. (Cf. St. Matthew 7:13-14) And yet, the Lord is our Shepherd, and He alone preserves, protects, and saves us.
   
Throughout the Bible we see the synergistic nature of salvation. God saved Noah, but Noah had to labor for years to build the Ark. God saved the Israelites from Pharaoh’s bondage, but the Israelites had to follow Moses on the arduous road of the exodus. Christ has saved us by His Cross, and yet we must take up our own cross and follow Him. (St. Luke 9:23) Those who are busy “working out their own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) have no thought that they are “earning their way to heaven.” They are too preoccupied with clinging to Christ, repenting when they sin, pleading His unfailing mercy, and bathing in His unconditional love. Those who carry their cross are so busy struggling that they have no time to keep a record of their virtues. And those consumed with the love of Christ are not consumed with a record of their sins.

God loves mankind! This is a simple and glorious truth. He loves us so much that He became a man and suffered and died to redeem us. God forbid that we should denigrate the Cross and disparage the love of God by limiting His atonement and proclaiming that God the Father was at enmity with God the Son.

The Cross is eternally vertical and infinitely horizontal. The limits of sin, guilt, death and despair are vanquished in its limitless shadow. The atonement is the ultimate expression of divine love - and His love cannot be confined, contained, controlled, or limited.

Thank God! Thank God! Thank God for the Cross!

 
[If I have erred in anything I have stated here or in how I have stated it, I submit my words to the correction of Orthodox Teaching and Tradition.]

 
Selam,
Gebre Menfes Kidus
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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2014, 04:52:59 AM »

Not wishing to dissent from your theology, I would point out that you are unintentionally misrepresenting our Calvinist brethren. They do not teach that God condemns sinners "against their wills", which your post states twice. No-one will be damned but in accord with his own will. If I understand Calvinists correctly, their teaching is that God's will and theirs run together (i.e. from the Latin, concur). No-one is saying, "I wish I would repent, be converted and pursue that holiness without which no man will see the Lord, but I cannot because God decided before I was born to damn me." They want to disobey the Gospel: their will agrees with God's. Such, I believe, is the teaching.

Would I not be right in believing its origin is usually ascribed, not to Calvin, but to Augustine of Hippo?
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2014, 04:56:28 AM »

This is very helpful to me currently, as I'm trying to make sense of the atonement without penal language.

But yes, Calvinist thought runs that no-one who rejects God does so against their will - their will is against God to begin with, so they 'freely' choose to reject Him. But of course they have been predestined to reject Him, so are in a double bind and without hope. Which is a truly horrible thought.
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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2014, 05:23:38 AM »

atonement without penal language.

they 'freely' choose to reject Him. But of course they have been predestined to reject Him, so are in a double bind

Why jettison penal language? It is one way in which the scriptures speak of our Lord's atoning death.

I used to be a persuaded Calvinist, and it doesn't appear like you say from within the system. God's election before the world began is hidden; the person who is finally damned does, as you say, freely choose. He does not want to submit to Christ's lordship. As far as he is concerned, it is not even a "single bind" (if there be such a thing!), it is the only thing he wants. He can't really complain if God agreed with him.
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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2014, 05:31:58 AM »

perhaps. But I have been using exclusively penal language and I don't think that's accurate. I am slowly learning that scripture teaches that God so loved the world, not God was so angry with the world, and it's a bit of a revelation.
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2014, 05:47:08 AM »

perhaps. But I have been using exclusively penal language and I don't think that's accurate. I am slowly learning that scripture teaches that God so loved the world, not God was so angry with the world, and it's a bit of a revelation.

Like yourgoodself, when I began preaching (in 1965) I represented the Cross almost exclusively in penal terms. Those terms were true; they are biblical. But also like yourgoodself, I am seeing two things: (1) we are probably given only analogies concerning what the Cross really achieved, drawn from our inadequate human language in order to give enough for our faith to take hold of; and (2) the Bible uses other analogies as well (ransom, debt, washing...). The truth of penal substitution, though not the whole truth, has sufficed to bring many people to faith who are now in Paradise with Christ. Do not discard it, but do of course explore other biblical analogies and understandings.

C S Lewis's phrase (if I can quote it correctly from memory) is one of the most helpful. When Aslan dies on the stone table and achieves Edmund's release, it is done in accordance with a "deeper magic from before the dawn of time". That, I think, is what the Cross really is: deeper magic from before time, which we cannot fully understand, but in which we can believe. As R W Dale put it, "The triumphs of the Christian faith are won - not by the symmetry and perfection of theological theories, but by the great facts of the gospel... The power of the great Sacrifice for the sins of the world lies in itself, and not in our explanations of it... Even when the doctrine of the Church has been most corrupt, the Death of Christ has continued to appeal to the hearts of men with unique and all but irresistible force." Our salvation hangs, not on our knowing how the Atonement worked, but in trusting it as our only God-given hope.
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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2014, 06:37:45 AM »

A passage from my book: MYSTERY and MEANING: Christian Philosophy & Orthodox Meditations

WHAT is the EMPHASIS of the GOSPEL?
   
Some say, “Christ has paid my sin debt, and therefore I am no longer guilty.” Then they continue to live an unaltered, unmoved life, thinking that heaven awaits them when they die. Others say, “I must strive to know God through a life of contemplation and asceticism.” But at the end of their life they still do not know Him.
   
So, what is the proper emphasis of the Gospel? Is it forensic in essence, or mystical? Is the theme of the Gospel soteriological, i.e. the salvation of man, or is it doxological, i.e. the glory of God? Is the Gospel to be understood as God’s gracious condescension to fallen man, or fallen man’s inability to know a transcendent God?  
   
The Catholicism and Protestantism of the West have attempted to answer these questions via the rationalistic approaches of Scholasticism and various “systematic theologies.” Learned and sincere theologians have endeavored to reduce the deep mysteries of God and the rich treasures of the Holy Gospel to a system of mortal logic that will make them comprehensible to the finite mind. But God cannot be known by any system of mortal philosophy; and the beautiful truths of the Gospel cannot be adequately encapsulated in a logical syllogism.
   
Therefore, Orthodoxy simply affirms what the Scriptures say, and does not stumble over apparent contradiction or paradox. The truths and reality of God transcend contradiction and paradox, and thus we prostrate our own fallible understanding before His holy Mysteries. We accept that God is unknowable, and yet by grace we experience Him. We affirm that Christ has paid our sin debt, and yet we recognize that the meaning of the Cross is too vast to be summed up by the analogies of mortal jurisprudence. As Orthodox Christians, we proclaim the Nicene Creed as the summation of the Gospel, knowing that mystical depth is found in its brevity and concision. Our Creeds are not a comprehensive dissection of divine truth, but a sufficient description.
   
The Holy Gospel is the mystical message of redemption, grace, mercy, judgment, hope, sacrifice, salvation, peace, love, atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, oneness, repentance, justice, deliverance, life, heaven and hell. This holy message has been entrusted to the Church, which proclaims its truth to the world and reveals its Mysteries to the faithful. We adore the Holy Gospel as the light for our souls, but we dare not claim to grasp its depth with our finite minds. We immerse ourselves in the ocean of the Divine, allowing the Spirit of His waves to draw us to His knowledge and nearness.


http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000365536/MYSTERY-and-MEANING.aspx



Selam
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2014, 08:56:17 AM »

Just wanted to say how much I appreciate this thread and the thoughts within it.

I did come from a teaching of a God that simply selected souls to burn forever, and while it may not have been the church's theology, there were enough individuals who would say one's will did not matter that I thought it was so. The very thought was so at odds with a "loving God" that the Scripture also seemed to teach that this was one of the main reasons I started to look for other answers. I am thankful that I quickly bumped into the Orthodox Church instead of finding any other path.

Because of this, atonement has been a primary question in my mind. I never knew there were other theories. I at first immediately rejected penal substitution, attempted to select a replacement. I found Christus Victor to seem the best. However, something still made me vaguely uncomfortable. What I have since decided is that God is capable of doing many things at once, while we attempt to understand the atonement by limiting Him within our theories. It seems to me that all (or most) of our theories can have varying levels of merit, and God is capable of accomplishing many things through the wondrous Cross, all at the same time.

I have not found Orthodox teaching that disagrees with this, and would appreciate correction if I am wrong. But this is currently how I am thinking.
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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2014, 11:13:06 AM »

Anna, I can't obviously answer that, but your thinking is very much where I have been leaning. I have a tendency to try and quantify God, and systematic theology feeds into that. I think I need to to consciously not do that.
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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2014, 11:33:54 AM »

Anna, I can't obviously answer that, but your thinking is very much where I have been leaning. I have a tendency to try and quantify God, and systematic theology feeds into that. I think I need to to consciously not do that.

That is another lesson of the Orthodox church that I have struggled a bit to embrace. Wink

I was at first concerned that the Orthodox church would not "suit" me, because I have far too much of a tendency to want to dissect, examine, find answers, and rest in them (science background). It is a very "western mindset" I am told, and Orthodoxy has an "eastern mindset".

When I first encountered Orthodox Christians, and would ask questions, a few kind souls would explain things to me, but others would give very cryptic one-line answers, reply with a question, or simply answer something like we don't know/why would you want to know/it doesn't matter. It was maddening, LOL.

Over the months I have begun to learn to relax. It's true, certain things we don't and can't know. After all, we're talking about comprehending God Himself, with a limited human understanding. And some things we simply have not been told, and it's presumptuous (and potentially dangerous) of us to try to fill in the blanks with our own imaginings. I also developed the understanding that we are not saved by "correct theology" - thank God!

However, correct theology does help us to know God in our limited ability, and so is very valuable. But then again, so is experience of God, and that at least I can also relate to. I'm still thankful that I stumbled across a few monastic books very early in my walk when I was devouring every written word about faith I could find.

I do understand the struggle. I am actually surprised at myself how quickly I am learning to accept a different way of thinking, though I am far from perfect in practicing it. But being immersed within the Church in various ways helps.

Now I find new people coming in and asking questions (that I myself asked some months back) and my mental response is to almost not comprehend the question at first, because of the thought process behind it being something almost foreign to the way I am beginning to think.

I finally am beginning to understand why people would sometimes respond to me in the way that they did.

It's a process. Smiley
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My replies should not be taken as representing Orthodox teaching - I am only just learning myself.

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« Reply #10 on: Yesterday at 07:15:15 PM »

To assert that Christ died only for the elect is to assert that God pre-ordained some men to hell and some to heaven.
That is blasphemy, for our loving God would never create human beings in His image
and then condemn them to an everlasting hell against their wills.

I got as far as here, and had to clear up this point with you before continuing.
[Aaaah, I just realized that this could take many many years.]

What do you say to the many NT passages which describe unregenerate man as:
born with an inherited sin nature
spiritually dead in his sins
a captive to the law of sin and death
a slave to sin, forced to obey evil
an enemy of God, hostile to God, opposed to God
spiritually blind and deaf
unable to understand the things of God (they are foolishness)
seeing the gospel as utter foolishness
unable to believe the truth of the gospel because it is veiled
blinded by Satan
controlled (ruled) by Satan
deceived by Satan
a captive of Satan unto death
unable to be righteous by doing good works
unable to be saved by his own desire or works
able to be saved only by the grace and mercy of God

Is such a person really capable of responding to the calling of the Holy Spirit?
Or is it necessary for God to do more for him/her than just call?

A grand example of God choosing to create certain people,
and then send them to hell is: God's chosen people vs. their enemies.

Thank you for your kind attention.
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Throughout the entire Bible: sinners are unrighteous, obedient believers are righteous!
Christians must endure in the faith until they die to receive eternal life (no OSAS)!
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« Reply #11 on: Yesterday at 07:24:19 PM »

Osterloh, you might want to read about the Fall.
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« Reply #12 on: Yesterday at 07:40:14 PM »

Osterloh, you might want to read about the Fall.

My understanding of the entire Scripture is ...
Both God and man have their part to play in man's salvation.
God's election ...and... man's free will to remain righteous or not.
Of course, he/she has a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit to help.
Much more able to succeed (probably the main reason for the new covenant).

But, what do we do with Romans 8:28-30? The called go all the way.
Several John verses say only those given to Jesus by the Father come to Him.
And Jesus said, "You did not choose Me, I chose you!"
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 07:55:55 PM by Osterloh » Logged

Christians must confess and repent of their sins in order to maintain their righteousness before God.
Throughout the entire Bible: sinners are unrighteous, obedient believers are righteous!
Christians must endure in the faith until they die to receive eternal life (no OSAS)!
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« Reply #13 on: Today at 03:14:22 AM »

...condemn them to an everlasting hell against their wills.

I am not here to defend Calvinism, but to urge honesty. No Calvinist teaches that people go to hell "against their wills". They believe that the non-elect spend their lives quite happy to live without repentance and faith, and with their sin. None is saying, "I earnestly wish I could repent, be cleansed, be made into a new creation, and make Christ my Lord, but alas! I find I am not among the elect."  By all means disagree with Calvinism, but be careful not to make yourself disagree with something that no-one is saying anyway.
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« Reply #14 on: Today at 03:41:25 AM »

...condemn them to an everlasting hell against their wills.

I am not here to defend Calvinism, but to urge honesty. No Calvinist teaches that people go to hell "against their wills". They believe that the non-elect spend their lives quite happy to live without repentance and faith, and with their sin. None is saying, "I earnestly wish I could repent, be cleansed, be made into a new creation, and make Christ my Lord, but alas! I find I am not among the elect."  By all means disagree with Calvinism, but be careful not to make yourself disagree with something that no-one is saying anyway.



I agree with you. However, there is really no way around the fact that the logical implication of predestination is double predestination. The Orthodox teaching is that man's free will and God's foreknowledge of who will be saved  are quite compatible. Here is a good article on the Orthodox view of predestination:

 http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/predestination.aspx


Selam
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« Reply #15 on: Today at 03:50:02 AM »

To assert that Christ died only for the elect is to assert that God pre-ordained some men to hell and some to heaven.
That is blasphemy, for our loving God would never create human beings in His image
and then condemn them to an everlasting hell against their wills.

I got as far as here, and had to clear up this point with you before continuing.
[Aaaah, I just realized that this could take many many years.]

What do you say to the many NT passages which describe unregenerate man as:
born with an inherited sin nature
spiritually dead in his sins
a captive to the law of sin and death
a slave to sin, forced to obey evil
an enemy of God, hostile to God, opposed to God
spiritually blind and deaf
unable to understand the things of God (they are foolishness)
seeing the gospel as utter foolishness
unable to believe the truth of the gospel because it is veiled
blinded by Satan
controlled (ruled) by Satan
deceived by Satan
a captive of Satan unto death
unable to be righteous by doing good works
unable to be saved by his own desire or works
able to be saved only by the grace and mercy of God

Is such a person really capable of responding to the calling of the Holy Spirit?
Or is it necessary for God to do more for him/her than just call?

A grand example of God choosing to create certain people,
and then send them to hell is: God's chosen people vs. their enemies.

Thank you for your kind attention.



The Bible contains hyperbole, such as many of the statements you mentioned above. The Orthodox teaching is that sin and the fall have not negated man's free will, as Luther and Calvin erroneously taught. Our free will has been affected by the fall, but all human beings retain the volitional ability to choose good or evil, God or sin. But apart from the redemption of the Cross, man will never be able to draw near to salvation on his own. So in that sense, we are spiritually "dead" until Christ redeems us. But we are not literally dead, without any ability to choose or act on our own. And God's mercy and love extend unconditionally to all, which is why it's blasphemous to assert that He predestined some people for damnation against their wills.


Selam
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« Reply #16 on: Today at 04:09:31 AM »

The Bible contains hyperbole, such as many of the statements you mentioned above. The Orthodox teaching is that sin and the fall have not negated man's free will, as Luther and Calvin erroneously taught. Our free will has been affected by the fall, but all human beings retain the volitional ability to choose good or evil, God or sin. But apart from the redemption of the Cross, man will never be able to draw near to salvation on his own.

I think any Arminian Evangelical, such as Wesleyans, would agree with this.

Quote
So in that sense, we are spiritually "dead" until Christ redeems us. But we are not literally dead, without any ability to choose or act on our own.

I don't think they would go along with this. We interpret dead (or spiritually dead) in such passages as meaning separated from God: that is spiritual death. The unconverted person is indeed dead in trespasses and sins, and needs a second birth: ye must be born again.
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« Reply #17 on: Today at 04:26:18 AM »

The Bible contains hyperbole, such as many of the statements you mentioned above. The Orthodox teaching is that sin and the fall have not negated man's free will, as Luther and Calvin erroneously taught. Our free will has been affected by the fall, but all human beings retain the volitional ability to choose good or evil, God or sin. But apart from the redemption of the Cross, man will never be able to draw near to salvation on his own.

I think any Arminian Evangelical, such as Wesleyans, would agree with this.

Quote
So in that sense, we are spiritually "dead" until Christ redeems us. But we are not literally dead, without any ability to choose or act on our own.

I don't think they would go along with this. We interpret dead (or spiritually dead) in such passages as meaning separated from God: that is spiritual death. The unconverted person is indeed dead in trespasses and sins, and needs a second birth: ye must be born again.

Of course we must be born again. But how do you think that happens?


Selam
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« Reply #18 on: Today at 04:36:21 AM »

Of course we must be born again. But how do you think that happens?


Selam

It is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is received by faith. A Calvinist believes the work of God is irresistible and all the elect will be infallibly saved; an Arminian believes it can be resisted. However, let it rest at this: that the Spirit of God draws us to Christ, and we respond in faith.
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"But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another." Galatians 5.15
Gebre Menfes Kidus
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« Reply #19 on: Today at 06:01:29 AM »

Of course we must be born again. But how do you think that happens?


Selam

It is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is received by faith. A Calvinist believes the work of God is irresistible and all the elect will be infallibly saved; an Arminian believes it can be resisted. However, let it rest at this: that the Spirit of God draws us to Christ, and we respond in faith.

But someone who is literally dead is unable to respond.


Selam
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"If you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks at you along the way, you will never reach your goal." [Turkish Proverb]
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