What are the Main Differences between Calvinism and Arminianism?

by Robert Driskell · Print Print · Email Email

Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of looking at, and interpreting, the biblical record concerning salvation.  Calvinism is named after the teachings of theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) and Arminianism after the teachings of theologian Jacobus (James) Arminius (1559-1609).  Both base their beliefs on the Bible, but end up with different views on several issues.

Of course, there will be some in each of these two groups who do not believe certain points of their own system.  There will also be some who agree with certain points of the opposing system.  In other words, not all Calvinists hold to every point of the Calvinist system, nor does every Arminian uphold every point of the Arminian system.  This article will focus on the points that most clearly contrast one system from the other.  To dissect every nuance of each of these points is outside the scope of this article.

The Calvinist’s viewpoint has been documented using the acronym TULIP, which stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.  The Arminian viewpoint, for the most part, is a rebuttal of these five points.  There are many shades of Calvinism and Arminianism, so this article will only deal with the most basic forms of each.  First, will be an explanation of the Calvinist’s TULIP acronym, then an explanation of the Arminian rebuttal, followed by a comparison of the two ideas, and finally, concluding remarks.

Calvinism and Ariminianism

In other words, not all Calvinists hold to every point of the Calvinist system, nor does every Arminian uphold every point of the Arminian system.

Calvinism Briefly Explained

1. Total Depravity:

This is the belief that sin controls every part of man.  He is spiritually dead and blind, and unable to obey, believe, or repent.  He continually sins, for his nature is completely evil.  This is based on verses such as Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3, and 53:3.

2. Unconditional Election: God chose the elect solely based on His free grace, not anything in them.  He has a special love for the elect.  God left the rest to be damned for their sins.

3. Limited Atonement: Christ died especially for the elect, and paid a definite price for them that guaranteed their salvation.

4. Irresistible Grace: Saving grace is irresistible, for the Holy Spirit is invincible and intervenes in man’s heart.  He sovereignly gives the new birth, faith, and repentance to the elect.

5. Perseverance of the Saints: God preserves all the elect and causes them to persevere in faith and obedience to the end.  None are continually back-slidden or finally lost.

To summarize a very basic picture of the Calvinistic viewpoint would go something like this:  Man’s heart is depraved.  If left to himself, he would only do selfish, sinful things.  However, God arbitrarily decided, before time began, which people would be saved and which would be lost.  Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross for the sins of those God had decided would be saved.  The Holy Spirit comes upon a person’s heart in an irresistible way, so the person will choose to be saved.  The saved person can never become unsaved, no matter what.

Arminianism Briefly Explained

For each of the Calvinist’s points, the followers of Arminius have a counterpoint.

1. Free Will: Sin does not control man’s will.  He is sick and near-sighted, but still able to obey, believe, and repent.  He does not continually sin, for his nature is not completely evil.

2. Conditional Election: God chose the elect based on their foreseen faith.  He loves all men equally.  God passed over no one; He gives everyone an equal chance to be saved.  This is gleaned from I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 3:9; Matthew 18:14.

3. Universal Atonement: Christ died equally for all men, and paid a provisional price that made salvation possible for all, but guaranteed it for none.

4. Resistible Grace: Saving grace is resistible, for God does not overrule man’s free will.  Man is born again after he believes, for faith and repentance are not gifts of God.

5. Falling from Grace: Believers may turn from grace and lose their salvation.

To summarize a very basic picture of the Arminian viewpoint would go something like this:  Man’s spirit is damaged, but still somewhat good.  God, able to see all things past and future, knowing who would say ‘yes’ to the Gospel, elected those people to salvation.  Jesus died on the cross giving everyone the opportunity to repent and turn to Him, excluding no one from the possibility of salvation.  The call of God can be resisted and, ultimately, rejected.  A Christian can turn from God and no longer be saved.

Making Some Sense of This

Both of these belief systems have strong points and weak points:  the Calvinists stress the sovereignty of God, that God is in control of everything, a good and biblical concept.  However, if we take this too far, we end up saying that God is even responsible for man’s sin, but we know this is not true: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV).  Therefore, a balance must be struck that says that God most certainly is in control of everything in this way: He either causes or allows everything that happens to happen.  He has self-limited His own involvement in the lives of men and women.  He has allowed us some measure of freedom in order that we might freely choose Him.

As with many doctrinal systems, problems usually arise from the abuse of the system, rather than the system itself.  On the issue of Total Depravity, the Bible does say that man does evil constantly (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3, and 53:3).  However, the Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit works on human hearts to convict us of, “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8) and that Jesus gives light to everyone (John 1:9).  The Bible makes it clear that humanity is not as bad as it could be.  This is because of the continued presence of the Holy Spirit and His influence on even the lost person’s heart.

Likewise, the Arminian belief that one may lose his or her salvation may cause some to put too much emphasis on the believer’s responsibility to maintain their faith by their own strength rather than relying on God to sustain them.  The Calvinist’s belief that you cannot lose your salvation may give some a license to sin, believing in their hearts that they can do nothing bad enough to be rejected by God.  It seems that a biblical balance here would be that, even though believers go through times of great temptation, even failure, as long as that believer holds on to the source of his or her salvation, Jesus Christ, that person is safe.  In other words, if one does not renounce faith in Jesus, and thereby become an ‘unbeliever’, that person is still a Christian.  That is why the phrase “Security of the Believer” seems appropriate.  As long as one believes [trusts, has faith] in Jesus, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.

Can a person once saved ever be lost again?  Why take a chance?  A Christian is never in danger of falling from grace if he or she will simply, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30; cf. Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27).

Now, a word of caution is in order here.  I do not want anyone to think I am saying that it is acceptable to continue in sin as long as you profess to have faith.  May it never be (to borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul).  As we all know, one can profess faith in Jesus, but not possess that faith.  One who can continue in sin without feeling the guilt, shame, and sorrow that comes with disobeying God, may not be a Christian at all.

Conclusion…For Now

The topic of Calvinism and Arminianism is a huge subject and this article has only touched the surface.  There are many good theology books that contain much more in-depth treatments.  The differences between the two group’s theology should not stand in the way of fellowship between the two.  True believers in both groups serve the same risen savior, Jesus Christ.  There is much in both viewpoints that glorifies God.

The believer can take the best aspects from both of these systems, incorporate them into his or her life, and be completely biblical in his or her walk with God:  God is sovereign; nothing happens that He does not cause or allow.  Man cannot now, nor has he ever been able to, save himself.  Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins (John 3:16-17).  God, through the Holy Spirit, is even now reaching out to the lost in order to save them, and reaching out to the saved in order to love and strengthen us.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Wellman July 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Superb explanation of the two Robert. Well done. I love what you said, “why take a chance?” about whether a person could lose their salvation. There is certainty in only Christ (Acts 4:12). You are such a good teacher my friend and your theology is solid, as always, and your biblical education shows clearly in defining these two systematic beliefs. Thank you.

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Robert July 9, 2012 at 8:33 am

Thank you Jack,
It is my desire to be the clearest conduit I can be for God’s word. God loves us enough to not only send His Son to die on a cross for our sins, but He also gave us His Holy Word so that we may know Him better through it, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The only hope of the world is in knowing Christ and living for Him.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Dale Brown July 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I’m so glad I found your website. Everything I’ve read is balanced and very helpful. Blessings on your ministry.

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Robert July 9, 2012 at 8:29 am

Dale,
I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for the kind words. God is good and we can count on Him to guide us and care for us in all aspects of our lives. This ministry exists to strengthen, encourage, and teach believers and hopefully share the Gospel effectively with those who are lost. Please pray for us.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Pam Williams July 8, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Great job with a hot topic Robert! Thank you for this

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Robert July 9, 2012 at 8:39 am

Thank you Pam,
I am really concerned with teaching/preaching the Truth. James 3:1 says that teachers will be “judged with greater strictness” (ESV). So, I try to be careful to say what God wants me to say (although I’m sure my opinion gets in there from time to time too). I’m also still a learner, I think I always will be. Thanks again.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Pamela Rose Williams July 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

yes I truly understand agree with you (and the Bible) completely. I studied both of these in seminary and learned so much. I understand the differences but can not articulate it as clearly as you have done here brother. God gets the glory again!

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Derek Hill July 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Great job on this topic Robert! You did a really good job at describing both belief systems.

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Robert Driskell July 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Derek,
Thank you very much and good to have you aboard. God bless you.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Chris Martel July 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Finally a thumb nail description of these two different belief systems!! I have been visiting a web site called Arminian Today, http://arminiantoday.com, it has been an eye opener, however it has been difficult to get a complete handle on what the differences are between these two. Mr. Driskell you have definitely clarified this issue in a brief yet concise fashion. I have found that many of the Arminian beliefs I share, however Calvinism would never work for me.
The impression I get of Calvinism is “why bother?”, your ticket has already been punched, regardless of what you do, if you are not of the elect you are in deep trouble!! I certainly hope for Mother Theresa’s sake that God is not a Calvinist.
You may want to visit that site, I believe you would enjoy it, much like this site where a topic is addressed and discussed in an easy to understand format.
Thanks again Mr. Driskell, you have lit the lamp of understanding.

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Robert Driskell July 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Chris,
Thanks for your very kind words. I am humbly grateful any time I am used by God to help others grasp some truth. The truth is His, I am just the messenger.
I will check out the site you mentioned. Thank you for suggesting it.
As I mentioned in the article, I think the motives of many who hold to the teachings of Calvinism are good, and I’m not even sure how many of them would hold to the extremes, such as some are elected to salvation others are elected to damnation, when it comes right down to it. The problems result from either the misunderstandings or abuses of these beliefs.
Anyway, as for me, I will keep spreading the good news because if the Calvinists are right, I still don’t know who is elect, and if the Arminians are correct, then everyone should hear.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Chaplain Bob Walker October 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Good overview. I just know that Calvin did not die for me and neither did Arminius. Jesus died for us. The Bible talks about both free will and election. Concerning eternal security I say trust Jesus as if it all depends upon him as it does. Live a holy life of obedience and avoid sin as if it all depends upon you. This way we should be alright,…

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Robert October 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Chaplain Bob,
I agree with you totally. If we focus on Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t be concerned with many of the things we seem concerned with. Thank you once again for your insightful comments. God bless you.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Chaplain Guy Romito April 16, 2013 at 2:56 am

Brother Robert

I just came across this web site and enjoyed your article. Your explanation of these two systems were exceptional. I get it. I know that if “I continue in my faith in Christ, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel… (Col. 1:23)” I will not lose my salvation. Established and firm is to continue to believe and trust in Christ. Amen.

In Christ

Chaplain Guy

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Robert April 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thank you for the kind words, Chaplain Guy,
You definitely understand. I am encouraged when I know that my service to the Lord is helping people. May God continue to bless you in His service.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Anne August 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Robert,

You are correct in saying how many different nuances there are. I grew up in a small, and relatively unknown religious population that even amongst itself, split over two opposing views, and then continued to further branch out within each view. It has taken me over forty years to get a grasp on what the real issues are and to figure out where I stand. The best book I have ever read on the subject is by Elder Harold Hunt, “The Lost History of Calvinism.” It is not a support of Calvinism, but is instead a historic explanation of how Christians have moved from nuance to nuance through the ages and breaks down the inaccuracies that were perpetrated, mostly for men’s gain, that have brought us to our current place of confusion, with Christians the world over being unable to harmonize scripture to be like-minded and of one accord. The clarity that I gained from Elder Hunt’s book has been invaluable to my understanding, and I thought it might be of interest to you or your readers.

May God richly bless you.
Anne

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Robert August 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi Anne,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Even though the body of Christ doesn’t agree on every detail, we should still be united on the fundamental, foundational, non-negotiable truths of God’s Kingdom. Too many times throughout history (including today), people are more interested in being viewed as “having all the answers” or “being right” than they are committed to being led by the Holy Spirit. If we were more diligent in listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice, we would have fewer disagreements and arguments within the Church. God bless you, Anne.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Karen Wright December 31, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Thankyou so much for this very good and easily understood explanation. I have just recently become a Christian and because of past associations with “sects”, I decided to pray, read my Bible and look up YouTube sermons and the Lord has blessed me and my belief in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour is profound. But I have been disturbed at what appears to be an on going conflict between these 2 denominations (if that is the correct term) I wonder if they realise how confusing it is for non believers and possible new christians to be seeing these, sometimes very vitriolic, attacks on each other. Surely we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to take the moat out of our own eye first before we correct others, however heartfelt it is meant? Our heavenly Father sees all hearts after all. Thankyou dear sir once again.

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Amanda April 23, 2015 at 1:06 pm

This is a great article! Thank you for writing it. It has helped so much. Overall we should love our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ dispite which view they think about salvation. I grew up in a very loving Calvinist church which I adore very much and my husband grew up Arminion. But after reading the bible and seeing both sides, we decided to call ourselves calmenian lol. But I love reformed pastors like Tim Conway and James White. So we made up a name, Calmenians. 🙂

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Robert April 23, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Thank you, Amanda,
I am so glad that you have been helped by the article. You are also quite right that we need to love our Christian brothers and sisters no matter what non-essential believes we differ in…we are all saved by God’s grace and Jesus’ payment for our sins. I love the ‘Calmenian’ term…perfect. God bless you.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Andrew April 29, 2015 at 9:08 pm

I am a Berean, and i dont agree with a couple of your points i will point them out accordingly… It seems that a biblical balance here would be that, even though believers go through times of great temptation, even failure, as long as that believer holds on to the source of his or her salvation, Jesus Christ, that person is safe. In other words, if one does not renounce faith in Jesus, and thereby become an ‘unbeliever’, that person is still a Christian. That is why the phrase “Security of the Believer” seems appropriate. As long as one believes [trusts, has faith] in Jesus, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.

Can a person once saved ever be lost again? Why take a chance? A Christian is never in danger of falling from grace if he or she will simply, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30; cf. Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27).

First off the Bible says that Once we are in the Hand of God no one can snatch us from it, not even ourself, yes i do agree that once someone is saved it does not Give them a right to sin, thats abusive, but once someone has been sealed by the Holy Spirit, you cannot lose Salvation, Hebrews 13:6 says i will never leave you, i will never forsake you, that being said saying we lose salvation is like calling God a liar… you have to read in Context, 2 Timothy 2:17 Talks about if we become faithless, (that means without faith) God remains faithful, for he cannot deny Himself.. 1 John 4:15, states that if we confess that Jesus is Lord Then God Abides in us ( Abide means to live) just think of this lets say a person was saved ok, lived a life of Rebellion and then Came back, to the Lord, that person is still saved, he has not lost His Salvation, the Prodigal Son and even Deuteronomy even states that God will not turn anyone away that come back to him so i dont know if i misunderstood you, but i have to question people if it sounds like they are Twisting Scripture

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Robert April 30, 2015 at 8:10 am

Hello Andrew,
First, thank you for reading and commenting. I also salute you for being as the Bereans (Acts 17:11) in that you search the Scriptures to test the teaching you hear. You raise some good points in your comment and I thank you for allowing me to address them. Since it is sometimes difficult to tell what a person’s attitude is when commenting online, let me assure you that I am writing out of a humble heart that simply wants to serve God. There are many who see these passages the same way you do and there are many who would disagree…that is exactly why there exists the two groups this article addresses…Calvinists and Arminians. Let’s be clear; there are many good, loving, faithful believers in both of these groups and what one believes about Eternal Security (Security of the Believer, Once saved always saved, etc.) does not make one saved or make one lost…it is faith in Jesus Christ that secures one’s salvation.

You wrote: “First off the Bible says that Once we are in the Hand of God no one can snatch us from it, not even ourself, yes i do agree that once someone is saved it does not Give them a right to sin, thats abusive, but once someone has been sealed by the Holy Spirit, you cannot lose Salvation,”

My response: As far as no one snatching us out of His hand; I completely agree that, as long as we are believers we are secure in His hand; however, if we come to a place where we no longer believe (this belief is more than simple mental assent; we must repent of our sin, put our trust in Him, and live for Him) then we no longer have any assurance that we are saved.

Here is the entire passage of which you were speaking, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29 NASB). This passage, in context, tells us that no one is able to snatch away those who follow Jesus; therefore, it would seem that it indicates the opposite, that those who do not follow Jesus do not have this promise. I understand that many take this passage to be saying, “Once a person begins to follow Jesus, that person can never be lost, no matter what they do, what they believe, or how they live.” However, the rest of Scripture does not support that viewpoint. Let’s look further…

You wrote: “Hebrews 13:5f says i will never leave you, i will never forsake you, that being said saying we lose salvation is like calling God a liar… you have to read in Context,”
My response: Taking your advice, I read the context of this verse carefully. The passage is speaking to believers about their conduct as believers. This passage does not address the issue of someone ceasing to believe or someone walking away from faith. While this verse could be used to support a once-saved-always-saved idea, the whole of Scripture never leads us to believe that we are saved simply by a one-time act; but rather we are saved by a moment by moment walk with (abiding in) Jesus Christ. Let’s look further…

You wrote: “2 Timothy 2:13 Talks about if we become faithless, (that means without faith) God remains faithful, for he cannot deny Himself…”
My response: The context of this passage is Paul encouraging his readers (mainly Timothy) to stay strong in the face of persecution and hardship, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement:

For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:8-13 NASB).

Notice the words BEFORE the line you quoted; they all begin with the word ‘if’. This means that there are conditions attached. IF we died with Him…IF we endure…IF we deny Him…If we are faithless. Also, this passage clearly says that if we deny Him he will deny us.

Now, whatever that last line means (I believe it means that, even if we walk away from Him, it wasn’t His fault, it was ours…He is still there, just as He has promised). Notice that it says that, “He cannot deny Himself” it doesn’t say that He cannot deny the one who is ‘faithless’.

You wrote: “1 John 4:15, states that if we confess that Jesus is Lord Then God Abides in us ( Abide means to live)”
My response: Most of the fourth chapter of I John talks about abiding (living) in Jesus (and God). It seems clear that this ‘abiding’ is an ongoing activity. In other words, abiding is something we do continuously. Therefore, if we stop ‘abiding’ in Jesus (if we stop believing in Jesus) we have no guarantee that we are still saved (in Him).

One chapter before this passage, we read, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (I John 3:6 NASB). This is saying that no one who abides in Jesus CONTINUES in a sinful lifestyle. This is made clear in verse 9 of the same chapter, “No one who is born of God practices sin…” (I John 3:9 NASB). It doesn’t mean that the believer will never slip and sin, it means that no one who is a believer continues to constantly sin. (On a side note: when a believer sins, we have the comfort of knowing that, if we repent, He will forgive us. I John 1:9).

You wrote: “just think of this lets say a person was saved ok, lived a life of Rebellion and then Came back, to the Lord, that person is still saved, he has not lost His Salvation, the Prodigal Son and even Deuteronomy even states that God will not turn anyone away that come back to him”
My response: In light of what we’ve seen in the Scriptures above, I would have to say that there is a good chance that while he “lived a life of Rebellion” he was not ‘abiding’ in Jesus, therefore, he was not saved. I agree with you about the Bible saying that God will not turn anyone away who returns to Him; however, a person who rejects Jesus and lives in willful sin has forfeited his or her salvation (they didn’t ‘lose’ their salvation, they rejected it…they walked away from it).

You wrote: “so i dont know if i misunderstood you, but i have to question people if it sounds like they are Twisting Scripture”
My response: I hope I have cleared up any misunderstanding. Please feel free to respond. I am happy to continue conversing with you.

I certainly do not claim to be infallible and you certainly do not have to believe the same way I do. I try to be as careful, and prayerful, as possible so as to NOT twist Scripture.

We can both be followers of Jesus regardless of what we believe concerning this issue. However, the Bible is clear on one thing; neither of us can claim to be followers of Jesus and, at the same time, live a life of unbelief and sin. God bless you as you continue to search the Scriptures, Andrew.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Andrew May 6, 2015 at 7:36 am

I kinda Get what you are saying, if we remain Faithful, yes God will save us, and thats what i want to do is remain faithful, I had been struggling with my own faith for a while, and I hope to God i can persevere, and remain faithful i dont want to deny Christ nor Renounce my Faith, i am a rather Young Christian… But the Bible does teach in Ephesians 1:11-14New King James Version (NKJV)

11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who[a] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

I dont want to turn my Back on the Walk… I want to grow more in faith so when more trials come i can remain faithful…

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Robert May 6, 2015 at 8:53 am

Andrew,
From what I get from your comments, you seem very sincere in your walk with Jesus. So, I don’t think you’re in danger of forfeiting your salvation. I mean, we Christians are not perfect, we will fail sometimes (hopefully, less and less as we walk with Him); however, we are promised forgiveness if we confess and repent (I John 1:9). As long as you have the desire to please God and to walk with Him, you’ll be fine. The only way to forfeit your salvation is to actively reject Christ and His lordship of your life. What we all must be aware of is that sometimes this active rejection begins with one unconfessed, unrepented of sin; that one sin turns into a habit, the habit into a lifestyle, and (before we know it) we are questioning what we really believe. Then it’s just a step away from denying Christ. Therefore, I think it best to stay as close to Jesus as possible, thereby staying as far away from rebellion as possible.
I hope this helps, brother. I’ll be praying for you. No matter what you face, always trust God. He will never leave you nor forsake you…as you’ve mentioned.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Noel bulow December 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Robert great article helps explain and clears up a lot we have discord in our church in this i am a baby in christ so i research for myself as our pastor is armenism and some of our church goers are calvanism they are going to change our Constitution so i want to know both sides as pastor seems to have last say people need to be aware that one or the other not necessarily right
So arming myself to stand up for truth Jesus
Thank you

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