In Judges 6, God calls young Gideon to rise as a deliverer of Israel. The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon (6:11-12), and commissions him to fight and win (6:14-16). Gideon asks for a miraculous sign, as evidence that it truly is the Lord who speaks to him. God grants it (6:17-24).
That same night Gideon destroys his father's pagan altars, and offers two bulls unto the Lord. Surprisingly, his father Joash stands up for Gideon, and threatens anyone who would defend Baal, on the logical ground that Baal, if he's real, ought to be able to take care of himself (6:31).
Then a massive army of foreigners invade the land (6:33). God's Spirit comes upon Gideon, and he summons volunteers from the Abiezrite clan and three of the tribes of Israel. Then Gideon asks God for a second sign: he will put a wool fleece on the barn floor. If the fleece gets wet from the dew, but the ground all around is dry, then that will confirm the Lord's word. The Lord does it (6:38). Then, just to be extra-sure, Gideon asks the Lord to do the reverse. The Lord does that also (6:39-40).
Christians have sometimes sued this story as a reason for setting "fleeces" before the Lord. In other words, they propose that God do some distinct action that will confirm direction and future blessing from God. However, close consideration of the story tells us that what Christians present to God are seldom real fleeces; and nowhere in Scripture does the Lord tell us to do this.
First we see that the angel of the Lord had already appeared and audibly spoke to Gideon (6:11). This was not a case of inward impressions. Gideon saw a man-like figure. The man spoke words to him. The man touched the offering (meat, bread, and broth) with the tip of his staff, and a heavenly fire consumed it (6:20-21). One moment the broth, meat, and bread was there. the next moment, it was incinerated. So Gideon was not acting on inner impressions, or pious guesswork.
Second, Gideon was acting on the written word of God. This was early in God's plan, and Gideon would have only had the five books of Moses, and probably Joshua also. But they by themselves were sufficient to justify his actions that night. Naturally, the Scriptures he had wouldn't have said anything specific about him becoming a mighty deliverer of Israel. The Angel communicated that. But Gideon's forward actions were guided by the written word of God, not his own imagination.
Third, the fleece test was completely unnatural. It wasn't like some silly thing that young Christians, do, such as, "Lord, if you want me to marry that girl, have a robin fly past me today!" No, according to normal scientific laws, dew doesn't differentiate where it settles. Dew isn't going to soak the surrounding ground but leave a rug bone-dry. It won't soak the rug, but then leave the surrounding ground bone-dry. What Gideon asked for was impossible apart from divine manipulation.
Fourth, Gideon's request was spiritually suspect. His first request for a sign was reasonable. He wanted to make sure he wasn't being deceived (perhaps by an evil spirit), as he says in 6:17. He was testing the prophecy, as Moses taught (Deut. 18:20-22). But that first sign should have been enough. The second request came from fear. Even Gideon knew he might anger the Lord by asking (6:39). But God was gracious and patient.
There is a timeless principle in the fleece story, which is that the Lord verified His messengers with signs and wonders. The prophets could work wonders. Christ came with healing power. The apostles healed and worked wonders. Miraculous signs witness to the word of His grace (Acts 14:4). But Gideon's story doesn't authorize us to invent tests for God, especially lame, non-miraculous tests that could happen by coincidence.
Open doors are not a sure guide to God's will, either. Just because a door opens, doesn't mean God wants you to walk through it. Paul once had an open door to preach in Troas, but he traveled on to Macedonia to find his friend Titus, and there was nothing wrong with him doing that (2 Cor. 2:12-13). The New Testament tells us to test prophets, but it never tells us to set fleeces.
The fleece story shows us how patient the Lord is., especially with the faint-hearted. Gideon wanted to do the Lord's will, and in fact did do the Lord's will that first night. He wasn't a hypocrite or a coward. But his doubt of his own fitness (6:15, 36) led him to ask God for something very unusual.
Eternal security, the teaching that once a person puts his faith in Christ he cannot be lost (which is considered a "Calvinist" view), has long been a part of the EFCA fellowship. But conditional security (which is considered an "Arminian" view), the teaching that a believer is secure from condemnation as long as he keeps on believing in Christ, has just as long a history.
These two teachings go all the way back to the founding days of the fellowship, so much so that former president A.T. Olson refers to them in his book The Significance of Silence. The EFCA decided at that time not to draw a line on that doctrine, and that's still the policy today.
Though local pastors and congregations usually do have an opinion on the subject, and an individual church's pulpit will reflect that opinion, the EFCA association on the national scale doesn't take a stand. A man can become ordained to the preaching ministry in the EFCA and hold either view. A church can lean to either doctrine, and still be EFCA member churches in good standing.
This policy sounds a bit loose, until you realize we have a clear statement of faith, which speaks to the essential truths of salvation as well as the other foundational truths of Christianity. We also have a book available, Evangelical Convictions, that elaborates on the statement of faith.
But there are limits. Where do the limits lie? In a personal conversation I had several years back with an assistant district superintendent, he told me there were extremes at either end of the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum which would fall off the edge of acceptability, as far as what we could or would tolerate. Here are some examples:
On a hyper-Calvinist extreme, we stop any teaching that treats the spiritual life as operating on passive auto-pilot, as if the exhortations and warnings of the New Testament don't matter and are just for show. We would stop any teaching that excused, condoned, or made light of sin in any way. Our statement of faith also explicitly forbids any teaching that breaks the connection between positional justification in Christ and practical holiness (Statement of Faith 8, .https://www.efca.org/resources/document/efca-statement-faith).
The severe error that sometimes happens on the Calvinist side is called antinomianism. Here is a good, short article about that: https://www.gotquestions.org/antinomianism.html
On the hyper-Arminian side, we stop teaching that insinuates good works into why and how someone is justified of their sins. This severe error is usually done by blurring initial saving faith in Christ with all the other ways a growing faith is expressed throughout life, like full dedication, cross-bearing, or Jesus' other teachings about discipleship.
Here is a good quote from an historic catechism called the Larger Catechism that illustrates how not to blur faith with its fruits:
Question 73: How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
Answer: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.
This catechism names three ways faith does not justify us of our sins:
(1) not by all the other gracious operations of the Holy Spirit which he does to draw a sinner to Christ;
(2) not by the good works that result from faith; and
(3) not as if faith itself is the righteousness that saves.
The hyper-Arminian error is called legalism. Here is a good, short article about it: https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-Christian-legalism.html
Antinomianism is the ditch on the left-hand side of the road. It's a poison that destroys a church by attacking holiness. The idea that a person could have exercised saving faith in Christ but remain as sinful as they ever were is a devilish doctrine. The idea that grace means it's OK to sin is abominable. God's curse is upon such teaching. Christ called it "Nicolaitanism", in the letters of Revelation, and said He hated it.
But the ditch on the right-hand side of the road is legalism. Introducing any good works -- the Ten Commandments, Christ's demands of discipleship, Romans 12:1 -- into justifying faith as a co-condition for justification is Phariseeism.
Good works are a fruit and proof of faith (James 2), not co-conditions for justification. Paul absolutely condemns legalism in Galatians 1:6-8. God's curse is upon it as well.
Antinomianism and legalism are equally bad, and I fight both equally. However, I have met Arminians who confine the possibility of falling-away to a conscious abandonment of Christ -- not just any sin a Christian might commit, but specifically that sin. My former church history professor was of this opinion (he was ordained a Free Will Baptist preacher).
Even though I didn't agree with his view on security, I could see it hypothetically -- saved by full conscious faith in Christ, lost by full conscious denouncing of Christ. That was very different from a Methodist woman I knew who claimed her uncle became eternally lost because he cheated on his wife. As bad as it is to cheat on your wife, her thinking about salvation was completely works-centered.
We will seek to walk in harmony with Scripture, follow our EFCA statement of faith, and take care not drop into either of the two heretical ditches. If we have unknowingly drifted into either of the two ditches, we must get ourselves up and out of them!
You can probably guess the title of this post is meant in a tongue-in-cheek way. John Calvin lived 1,500 years after the earthly ministry of Christ! Besides, Calvin's responsibility was to fall in line with Christ's teachings, not vice-versa! So no, Jesus wasn't a Calvinist. But Christ's teachings in John chapter 6 shed light on the issues of sinful inability, election, faith as a gift, and the eternal security of the believer.
Christ criticized the crowd for chasing after Him for wonder-bread (6:26), showing their reasoning was off. He exhorts them not to work for perishable food, but to work for the food that endures to eternal life, which He will give them (27). Christ's word shoots down an ancient hyper-Calvinist error, that only the elect should be evangelistically exhorted. Christ exhorted that whole crowd without any exceptions. He tells all of them to believe in Him.
"What works are those?", asks the crowd (28). "The work God wants is for you to believe in Me, whom God has sent," Christ replies (29). The crowd asks about works, plural. Jesus replies with one work, singular: believe. We are saved by one work, faith in the Gospel, not by the many and varied fruits of that faith in the life.
The crowd, in what has to be seen as a defiant, unbelieving response (considering they already saw a mighty miracle), demand more bread miracles from Jesus. (30-31). Jesus brushes aside their demand, and changes the subject. For one thing, Moses didn't work the manna miracle. For another thing, God was offering them the heavenly bread right there at that moment (6:32). That "bread" was Jesus Himself, who came down from heaven and whose mission was to offer life to the world (32b-33). "Give" here means "offer", which shows that God can offer a gift but still have it rejected.
The crowd asks for this heavenly bread (34). Christ says, "I am the heavenly bread. If you believe in Me, you will never hunger or thirst spiritually again!" (35). But the crowd had seen Him, teaching and working miracles, and they still hadn't put their faith in Him (36). Miracles in themselves do not convert. There is something in the proud, stubborn souls of men that defy even the most obvious evidences of Christ.
The entire crowd had seen Him, and the entire crowd had not believed. But Christ said there was another, smaller group who do come to Him and believe: people God had given (37).
In fact, Christ said that everyone in that group, without exception, comes to him. So here we see two kinds of giving:. God at that moment was giving (offering) Christ to the crowd. But God at some time in the past had given some people to Christ. Christ will for noever reject those people, because His mission was to do the Father's will (37-38). It was the Father's will that Christ accept them.
God's will is also that none of the given should ever be lost, and all of them shall be raised up at the last day (39). This verse tells us that it is impossible for them to ever lose their faith; and it is impossible for any of them to ever go to hell. This group sees (understands) Christ and trusts in Him, and receive assurance of everlasting life (40).
The Jewish leaders get riled at Christ over Christ's claim of pre-existence (41-42), but Christ rebukes them (43). He's the Messiah, so of course He was pre-existent.
Christ then says that only the people God draws can believe in Him ; no one else has that ability (6:44). If God leaves someone alone in the tar-pit of their own ignorance, they can't pull themselves up out of it in their own strength.
Christ also says that anyone the Father draws will be raised, which appears to say they all come to faith (He did say that earlier in v.37). This is consistent with Isaiah 54:13, in which all of God's true disciples are taught by the Lord. If God spiritually speaks-to and teaches someone, that person comes to Christ (45). Apparently God can be mighty persuasive.
Christ hastened to add He didn't mean that people have a direct vision of God (46).
The sole condition for eternal life is belief in Christ (47). Christ himself is the bread of life (48). The manna didn't give everlasting life, but Christ does (50-51). His "bread" is His body, which he would sacrifice on the cross on behalf of the world (51).
Notice that the historical cross is the place of His one-time giving of His body, not at communion.
The Jewish leaders griped even louder at this (52). Jesus doubles down on the symbolism: you need to eat His flesh and drink His blood, otherwise you remain spiritually dead (53). His body and blood are the real food of God (55). Anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood lives in Christ, and He lives in them (56-58).
Now, many of His disciples recoil (60). Christ asks if this teaching offended them (61). How would they react if they saw Him go back to heaven? Would that upset them, too? (62) Christ makes it clear that His physical flesh would profit them nothing. He isn't talking about literal bread, any more than He was a literal sheep-door or a literal vine. Eternal life comes from the Holy Spirit, working through Christ's words (63).
Christ interprets their revulsion at His teaching as an evidence of their true unbelief (64). Just because someone called himself a disciple of Christ didn't make it so.
Christ hits them with a hammer blow: None of them can savingly trust in Christ unless God grants that they shall (65). Christ said this earlier to the crowd, but now He says it to His own disciples. A man could follow Christ around, sit in His Bible classes, even be baptized, but that doesn't mean he has spiritual power to believe in Christ. The spiritual power to believe in Christ comes from God alone.
As a result of Him saying this, many of His disciples abandoned Him (66), proving that they were secretly unbelievers the whole time.
Christ asks the twelve disciples, "Do you want to leave, too?" (67) Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He alone has the words of everlasting life (68-69). However, Christ reminds them that one of them was a child of the devil (70-71).
So, was Christ a "Calvinist"? Or, to put it more seriously:
Sickness entered the world when Adam sinned. His act cut him and his descendants off from God, and brought a curse down onto the physical world. This is why human beings age, sicken, and die -- it's the fall-out from the atom-bomb-blast of Adam's sin. You might call it an Adam bomb. However, God had an eternal plan to eradicate all sickness, while at the same time using sickness for positive purposes.
God uses sickness as a deterrent to sin. Illness can cripple or cut short the careers of evil people, like the self-glorifying Herod whom God struck dead with intestinal parasites (Acts 12:20-23). The sickness-curses of God's law were meant to deter rebellion against the Lord. God threatened the children of Israel with consumption, fever, inflammation, boils, tumors, scab and itch, madness, and blindness, if they rebelled (Deut. 28:22, 27-29, 35). Paul said that many in the Corinthians church were sick, and some had died, because they were spiritually violating the symbolism of the table of the Lord with their sins against the church (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). Paul told them this in order to bring about a change of behavior.
God uses sickness, and other afflictions, as a test of faith. Job did not bring his troubles upon himself, contrary to some foolish "name-it-and-claim-it" teachings I've read in the past. Job was a righteous man, and God praised him without reservation (Job 1:1, 8). Satan was filled with malice, and tried to prove Job was a hypocrite, just a worshiper-for-hire (1:9-11). God permitted Satan to afflict Job terribly (1:12, 2:6). God said this was His decision; Satan had no power to act contrary to God's ordinance (2:3). Job became a timeless example of enduring suffering, and received God's blessing at the end of it (James 5:10-11).
God uses sickness to bring lost people to Himself. Naaman was a Syrian army commander, afflicted with some sort of dreadful skin disease (2 Kings 5:1). He heard about the prophet Elisha through a servant girl, and sought Elisha's help. Elisha commanded him to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman swallowed his pride, and did as he was told. God instantly healed Naaman of his terrible skin disease (2 Kings 5:13-14). In response, Naaman put his faith in the Lord God of Israel (5:15).
God uses sickness as a way to display His glory. Christ's disciples asked Him, "Who sinned, that this man was born blind? Him, or his parents?" Christ replied, "Neither sinned. This man was born blind so that the works of God may be revealed in him", and then He healed the blind man (John 9:1-7). This story is important because it reveals two important truths: first, that sickness is not always a punishment for personal sin; and second, that sickness is part of the ultimate plan of God, and under His control. As the Lord said to Moses: "Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Exodus 4:11). Satan might be a secondary cause behind an illness, but he is not God's equal.
God uses sickness to create opportunities for witness. The apostle Paul said the reason he originally got to know the Galatians at all was because of some painful affliction that kept him there (likely an agonizing eye ailment, based on context -- see Galatians 4:13-15). There was nothing wrong with Paul's faith for healing, and Paul wasn't sinning. But God used him in this weakness to share the Gospel and so save the eternal souls of these dear people.
God uses sickness as a deterrent to pride (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God gave Paul many astounding visions and revelations, but, to guard him against pride, God also gave him a "thorn in the flesh", a messenger from Satan to beat on him (v.7). This must have been a specific affliction, not just life's general troubles. It was a thorn in Paul's flesh (not in his mind/spirit), and whatever it was, it made Paul weak. It was not a result of sin in Paul's life. Rather, God used it as a preventative against pride. The Lord might have kept the specific nature of this thorn unclear, because its purpose and function are more important to know than its identity.
God accomplished complete healing for His people in His redeeming work, but has not applied it yet. If all the physical benefits of Christ's work were already operative, then none of us Christians would age or die. We are not Jews, and no longer living under the Old Covenant, so we have no right to claim the material benefits of Moses' Law. Christ has overcome all the side-effects of Adam's sin, but full manifestation of His victory sin won't take form until Christ returns. The whole material world groans now, including our bodies, and we are all longing for the day when Christ returns and the children of God enter into Christ's full inheritance (Romans 8:18-23).
God still heals in the meantime, but healing is not on an even par with forgiveness of sin. You never need to pray, "If it is your will", for the Lord's forgiveness and everlasting life. That's the chief blessing God offers in full right now. But Christ received an "If it be Thy will" prayer without rebuke,0 as true faith (Matthew 8:1-3). Satan works through the false teaching that Christ wants to heal every Christian at all times of every disease, by bringing a spirit of condemnation -- whether of one's self ("I must have a secret sin somewhere! I don't have enough faith!"), or of the brother or sister in the Lord ("If you had prayed in faith, I would have been healed! It's your fault I'm still sick!").
1. You can know if someone else is elect. 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
My opinion is that Romans 9 does not teach unconditional election. This puts me at odds with traditional Reformed-Calvinist thinkers. Here are some reasons for my opinion.
Applying The Unexpected Return (24:45-25:13)