Jacob Arminius Theologian of Grace– Part Ten

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KEITH: Arminius did agree that the righteousness resulting from this reckoning comes to believers on the basis of Christ’s righteous obedience to the Father. Thus, in a sense, it is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to us (but not “for righteousness”). Arminius does think that this exchange of sin for righteousness is taught in 2 Cor. 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” For Arminius, though, this does not undermine the call to sanctification or relieve the faithful of the responsibility to live lives of righteousness. The phrase “imputed righteousness” alone does not entail the belief that no obedience is required after conversion.

As for exegetical mistakes, Arminius, like all of us, surely was not immune to them. He was a child of his age and a pastor-theologian within the Reformed tradition, so it should not surprise us when he assumes some Reformed categories that we might question exegetically. If anything, the gift of hindsight should give us a dose of exegetical humility regarding our own cherished assumptions.

BEN: What role does Arminius see the believer playing in his own ongoing sanctification? Put another way, what would he take Paul to mean when Paul says work out your salvation with fear and trembling as it is God who works in you to will and to do?

KEITH: Sanctification is a process in which the believer plays a cooperative role with the Holy Spirit. This cooperation, in which the Spirit is the primary efficient cause and the believer the secondary efficient cause, is what is meant by God working in us as we work out our salvation.

But in contrast to his Reformed opponents, Arminius tended to have a more optimistic view of sanctification, maintaining somewhat higher expectations for progress in holiness. This is because God works in us not only to will, but also to do the good. Arminius also believed that a person can fall from saving grace. In that sense, it is important to “work out” one’s own salvation, or, in common Reformed language, one’s own sanctification.

BEN: One of the rather clear differences of emphasis between Wesley and Arminius is in regard to the concept of perfection, though it appears Arminius allows for the possibility of truly keeping God’s moral law (p. 172). Can you say a little more about this?

KEITH: Because of his slightly elevated expectations for the life of sanctification, Arminius’ opponents wondered if he advocated moral perfection. He admitted that it is strictly possible for someone, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to keep the moral law perfectly. He did not say whether such perfection has ever actually happened (apart from Jesus). This answer, by the way, is quite Augustinian. Arminius once

concluded his discussion of this doctrine by exhorting Christians not to waste energy debating the possibility of perfection, but to spend their energy in striving toward perfection.