Consistent adherents to the theological construct knowns as “Arminianism” subscribe to the belief that they participate in their salvation. The theological term for this belief is “Synergism.” While this belief is consistent with Arminianism, it is utterly inconsistent with Scripture. I hope my use of a parable in this article, supported by Scripture, will drive this point home.
Additionally, I hope those who subscribe to synergism, whether they call themselves Arminians or even know what that term means, will read the following with an open mind. My intent is not to mock or marginalize those who see themselves as Arminians or hold to the unbiblical doctrine of synergism. Rather, my intent is to try to reason with them and, in the case of some, evangelize them.
Here’s a parable that illustrates the biblical truth: dead men can do nothing.
9-1-1; What’s Your Emergency?
The 9-1-1 line rang and the dispatcher answered the phone.
Dispatcher: “9-1-1; What’s Your Emergency?”
Caller: “I’m standing outside Starbucks on Main Street. An older man was walking down the street and just collapsed. I don’t think he’s breathing!”
Dispatcher: “Do you know how to perform C.P.R.?”
Caller: “No, I don’t. Get someone, here! Hurry!”
Dispatcher: “Okay. Stay on the line.”
The dispatcher, while still on the line with the caller, dispatches the call simultaneously to patrol units and the fire department.
Dispatcher: 62 the handle; 62-Tom-1 assist. 902 (person sick or injured); 902R (rescue responding). Adult male collapsed, unconscious, not breathing, on sidewalk at 123 Main Street, outside Starbucks. 62 and 62-Tom-1 roll Code-3 (lights and sirens).
Unit 62: “62 en route. ETA three minutes.”
Unit 62-Tom-1: “2-Tom-1 en route. ETA five minutes.”
Unit 62: “62; 10-33 (request emergency clearance).”
Dispatcher: “10-33, go!”
Unit 62: “Give me the patch (a radio channel open to all units).”
Dispatcher: “62, you’re on the patch.”
Unit 62: “62 to units: any units with an ETA less than three?”
The officer waits a few seconds. Hearing no immediate replies…..
Unit 62: “62, drop the patch.”
Officers Arrive on Scene
Officer Smith (Unit 62) was the first officer to arrive on scene. He jumped out of his car and approached the circular-shaped crowd on the sidewalk. He made his way through the crowd to find a man in his 60’s laying motionless on the sidewalk. Officer Smith could feel the eyes of the people in the crowd on him.
Officer Smith stood over the man with his hands on his hips.
Moments later, Officer Brown (62T1) arrived on scene. Like Officer Smith, Officer Brown jumped out of his car and rushed into the center of the crowd. He was stunned to see Officer Smith standing over the unconscious man, apparently doing nothing.
Waiting on a Dead Man
People in the crowd began to shout.
“Don’t just stand there!”
“Are you going to let him die?”
“Why haven’t you started C.P.R.?” Officer Brown asked.
“I will. First I’m trying to determine if he wants my help.” Officer Smith replied.
People in the crowd gasped in disbelief.
“What are you talking about?” Officer Brown asked. “Come on! The man’s dying!”
“I don’t think we should force C.P.R. on him. I think we should wait for the man to give us a sign, some indication that he not only wants our help, but is willing to participate in his resuscitation.” Officer Smith explained.
“That’s insane!” Officer Brown indignantly shouted.
Officer Brown moved closer to the dead man. Officer Smith grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“Wait!” Officer Smith shouted. “Let me try something.
Officer Smith leaned over the man, with his hands on his knees. “Hey!” Officer Smith shouted. “Do you want us to help you? We’ll do our part, but you’re going to have to do yours! Just give me some indication, anything, so I can be sure I’m not violating your will!”
To no one surprise, except for Officer Smith, the dead man did nothing. He said nothing. He just laid there, dead.
Officer Brown dropped to his knees next to the motionless man’s body. He checked for a pulse. He checked to see if he was breathing.
“This man is clinically dead!” Shouted Officer Brown.” He can’t help you do anything!
Officer Smith cross his arms. “Just give him a chance.”
The crowd, stunned by the back-and-forth between the two officers, stood silent. Some shook their heads. Others stood with their mouths agape.
Not being able to stand it any longer, a woman stepped forward from the crowd. “I’d like to help. Just tell me what to do.”
Following Officer Brown’s instructions, the woman opened and breathed into the man’s mouth when told to do so. Officer Brown performed compressions on the man’s chest, counting aloud with each downward thrust. Officer Smith, still with his arms folded across his chest and an incredulous look on his face, did nothing.
Life Through Intervention from an Outside Source
After what seemed like several minutes, but in actuality was only a minute or so, paramedics arrived on scene. Two paramedics coordinated with Officer Brown and the woman to take over the life-saving efforts. Officer Brown and the woman rose to their feet. Both had sweat on their brows and breathed heavily as if they had just finished a sprint race.
Still trying to catch his breath, Officer Brown looked at Officer Smith and shook his head. He returned his attention to the paramedics and the still-lifeless man on the sidewalk.
After a couple more minutes, an ambulance arrived on scene. One of the paramedics motioned to the other to pause his efforts. The first paramedic felt the side of the man’s neck for a pulse. He then quickly put the side of his face to the man’s open mouth.
The first paramedic looked at his partner and smiled. “He’s back. He’s breathing on his own.”
The crowd let out a roar and began to clap. Several people had tears running down their cheeks.
The man who moments ago was lifeless opened his eyes. He moved his head from side-to-side, surveying the scene. He looked at the faces of the people in the crowd. After glancing at the police officers, he looked at the paramedics and smiled.
“Thanks for your help.” The man said.
Even Officer Smith was smiling now.
“You’re welcome.” The paramedics said. “Had it not been for these two (glancing at Officer Brown and the woman from the crowd), you’d have been a goner.” We just finished what they started.”
“No doubt.” The man agreed. “I couldn’t have done it without the efforts of the four of you.”
Officer Smith grinned and nodded his head. Officer Brown and the paramedics, as well as the woman from the crowd, had a different reaction.
“Um. What do you mean you couldn’t have done it without our help?” The woman asked. “What did you have to do with it?”
“Don’t get me wrong.” The man explained. “I’m grateful for your help, but let’s face it. While you did most of the work, it was my will to live that put me over the top. I couldn’t do it without you, but you couldn’t do it without me.”
“Maybe it’s oxygen depravation? Or maybe he hit his head when he fell?” The rescuers simultaneously thought to themselves.
Officer Smith finally chimed in.
“The man is right.” Officer Smith offered. “The only reason I didn’t jump in right away is that I wanted to see what he would do to help himself.”
“And what did you see him do to help himself?” One of the paramedics asked.
Officer Smith thought for a moment.
“Well, I didn’t actually see him do anything. But even if it was 99% your effort that saved him, there’s still that 1% he brought to the table.” Officer Smith answered.
“62; 10-19 the Watch Commander.” Officer Smith heard the order to report to the station, over his car radio.
Officer Smith was removed from active duty when the Watch Commander heard of his inaction at the rescue call. Officer Smith was fired after the department completed the disciplinary investigation. The department determined that despite Officer Smith’s assertion that he would have rendered aid once the dead man had asked for it he showed depraved indifference and dereliction of duty. Smith’s career in law enforcement was finished.
Officer Brown, the paramedics, and the woman from the crowd were recognized by the City Council for their life-saving efforts.
The rescued man was preoccupied with his participation in his own resuscitation, as he drove home. While texting his wife about what had happened he ran a red light. His car was broadsided by an ice cream truck as he entered the intersection. He was killed instantly. To no one’s surprise, he didn’t bring himself back to life.
The above parable is a ridiculous story. However, it illustrates several important theological points.
Dead men tell no tales, and they can’t save themselves.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Both Officer Smith and the man brought to life through the efforts of three first responders and a bystander share one of the core beliefs of the Arminian–that he contributes to his salvation. But, as Jonathan Edwards once rightly said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” The reason the unregenerate sinner contributes nothing to his salvation is because, according to God’s Word he is dead in his sin.
The belief that a person can contribute to his salvation, whether that contribution is choice or some other work, is as illegitimate as the belief that a clinically dead person can in any way participate in the C.P.R. that resuscitated him. The Bible gives multiple illustrations of this truth. Here are two:
“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go'” (John 11:38-44).
Lazarus was dead. His body had already begun to decay. There was nothing Lazarus could do to contribute to his resuscitation. He could not hear. He could not choose. Neither could he refuse. He could not respond. He was dead–as dead as the man in the parable laying in the street.
Until Jesus made Lazarus alive, he would continue to involuntarily decay. A dead man cannot hear and obey a command. To believe otherwise is as ridiculous as believing Officer Smith could bring the dead man back to life by standing over him and screaming commands and his lifeless body.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. ‘But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened” (Acts 9:1-19).
Saul was not seeking the Lord. He was bent on murdering Christ’s followers. When Jesus literally knocked Saul off his high horse, He gave Saul no options. Jesus didn’t wait for Saul to make up his mind. Saul contributed nothing to his salvation except the sin that made it necessary.
Jesus told Ananias that He had chosen/saved Saul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and Ananias called Saul “brother.”
Again, both of these biblical accounts dramatically illustrate the truth that salvation is from the Lord (Psalm 37:39; Psalm 68:20; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 1:4-5; Revelation 7:10). God alone saves. God alone makes alive. Sinners contribute nothing to their salvation except the sin that makes it necessary.
Nothing in this article is written with the intent to malign or mock those who subscribe to the false doctrines of Arminianism. I have written this article because my heart breaks for those who cannot see how arrogant their white-knuckled efforts are to hold on to what they errantly perceive as their free will.
The above parable is outlandish by design. At the same time, the parable illustrates that to which a consistent Arminian must subscribe–the ability of a dead man to participate in his resuscitation–the ability of a lost man, dead in his sin, with no ability or desire to be reconciled to God, to assist in that miraculous reconciliation.
I believe CONSISTENT Arminians are lost. I also believe most who claim to be Arminian are NOT theologically, philosophically, or practically consistent in their beliefs. Therefore, I believe many professing Arminians ARE likely my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I also believe this: just as no genuine follower of Jesus Christ can or will spend the rest of his life in the godless systems of Roman Catholicism, the Watchtower Society, the Church of Latter-day Saints, or Islam, I do not believe the genuine follower of Jesus Christ will spend the rest of his life in Arminianism. Eventually, God will bring his adopted child out of such false teaching–a false teaching that is the sandstone foundation of false gospels and false views of the character and nature of God–and into the light of the truth.
In his work, “A Defense of Calvinism,” Charles Spurgeon wrote:
“I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths [the doctrines of sovereign, overcoming grace] in my own soul — when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown, on a sudden, from a babe into a man — that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, that clue to the truth of God.
“One weeknight, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it.
“The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?
“Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.'”
If you are a Christian, you will ascribe your change, your salvation, wholly to God. If you ascribe any of your salvation to yourself–your choice, your decision, the prayer you prayed, the aisle you walked, anything–then you should examine and test yourself to see if you are even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
For a detailed explanation of the gospel: Click Here.