All People Everywhere Should Repent

November 15, 2012

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism

Part 10: The Repentance Aspect of the Gospel Invitation

by Dr. Michael A. Cox, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Pryor, Oklahoma, and author of Not One Little Child: A Biblical Critique of Calvinism

This is the thirteenth of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.

Strict emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and minimization of the response of man disarm the importance of the biblical teaching of repentance.1 The word metanoia means a change of mind, heart, and direction on behalf of the individual in response to God. Who would deny that Jesus came to call sinners to repent? The Bible teaches that He came to save what was lost, this means the unrepentant (Matt. 18:11). Jesus said to His listeners that they too would perish, unless they repent (Luke 13:3). He came calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). All have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, Jesus calls all to repentance.

Newport smartly notes that, by definition, sin is a free and responsible act of disobedience and is man’s fault, not his fate.2 He argues that the New Testament description of God’s judgment on sin clearly teaches that each human is accountable to God for the use of his or her freedom.3 God’s justice makes all of us accountable for our choices. God does not force His will upon anyone. He invites people to respond. Each person has an option.

Calvinism does not seem to factor in Scripture which teaches that it is not God’s will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. And the Bible is replete with evidence regarding this.

Through Ezekiel, God said that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants us to turn (repent) and live (Ezek. 18:23). In the same chapter, God urged all to repent and live (Ezek. 18:32).

Daniel exhorted Nebuchadnezzar to repent in hopes of avoiding God’s “beastly” sentence upon the king’s pride (Dan. 4:27).

Jesus said that it is not God’s will that any little ones perish (Matt. 18:14). We all begin as little ones. Therefore it is not God’s will that any perish.

Paul declared that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30) and that God wants to show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32).

Peter said that God does not wish that any perish, but that all come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). In 2 Pet. 3:9 God’s promise of Christ’s return in judgment is balanced with His desire that none perish, but that all come to repentance. Here, Peter warned that mankind develops a mistaken sense of security, like a thief that has yet to be caught. God’s longsuffering is due to His love for the lost, not due to any tardiness. His delay in the second coming is due to His mercy. God quite literally wants all people to repent and believe (1 Tim. 2:4). One of the strongest contrasting conjunctions, alla, is employed to stress God’s desire that all repent instead of perish. Indeed, some will perish, as is seen in 2 Pet. 3:7, but this is not God’s desire. Nevertheless, only the repentant and acceptant are saved (John 3:16). God’s provision of grace is available to all who repent and believe: repentance is seen here as indispensable, and perhaps even synonymous with, faith. The unrepentant, which is synonymous for unbeliever, will perish. This does not mean cease to exist, but to be banished to eternal torment where worms do not die and fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44-48), where judgment is eternal (Heb. 6:2), where the punishment of fire is unending (Jude 7), where torment in the Lake of Fire is forever and ever (Rev. 20:10-15). Moreover, Wuest says that God is always willing to save man, but man is not always willing to be saved by God.4 Some do perish. So whose will causes the perishing? Newport rightly argues that it is not God’s will but man’s which results in one perishing.5 Newport wisely declares that Christians need to explain to others that the basic tension in the biblical worldview is not between God’s love and justice, but between God’s will and man’s will. He argues that man has chosen to assert his will against God’s will, and, in so doing, man has alienated himself from God, from his own welfare, and from salvation. Newport further contends that God allows for man’s autonomy to result in eternal separation from Him, but that God does not wish that anyone be eternally sequestered from Him; the choice is left up to each individual.6 Thus, man is not so totally depraved that he cannot respond to God’s grace. Election is not unconditional. Man has a will. The atoning work of Christ is not limited only to the elect. God’s grace is resistible. Some opt to receive Christ and some, tragically, do not.

By not allowing for a freewill (truly free) and by asserting that regeneration precedes faith, Calvinism wrongly bypasses the biblical teaching of repentance as part of, or preparatory to (remember the ministry of John the Baptist), conversion to Jesus Christ. This repentance (metanoiaical) weakness is embarrassing.



The next article in this series will explore the response weakness of Calvinism.

1This is reflected somewhat in the controversy between the “free grace” and “Lordship theology” schools of thought regarding soteriology. See Millard J. Erickson, “Lordship Theology: The Current Controversy,” Southwestern Journal of Theology (Spring 1991): 5-15.

2 John P. Newport, What Is Christian Doctrine? (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1984), 99.

3Ibid., 152.

4Kenneth S. Wuest, 2 Peter, in Wuest’s Word Studies, vol. 2, Philippians – Hebrews, The Pastoral Epistles, First Peter – Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954; reprint, 1973), 71.

5 John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 600.



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Steve Martin

Free-will is not really “free”.

Our wills are bound to sin. We will sin. We don’t stop sinning because we don’t want to stop sinning. Our wills are bound to do it. That is what the Bible tells us about it.

So we need a Savior. Not a self-help guru, or program for advancement up the ladder, as the Catholics have.

Steve Martin

Dr. Cox,

You are absolutely right about repentance.

“The entire life of the Christian is one of repentance.”

That was the very first of the 95 Theses.

Repentance and forgiveness. Death to life. That is the shape of the life of the believer.


Calvinism is Catholicism (Augustinianism).


Dr. Cox writes, “Calvinism does not seem to factor in Scripture which teaches that it is not God’s will that any should perish…”

Unless Dr. Cox means to espouse universalism, he must agree with the Calvinists that some will perish and that the issue is the meaning of the term, “all.” All cannot mean each and every individual [but this seems to be the way Dr. Cox is applying this verse (or is he?) given that he cites the verse to oppose Calvinism] without also promoting universalism. The Calvinists say “all” means all without distinction (Jew/gentile, black/white, rich/poor) without particular reference to any unique individual.

So, I am confused about the point Dr. Cox is trying to make with the reference to Calvinism.

Steve Martin

One can repeat what the Bible says about God’s love for ALL, and Jesus’ death and forgiveness for ALL, without being a universalist.

We realize that not all come to faith. But we don’t ascribe that fact to God.

When people do come to faith, God gets ALL the credit. When people reject Him and do not come to faith, they ought get ALL the blame…none to God.

That is biblical and that goes against the unbiblical teaching of Calvinism on the subject.


    Steve says, ‘When people do come to faith, God gets ALL the credit.”

    This is because it is God who gives a person the faith that they then come to. Naturally, God then gets ALL the credit.

      Steve Martin

      Actually, it is more ‘natural’ for us to want a bit of the credit.

      But faith is a gift, the Bible tells us, and God does it all.


      Rhutchin writes:

      “This is because it is God who gives a person the faith that they then come to.”

      This is a succinct nutshell is one of the major problems with calvinistic/deterministic theology.

      Faith is not a THING that can be given to a person. As a friend of mine characterizes this way of thinking about faith as seeing faith as a magic pixie dust that you sprinkle on people to cause miraculous things to happen. So it becomes a passive thing that happens to you rather than something you need to do.

      Faith is a choice to trust. As such, only the person who exercises faith in some person or thing, can have faith. It is an abuse of language and also theologically incorrect to claim that God gives people faith which “they then come to.” People can choose to place their confidence/faith in all sorts of things (themselves, a political party, an idea or philosophy, another person, an organization, their skills and abilities, etc. etc. etc. etc.). Right now there are actually quite a few disgruntled folks who placed their faith in one candidate to turn the country around and he didn’t even get elected. Faith is placing your confidence in something or someone.

      For the believer it is to place your confidence in God himself. In the OT the word refers to leaning on a staff for support or leaning upon something (so whatever you “lean on” is what you trust in). Throughout the OT God is repeatedly calling people to trust Him, there are no instances whatsoever in which someone is magically given faith. It is always a choice that the person has to make to place their confidence in the Lord rather than in their circumstances or abilities or whatever else.

      When I evangelize I demand that people put their trust in God and stop trusting in false idols and place all of their confidence in the true God. When I speak to other believers I urge them to trust the Lord not in anything else. No matter whom I speak to, faith is ALWAYS a choice to trust. It is not something given to you which then takes over your life and controls you forcing you to do something as theologically determinists want to believe.

      It is always choosing to trust in the Lord no matter what happens (whether things go the way you want them to go or not: my favorite example of faith is when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego say that they know that God can deliver them [because they trust Him] but even if He does not they will still trust Him anyway].

      To suggest or teach people that faith is something given to you, that it is not your responsibility to choose to do, is to mislead people and encourage that they shirk their responsibility.

      Faith is circumstance independent meaning it is choosing to trust God no matter what happens (cf. Hebrews 11 in that chapter the only chapter in the bible where God praises men he praises those who had faith, and for some things went great for others not so great, but regardless they all had that trust and confidence in the Lord).

      A major problem in the church today is we have lots of people who talk about faith abstractly and theologically, but you really don’t see it in the way they live. I guess God just hasn’t given those folks sufficient magic pixie dust.



        That is the best description of faith I have ever read. And I like the pixie dust part. LOL Thank you.


          Hello Christian,

          Thanks for the kind and encouraging words.

          A friend of mine was discussing the deterministic/calvinistic conception of faith and described it as God sprinkling magic pixie dust on people. I thought it was hilarious and have been using it ever since.


        Steve Martin

        The Bible says that “faith is a gift.”

        Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can’t do this faith thing, but that it has to come from above.

        And the gospel of John tells us that we are born NOT of the will of man…but of God.

        So much for our choice in the matter.


          Steve Martin keeps repeating the same errors over and over and over again. He is corrected but then continues to make the same claims. This brings into question his honesty. It also makes you want to ignore what he presents.

          He wrote four separate lines in his post and each is false and demonstrably so.

          First he wrote:

          “The Bible says that “faith is a gift.””

          No it does not.

          Steve makes this claim repeatedly and he bases his claim on a particular interpretation of Eph. 2:8. But if you examine the Greek text you find that the “gift” referred to there is not faith but is salvation. So the bible never says anywhere that the initial faith a person has is a gift given to him/her by God. This is a claim made by theological determinists whether they are Lutherans like Steve or Reformed.

          Next he wrote:

          “Jesus tells Nicodemus that he can’t do this faith thing, but that it has to come from above.”

          Jesus never says this either.

          Jesus does not even say the word faith in his talk with Nicodemus.

          What he does say to Nicodemus is that a person must be born from above/born again or he will never enter the Kingdom of God. In John 3 Jesus is discussing REGENERATION with Nicodemus not faith.

          “And the gospel of John tells us that we are born NOT of the will of man…but of God.”

          And that passage (Jn. 1:13) is again referring to REGENERATION not faith. In fact if you look at the verses preceding this statement it says that a person must believe FIRST before they can become a child of God (cf. Jn. 1:12 “But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”; note the person believes first and then has the right to become a child of God). We become children of God when we are regenerated, so according to the text the person has faith FIRST and then is REGENERATED/becomes a child of God. The text even explicitly states “we are born” so it has to be referring to REGENERATION. It is this (i.e. regeneration) that is “not of the will of man but of God” because only God can regenerate people.

          And lastly Steve wrote:

          “So much for our choice in the matter.”

          Steve brings up statements about regeneration and concludes we have no choice in the matter. This is correct in regards to regeneration (that does not result from our choice, again only God regenerates people).

          This is incorrect regarding faith which by its very nature is always a choice that a person makes.


Rick Mang

Eph. 2.8 explicitly states that faith is a gift of God, and it is not of ourselves. To deny faith is a gift is to disbelieve the scripture.



    Although Rick Mang makes the same error as Steve Martin.

    He also makes two claims that are completely false.

    His first false claim is this:

    “Eph. 2.8 explicitly states that faith is a gift of God, and it is not of ourselves.”

    His second false claim is this:

    “To deny faith is a gift is to disbelieve the scripture.”

    The first claim is false because Eph. 2:8 does NOT EXPLICITLY state THAT faith is a gift of God. The actual phrase that is present is “this is the gift of God.” The text does not EXPLICITLY state that faith is a gift. The issue then becomes in the Greek text does “this” refer to “faith” or to “salvation”. Rick wants to believe that it refers to faith, but it is preferable according to the Greek to take it to refer to salvation being the gift.

    The second claim is false because Rick claims that anyone who disagrees with his INTERPRETATION of Eph. 2:8 disbelieves the scripture. That is not true at all. One can view the gift as being salvation rather than faith in Ephesians 2:8 and in fact many Christians do. If Rick is correct then all Eastern Orthodox people “disbelieve the scripture” which is completely false.

    John Calvin himself in his Ephesians commentary took it to mean that salvation is the gift.

    So if Rick is correct then John Calvin is also one who “disbelieve the scripture”.

    Does Rick really believe that to be true of Calvin???

    What we are dealing with in Eph. 2:8 is an issue of whether the “gift” referred to in the text is faith or salvation. I believe it refers to salvation and many other scholars agree with me.

    So it is false to say the text EXPLICITLY says faith is a gift of God.

    It is also false to say that anyone who disagrees with Rick’s interpretation does not believe the scripture.

    It is because we believe the scripture that we examine the original Greek text. And if we do so, we find that according to the Greek it is better to take it to be saying that “salvation is the gift of God” not faith.


      Dell Russell

      What other scripture does the Calvinist use to show “faith” as being the gift?
      From what I see it is the grace that is the gift, but that would include salvation.
      We know mercy is not receiving the punishment we do deserve and grace is receiving what we don’t deserve (in this case the blessings and provisions of God). Therefore grace is truly a gift from God!

John Wylie

The bottom line is that people must go to hell against the will of God. When the Bible tells me that God desires all mankind to be saved I take it at face value. Otherwise our sermons next Sunday need to be “God may or may not love you and God may or may not desire you to be saved”. The universalism assertions are, quite frankly, asinine.

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