“While the above phrases might sometimes be used in an Arminian way that emphasizes free will and rejects the bondage of sin and irresistible grace, it is also possible to use these phrases in a biblical and Reformed way – those terms are confessional!”
Once upon a time, in a Reformed church, a visiting pastor used the phrase “receive Christ” in a sermon. Some people afterwards said the man was Arminian because he used the phrase in a positive way. On a similar note, I’ve heard Calvinists explain that we can’t use the term “accept Jesus” because it’s an Arminian phrase.
Now, I’m not an Arminian, but I think it is perfectly fine to use those phrases in the right context. We can affirm total depravity, bondage of the will, irresistible grace, and also use the above phrases (accept/receive Christ) in a biblical and Reformed way. Scripture doesn’t use those exact phrases, but it does use that kind of language.
For example, God’s people are called to “accept” the words of God’s wisdom and instruction as well as his discipline (Prov. 4:10, 19:20, Zeph. 3:7). Jesus says that those who “accept” the word will bear fruit (Mk 4:20). Unbelievers do not “accept” the things of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). This is why the Westminster Confession says that the principle acts of saving faith include “accepting” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2). Used in the correct Biblical and confessional way, it isn’t Arminian to talk about accepting Christ and his benefits.
What about receiving Christ? The Westminster Confession also says that a principle act of saving faith includes “receiving” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2). The Confession gets this language from Scripture. For example, in John 1:11-12 we learn that some people did not “receive” Christ, but those who did “receive” him (that is, who believed in his name), he gave the right to become God’s children. James talks about “receiving” the word with meekness (James 1:21). Abraham “received” God’s promises (Heb. 11) and the Thessalonian Christians “received” the word as God’s word, not man’s (1 Thes. 2:13; cf. 1:6). Paul said that just as we have “received” Christ Jesus the Lord, we should also walk in him (Col. 2:6).
In summary, while the above phrases might sometimes be used in an Arminian way that emphasizes free will and rejects the bondage of sin and irresistible grace, it is also possible to use these phrases in a biblical and Reformed way – those terms are confessional! We don’t want to reject Arminianism to the extent that we go too far the other way into hyper-Calvnism! Again, here’s the section of the Westminster Confession I quoted above:
“The principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.” WCF 14.2
Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.