Receiving Christ?

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms 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

shane lems
hammond, wi


18 comments on “Receiving Christ?

  1. blund says:

    Great point, Shane. I agree. Is part of the problem that we so often simplify “receive,” “accept,” and “believe”? We make these terms bare assent (assensus), and leave aside the biblical richness of the concepts? Is that the problem, or is it something else?

    • Ron Gilbert says:

      I cannot understand assent as being a problem. With genuine assent, that is, belief or faith, come all of the graces.
      If one assents to the propositions of the Gospel, one is in possession of salvation and all it includes, yes?

      • Ron – assent isn’t a bad term, but blund (Brian) was speaking of “bare” assent – that is, assent without knowledge and trust. They should all go together, as I think you were rightly getting at.

    • Hmmm, good thoughts, Brian. I suppose there are a few factors, and over simplifying is probably one of them. Lack of theological/biblical knowledge might also be part of the problem. Let me know if you have more thoughts! shane

      • Ron Gilbert says:

        So I am wondering how assent may be bare? It seems obvious that one cannot assent without knowledge (therefore “bare” is an impossibility), but is it assent if it is minus trust? (Peremptorily, I assume “Fiducia” is going to be referenced.)

        • Ron: Someone can assent to testimony without trusting in it personally from the heart. This is also what we might call historical faith – e.g. believe that God created the world, but not have a personal dependence and trust in God as his/her Father in Christ. Or, for example, James talks about the demons believing, but of course that is not trust – it is not saving faith (Jas. 2.19).

          And yes, “fiducia” is in view here!


        • Ron Gilbert says:

          Unfortunately, there is not a Reply button on your comment below, Shane, so this one will appear above, skewing the conversation timeline.
          There seems to be some confusion about the assent and the propositions believed.
          James clearly states that the proposition believed by demons is that God is One; this is assent to the nature of the deity. This same proposition is believed by Muslims. It isn’t salvific.
          (Hypothetically) If the demons assented to “Jesus is my Savior” they would be saved.
          What I was asking is, “Is there such a thing as bare assent?” (Alan Strange and others attacked Gordon Clark by using “mere assent,” as others have. I just don’t understand the need to use the words “mere” or “bare.” It doesn’t do anything constructive, in my opinion.)

          Assent isn’t “bare” if it requires an object of knowledge (see Comment from April 8, 2015 at 7:21 am).

          Further down on this thread we find John 1:11-12 cited. Verse 12 gives the nature of saving faith and a particular proposition that must be believed: “…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”
          Demons don’t “believe in his name.” They don’t assent to the propostions that constitute Who he is as Jesus “the Lord saves” Christ “the Anointed One.”

          Not a big deal, just trying to refine. Appreciative of your responses.

        • Ron, thanks for the remarks; I think I get your point now. We’re approaching the discussion from a slightly different angle. I agree with Dr. Strange. And, I’m again reminded that blog commenting isn’t the best place to dialogue! But I appreciate your comments and kind tone.

  2. Brenda R says:

    I am in between the Arminian and Calvinist theology. In fact, I never heard of either one until about 5 years ago. I had never heard of any of the confessionals either. Apparently I am from the dark ages. I believe that having heard the Word and conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, I accepted Christ and his work on the cross and resurrection and he intercedes for me to the Father. Getting too much into individual doctrines and theologies distracts from Christ and the Gospel.

    • Thanks for the note, Brenda. You’re right; sometimes theological hair-splitting isn’t healthy. But sometimes theological precision is helpful in that it brings us more knowledge about Christ and the gospel. For example, some people reject the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work, which is unbiblical and thus harmful for the faith – so it is worth learning about that doctrine, studying it, defending it, and believing it!

      • Brenda R says:

        Yes, Christ was the substitute for me and all who will come to Him. I don’t know how that could be left out or disbelieved. It is a very relevant part of the Gospel.

  3. John 1:11-12 ESV He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

  4. D Wallace says:

    I like the clear, explicit calls to action (involving personal culpability and the absolute need for repentance and saving faith) such as Peter gave in his Pentecost sermons in Acts.

    It is unusual, powerful, and refreshing when I hear solid Reformed preachers by the Spirit doing so.

    Such calls are usually implicit in good Reformed messages, but sermons probably would be more powerful and biblically faithful if they were more explicit, more direct, more often concerning the call to penitent faith.

  5. Steve Bloem says:

    Shane, thank you for a good blog. It reminded me of what was said to William Carey (Father of modern missions. when asked if they would support his mission efforts to winning for people Christ in India. An elder (or deacon) said something like this, “When God wants us to reach the world for Christ, He will do it in His own way and in His own time.”

  6. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  7. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  8. The Apostle Peter must have been a Pelagian then. He says “Save yourselves (from this crooked generation).”

Comments are closed.