Calvinism… Five Points… TULIP: these terms go far to clarify a doctrine to those who see and believe it. But to those who don’t see or believe it, or don’t know or understand the doctrine, these terms can muddle it all the more.
What I’ve come to greatly prefer are the terms (granted, translations) that Scripture itself uses to describe the doctrine in question: Election and Predestination.
According to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary the words can be defined as follows:
Elect: select; by implication favorite: – chosen, elect. (G1588)
Predestine: to limit in advance, that is, (figuratively) predetermine: – determine before, ordain, predestinate. (G4309)
The definitions are fairly straightforward. There are also similar terms, such as foreknew, choose/chosen, and called.
In the few discussions/debates I’ve had on the topic, it seems easy for people to say “I don’t agree with Calvinism” or “I don’t believe in the five points.” Honestly, that’s all fair and good. But what I don’t hear as often or don’t see people quick to say is, “I disagree with election” or “I don’t believe in predestination.”
Why? Because Scripture itself uses and teaches those terms.
– Elect is used an upwards of 20 times.
– Predestine is used at least seven times.
– Foreknew/foreknowledge is used another handful of times.
And that doesn’t count the numerous uses of chosen and called that relate to this doctrine, (or other variations that I didn’t think of or come across in my five minute word study.)
While the doctrines of election and predestination haven’t always been crystal clear to me and I have at times been stumped by arguments from opposing views, the evidence in Scripture is undeniable. And even beyond the evidence, the logic of these doctrines has become overwhelming obvious to me.
In church this morning, I was listening to the powerfully convicting hymn “All I Have is Christ” (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace Music).
The line that stuck with me was, “And if You had not loved me first, I would refuse You still.”
The line draws obvious inspiration from 1 John 4: 10 & 19: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… We love because he first loved us.”
At the heart of that line (and those verses) is the doctrine of man’s utter depravity. I believe a true Christian would be hard-pressed to deny utter depravity. It’s foundational to the teaching of the gospel and the acceptance thereof. (See also: Romans 3:9-12; 23. Romans 8:7-8. Job 15:14-16. Mark 10:18. 1 John 1:8-10.)
With man’s utter depravity in mind, particularly the following aspects: “No one seeks God” (Rom 3:11) and “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7), there seems but one logical conclusion to make. Since we couldn’t seek God, God first sought us. And (returning to 1 John 4) since we couldn’t love, God first loved us.
In other words, the necessary conclusion of utter depravity is that God initiated (and continues to initiate) all aspects of salvation, including what initially drew us to Christ.
I think (hope) most everyone would agree with that.
The slight step beyond that then, is that if God initiated salvation by loving us, making that love know to us, calling us, and opening our heart to submit to Him, then He would see it through to salvation. That’s the “I” of Calvin’s TULIP: Irresistible Grace, FYI. And I suspect that’s one of the most logically challenging parts of the doctrine for many people to “accept”: that if God calls us/chose us/opened our hearts to Him, we won’t be able to resist that but will (eventually) respond with saving faith.
While it doesn’t coincide with our own perception of free will, based on the doctrines revealed in Scripture, irresistible grace is not only (mysteriously) consistent with free will, but also the logical conclusion to utter depravity and God’s initiative in salvation.
But it’s not just logic! It’s written throughout Scripture. The most commonly referenced passage to explain that is probably Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
But there are others:
John 6:37 & 44: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. ”
Ephesians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
… And that’s not even getting into the whole discussion of the sufficiency of God’s calling!
The other major issue most hold with the doctrine of election and predestination is not a new one. As a matter of fact, it was addressed in Scripture when the doctrine was originally being explained, that is, the issue of, “Is it FAIR?”
Is it FAIR for God to chose some to believe, which implies He must chose some NOT to believe?
Is it fair for God to elect some to eternal salvation while in the same hand sentencing others to eternal damnation?
It may not settle well with our consciences, initially, but I’ll let Scripture speak for itself:
Romans 9:10-24: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” [Emphasis added.]
So my final question is, again of logic, would be why is almost an entire chapter of Scripture devoted to justifying a doctrine if that doctrine doesn’t exist?
…And regardless of any impressions or actual interactions/experiences gathered from historical or current “Calvinists” or “Reformed Christians” or whatever they may be called, this doctrine is the most liberating doctrine and the ultimate expression of grace.
It really is best summed up as Doctrines of Grace because it depends on nothing more. Nothing I do. Nothing you do. No qualities of my own that could earn His favor. No move in my own heart to choose God. No attempt of my own to seek Him. It leaves no room for pride, arrogance, or even legalism, despite our own bent towards those.
On the contrary, I am saved by God’s mercy alone, from the midst of my wretched depravity, “as I ran my hell-bound race” (in the words of the previously quoted hymn by Kauflin.)
And because I can’t say it any better, I’ll share the last verse and a quarter of said hymn:
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You