I prefer to think of "Calvinism" as "Biblical Theology". Likewise, instead of the Five Points of Calvinism I prefer the Doctrines of Grace. Often those who are labeled as Calvinist have are stereotyped as being cold, heartless, against missions and evangelism, or that Calvinist feel they can do anything they want and still go to Heaven because they are part of the Elect...this is where Calvinism gets confused with Hyper-Calvinism.
The Doctrines of Grace make me stand in awe of God and they cause me to be amazed at my own salvation. Because of these doctrines, I know that God will finish what he has promised both in the world and in my life personally.
I feel very strongly that one must still reach out to people and share the Gospel, otherwise they will never be able to respond to God's call. Although part of the Elect we must still live a changed, moral life and strive to be as Christlike as possible. We must be reborn of the Holy Spirit.
You may know about the acrostic TULIP that represents the five points of Calvinism. As I mentioned before, I prefer to think of the five points as the Doctrines of Grace. In the following paragraphs, I will go over each of the five doctrines.
Our rebellion against God is complete and everything we do in this rebellious state is sinful.
I see God as sovereign and I believe that we aren't able to overcome this sin on our own. On our own we are deserving of eternal punishment. It's up to God to save us from this.
The natural man does not seek God. As Sproul says, we aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. As it's said in Psalm 51:5: Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. and Romans 14:23 says: "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." which makes it clear that our depravity is our condition in relation to God. Our rebellion against God is complete.
The Calvinistic, or Reformed view of Election differs from Arminians in that we believe that God doesn't foresee some action on our part, by our own free will that causes Him to grant us salvation, but rather that our Election depends on God's sovereign grace to save those whom He pleases to save, although He does have foreknowledge of who among the Elect will hear, and therefore respond to the Gospel.
One of the most important text that teaches unconditional election is Romans 8:28-33:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. (Romans 8:28-33, NASB)Verse 8:30 says: "and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Here we see that whom God calls, He justifies. This isn't for all people, this call is given only to those whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of His son (v. 29) and it leads to justification "and these whom He called, He also justified". Now, we know that justification is by faith ("Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1, HCSB).
Romans 8 is full of promises. I often feel that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible. I try to not have favorite scripture, but I'll be quite honest, as I was reading through the Bible this past summer, and was in the book of Romans, I might not have been a Calvinist when I got to Chapter 8, but by the time I got to Chapter 10, I was! Romans 9 comes after Romans 8 precisely so it can show that God's covenant with Israel will not fail. The promises in Romans 8 will stand because they were purchased by the blood of Christ.
Romans 9 is where Paul stresses that election is unconditional.
And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13, NASB).The fact that God's election is unconditional is mentioned again in Romans 9:15-16:
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 does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16, NASB)Paul uses the story of Jacob and Esau as an analogy to show that God's original purpose in choosing people wasn't based on any conditions that they had to meet -- there were no prerequisites. In the case of Jacob and Esau, God had decided that 'The older will serve the younger' and 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.' before the twins were even born. Our election doesn't depend on us, it's God's decision. As a result, I prefer Sproul's preferred term here again which is sovereign election.
My feeling is that if you are a true believer, He elected you before the creation of the world. He chose you. We can not boast in our election, however because we did nothing to earn it, just like it was with the election of Israel:
"The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, HCSB)He loves you just because He loves you. That love has no beginning, and it has no end.
I once heard the phrase "The ground is level at the foot of the Cross". I don't believe Jesus died for every human being in the same way. If He did, it would mean that He didn't purchase grace for those who are saved, meaning they must bring themselves to faith. 1 Timothy 4:10 says "In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe." I believe that God died for those whom He elected and predestined to salvation. If Christ died for every human being, that would be universalism, and that is just non Biblical in my view.
The foundation of the New Covenant is that Christ died not just to make salvation available for all who believe, but to actually purchase the faith of the elect with his blood, securing the blessings of the new covenant for His people. The faith of God's chosen and called was purchased by "the blood of the covenant" (Matthew 26:28)
The contrasting Arminian view is that although sinners need divine assistance in order to believe, they make the decision to believe on their own. This says that the blood of the covenant doesn't seal our faith; they say the decisive cause of faith is human self-determination. They say that the blood of Christ makes this possible but it doesn't secure the outcome.
The new covenant, which was bought by Christ's blood teaches something different. God even spoke of the new covenant through Jeremiah:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NASB)
So, one big difference between the new and the old covenant is that they broke the old one, but for the new one, God will "put in His law within them and on their heart I will write it" so that the conditions of the covenant are secured by God's sovereign initiative. The new covenant is designed so that it won't...can't be broken. It secures the participants. That's made even more clear later in Jeremiah:
I will give them one heart and one way so that for their good and for the good of their descendants after them, they will fear Me always.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me. I will take delight in them to do what is good for them, and with all My heart and mind I will faithfully plant them in this land.
(Jeremiah 32:39-41, HCSB)
As John Piper points out in his book, Five Points Towards a Deeper Experience of God's Grace, God makes at least six promises in this text:
- I will make with them an everlasting covenant;
- I will give them the kind of heart that secures their fearing me forever;
- I will never turn away from doing good to them;
- I will put the fear of Me in their hears;
- I will not let them turn away from Me;
- I will rejoice in doing good to them;
So, here in Jeremiah 32 it becomes even more clear than it was in Jeremiah 31 that God is taking the initiative to make sure that the covenant isn't broken. He will not leave it to the power of the fallen human. He will change their heart, so that it fears Him.
Also, Ezekiel prophesies in the same way:
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19, NASB)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NASB)This new covenant is God's promise that He will take the initiative, create a new heard, and make people members of this new covenant by His initiative and not leave it up to their own. If someone is a part of this new covenant, it is because God changed his heart, removed the heart of stone and gave him a heart of flesh that fears and loves God. It is a promise of regeneration.
In order to make this happen, the death of Christ was necessary to vindicate the righteousness of God. It would be unrighteous to forgive sinners as if their sin were insignificant. Because of this Jesus bears that curse, so that we can be justified, and God's righteousness can be vindicated. In Romans Paul says:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, NASB)
So, the way I see it, it's not the Calvinist who limits atonement, it's the Arminian because he denies that the atoning death of Christ accomplishes what we need, salvation. The Arminian limits the value and the effectiveness of the atonement saying that it was even accomplished for those who die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for all men in the same way, the atonement is limited to a powerless opportunity for men to save themselves.
The idea of grace being irresistible, evokes an idea that you can't possibly offer resistance to God's grace. That is not what irresistible grace means. It doesn't mean that God's grace can't be resisted. We are capable of, and do resist it.
The idea is that "God's grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to over come our natural resistance to it" (R.C. Sproul). The Holy Spirit doesn't go around dragging people kicking and screaming into Heaven, it changes the disposition of our wills so that while before we were unwilling to embrace Christ as our savior, we are now willing...and in fact eager to do just that. We aren't dragged; we run!
God melts our hard hearts and He makes us new creatures. John 6:44 says "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him". This is the sovereign work of grace. In 2 Timothy, Paul describes repentance as a gift of God:
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25, HCSB)Just as Jesus said in John 6:65 "that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father", Paul says here that repentance is "granted" by God. So, if God gives the gift of repentance, it cannot be resisted because God has changed our heart and made it willing to repent. The gift of repentance is the overcoming of the resistance to repent. This is why we call grace irresistible.
Perseverance of the Saints
In Philippians 1:6, Paul says: "I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." That verse contains the New Covenant -- the promise that God intends to finish what He starts in our souls. Simply put, Perseverance of the Saints is if you have genuine faith you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it. Often in Southern Baptist churches you hear it as "once saved always saved", and that is the same idea. If you are truly saved, you will never fall out of God's grace.
Many people make professions of faith. John says in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." Jesus warns in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)He won't say "Well, I knew you for a while, but you got betrayed me". No, the purpose of God's election is to bring His people to heaven -- what He starts He promises to finish. He initiates Christian life and the Holy Spirit is with us to help us ensure our perseverance. Another awesome quote from R.C. Sproul is "True Christians can have radical and serious falls, but never total and final falls from grace". I can't think of any sin, other than blasphemy that a truly converted Christian is not capable of committing. Believers can fall away, but if it persists, if they don't walk in a regenerate lifestyle, it shows that their faith was not genuine and that they weren't born of God.
These are what the Doctrines of Grace, or the Five Points mean to me, based on what I have read, studied and learned from other theologians both living and dead. These doctrines allowed me to see and understand my own salvation in a new way, as well as understand the lack of faith, or refusal to believe the Gospel in others. Those who aren't true believers will resist sound doctrine.
I am thankful every day that God loved us all in such a way that He would send His only Son to die the most painful, humiliating death possible just so that our sin could be forgiven.