Friday, August 1, 2008

That's Calvinism...

Last Sunday afternoon, I was flipping through the channels on television when I came across a preacher, seated behind a desk, looking fervently into the camera over his Bible. I paused long enough to hear him issue the following statement:

“The teaching that God has predestined some to eternal salvation, and others to eternal damnation, is a false doctrine. That’s Calvinism, my friend. You need to put your faith in Jesus Christ today…”

My daughter walked into the room just in time to hear me responding to the television thusly, “and you need to open that Bible of yours to the book of Romans every once in a while, because you’ve basically just called the Apostle Paul a false teacher…my friend”

It’s okay, my daughter is used to my frequent, and sometimes quite animated conversations with the television (it’s actually rather gratifying to berate and argue with something that hasn’t the ability to respond), so she just rolled her eyes and kept walking. Seriously, though, a little more than 10 years ago I would’ve had no problem with the preacher’s statement. Of course, 10 years ago I had done little actual reading of Scripture other than what I was forced to endure through church, school, and parental oversight.

Having been raised, for the most part, as a southern Baptist, predestination was “not in my Bible.” Thanks to the influence of friends and teachers with a Prebyterian background, I was drawn to the teachings of the Reformation. After years of stagnant spiritual growth, I was reading through the Scriptures with a renewed hunger for knowledge. I began to realize that my whole understanding of the process of salvation was flawed. I had been taught that salvation itself had to be such a life-changing and emotional experience, that I would always remember the very moment it had occurred.

I, personally, have never been able to pinpoint a specific date and time when I first relied on Christ for salvation. For many years, I thought that this was because it hadn’t worked the first time. So, I kept walking down the aisle, and kept trying to exercise that saving faith that I knew was necessary for salvation. Whenever I’d ‘backslide’, I’d say, “Well, I guess that last time didn’t take – time to ask Jesus into my heart again. Maybe this time he’ll come in.”

No doubt, our friendly preacher would tell me that I wasn’t really putting ALL of my faith in Christ – in other words, I wasn’t doing it right. Finally, I realized that my whole concept of God’s plan for my salvation was wrong. Salvation is not something I ‘do’ – it’s something Christ DID. It’s done. Over. I don’t ‘choose’ Christ, he already chose me. A lot of people have a serious problem with this view of salvation, but it’s mainly down to a flawed understanding of our condition before God.

Arminianism’s influence on American Christianity has helped to develop the idea that we take the initial step in the salvation process. We choose to have faith in Christ, our souls are regenerated, and we are justified before God as without sin. The problem, at least according to my reading of the New Testament, is that before Christ, we are “dead in our sin.” How is it possible for one who is truly dead, one who would never choose Christ on his own, to take the first step toward salvation? It isn’t.

Without some intervention by the Holy Spirit, we would never even know of our need for salvation. Since no one chooses Christ on his own, it follows logically that God is the one doing the choosing. It’s difficult to believe in the total sovereignty of God, His control over every minute detail of every person’s life, without recognizing that He, at some point, chooses who will become part of the elect. The eternal status of one’s soul is, after all, not exactly a ‘minute’ detail of most people’s lives. But logic isn’t what sold me on the doctrine of election. Paul took care of that:

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. Rom. 8:29,30
...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. 2 Tim. 1:9
...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him, in love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will... Eph. 1:4,5
See also, Romans 9
Oh, and this guy too:

John 6:37-39
John 6:65

It may fly in the face of our own understanding of ‘free will’, but since when does God’s plan depend on our own understanding of anything? The Arminian view of salvation, however, also limits the work of Christ, and in that, I believe, it commits its most serious error. Let's assume for a moment that I'm wrong, and we do, in fact, have to choose Christ before we are saved. If that's the case, then what, exactly, did Christ's death accomplish? As far as I can tell, it gives us nothing more than the opportunity to be saved. According to this view, Christ's death on the cross did not pay the full price for our redemption. We have to finish the job. That doesn't sound like the Gospel of the New Testament to me. Once again, we're dependent on ourselves for salvation.

Thankfully, Christ's death did accomplish ALL that was necessary for our salvation. God is sovereign, and it’s a huge comfort to know that I, literally, can’t screw up my salvation. It’s a good thing, too, because I’d find a way…believe me.


Quintin said...

AMEN Brother!

Aaron Snell said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who talks to the TV, particularly when it happens to land on TBN!

Good word.

Jason said...

I second what quintin says, Amen.
Thanks for the post, I pray that all Christians would come into a deeper knowledge of Scripture. I remember the first time I heard about the doctrines of grace and i was angry at what I heard. Yet God by his grace is faithful.Now I embrace them and cherish them, because God has opened my eyes to see them in the bible.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Wow!!! Came over from Lee Shelton's blog. What a fantastic post!

I hope it gets a wide reading.

Shark Girl said...

I don't understand Calvinism way of thinking because God said He didn't want anyone to perish.

Wouldn't it just be possible that God predestined people simply because He already knows the outcome, from start to finish, of a person's life?

If He chose certain people and not others, then what makes any of think any of can be saved? We may as well just say it doesn't matter, since He chooses anyway.