Many of you may have seen from my Google profile, that I consider myself a "reformed Christ-follower". I have had a lot of discussions with friends on this topic, and I want to make myself crystal clear from the very start. By this post, I'm not trying to convince anyone to be a Calvinist (not that that would break my heart). I'm simply trying to explain my view of reformed theology, which I might add does not add up to full-fledged Calvinism (a term a strongly dislike). By the same token, even though I do not add up to a Calvinist on every level, I certainly ascribe to certain of their beliefs.
So let's start at the beginning. A friend shared this idea (reformed theology) with me years ago, and I honestly didn't think much of it. I accepted it as truth, but I really didn't care a whole lot. I mean, how much does this really affect your view of the gospel? As I would find out later, a lot!
Fast forward seven years. I'm sitting in a Sunday School class at my church, where the teacher is attempting to teach the book of Romans, dodging the majority of verses that seem to support this system of thought. Just in case anyone's ever tried it, it's really hard to expositionally teach through the book of Romans while side-stepping all references to election. Several of the men offered their own reasons for why they did not accept Calvinism, and when the final prayer had been prayed, I opened up a conversation with one of the men who had been most vocal about his disagreement. At the time, I thought we'd talk for a second, I'd answer the question he asked, and I'd be on my way. Little did I know!
We talked for an hour. I left the conversation a little confused, definitely frustrated, and more than a little ashamed. I thought I knew my stuff pretty well, but I didn't know it near as well as I thought I did! That day, I purposed I would try much harder to know why I believed what I said I believed. Hopefully, today will put some of the information that I learned since then out there, and maybe it will help someone understand reformed theology a little better.
The first thing I want to make clear is that I do not consider myself a Calvinist. Yes, I will answer to the term if you call me that, but I don't call myself that. Paul himself criticized the Corinthian church for their divisions over the teachings of men, even to the point of calling themselves followers of Apollos, or of Paul, or of Cephas. (1 Cor. 1:11-13, 3:4-5) We are followers of Christ, not of mere men. So in no way do I believe reformed theology because Calvin or Luther said so, in the same way I don't ascribe to Roman Catholic doctrine because the Pope said so. The result of that is that I do disagree with Calvin on several points.
So, on to the topic at hand. The first point of this doctrine I'm going to address is Total Depravity, also known as Total Inability. This is what really shocked me during the discussion I had with the man I referenced before. He denied the fact that man was totally depraved! I was stunned, and so I really didn't respond very intellectually. So the first thing I did when I got home was to look up some verses about that in my Bible. So here goes.
Rom. 3:9-12 states, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.'" That doesn't seem that complicated. Nobody, not you, not me, not Paul, not anybody does good deeds. None of us are righteous, none of us understand, none of us seeks for God.
The background of this chapter is that Paul is speaking to the Romans of their own guilt before God. The Roman Jews believed they were better than their Gentile neighbors, so they felt they were in less need of Jesus. Paul wrote these first three chapters of Romans, and parts of the next four chapters, to specifically address that all men are equally guilty before God, that is to say, totally guilty. The state of the men Paul is speaking about here is that of unregenerate men. Before our salvation, we don't do good things.
Here is where I'll address the issue raised by the man I spoke with at church. His argument consisted of this, "What about the little old atheist woman who bakes a pie for a neighbor? How is that not good? Even more, how is that sin?"
This question really isn't as challenging as I first thought. First off, hopefully, as Christians, we believe the Bible is our final authority for all discussions. So, whether or not it seems in our finite minds that the woman is doing wrong isn't the issue; it's what does the Bible say. I think the verse we just read makes that clear. But Rom. 14:23 establishes a principle that will make the best person on earth acknowledge their guilt before God.
"But he who doubts is condemned if he eats. because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Now again, let's talk about context. He's addressing the Romans problem of meat offered to idols. However, Paul smoothly transitions between addressing the problem specifically to offering a much more universal principle. Think about it: whatever is not from faith is sin. So, applying this verse to that, the little atheist woman is sinning, because she did not bake that pie while trusting in God.
So, let's talk about what that means. Man, in his unregenerate state, has no faith in Jesus. Rom. 14:23 was clear that anything done apart from faith is sin. Thus, the logical conclusion is that any action done by an unsaved person is sin. They cannot do anything but that, because they do not have faith in God.
Alright then, now that that's squared away, we'll come back to that. It will tie into our discussion later. In the mean time, let's move on to the most contested of the points I hold to, Unconditional Election. I really don't hold very strongly, if at all, to the next two points, so I'll spend the majority of this post on this point.
Okay, so where does this belief come from? Honestly, it's much bigger than just the election of believers, which is why I often wonder why more Christians don't consider this a rather simple concept. This could be a long explanation, so I'll begin with the most important argument: what does the Scripture say?
Rom. 8:29-30 states, "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 those whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, he also glorified." It can't get a whole lot more clear than that. Those people who God foreknew from the beginning of time, he predestined to become His children. Those whom He predestined, He called to himself, and those He called, He justified and glorified. It seems pretty cut and dried to me.
One of the most common arguments against election is that God would be unjust if it were true that He chose those who would come to Him and who would not. But think about it. Is it any different this His sovereign direction throughout the rest of time?
Let's talk about Joseph and his brothers. We see his brothers, of their own free will apparently, sell Joseph into slavery. But when his brothers meet him once again in Egypt, listen closely to his response. "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt." (Gen. 45:5-8)
Think about it. Did the brothers sell him into slavery? Yes. But Joseph instantly turns it around to say that (v.7) they did not, but it was God simply using them as an instrument. So, what is the correlation between our free will and God's sovereignty? I'll be honest, I don't know. But at the same time, let's admit that God overrides our free will at times to accomplish His sovereign purpose, and He remains completely just in doing so.
Is. 10 is another interesting passage. Feel free to read the rest of the passage, in fact, please do, since it will help your reading of it in context. but v. 5-7, 12, 15 says, "Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nations... So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, He will say, 'I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness...' Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or a rod lifting him who is not wood."
What's Isaiah saying? Assyria, God's tool of judgment on the Southern kingdom of Israel, actually had no intention of attacking Israel on its own. Instead, God gave it the mission and directed its steps, seemingly against the Assyrian's own original plans. Then, to go a step further, God will then punish the tool He commissioned because of the Assyrian's pride in taking credit for something that God did through them. He then finishes the passage off by comparing the Assyrians to a lifeless tool wielded by someone or something more powerful than themselves, and doing something over which they have no control.
What's the point of these two passages I just read? Simply this: God does indeed force His will to be done among men, even if that involves changing our hearts and minds to do something completely different. In the case of Joseph, God's will went along with the intentions of Joseph's brothers. In the same manner they had an intention in selling Joseph, God also had a fixed intention in mind, to such a degree that Joseph actually concluded that it was God who did, not his brothers. In the case of Assyria, God's sovereign will actually went against their intentions, but it didn't matter. They were a mere tool in the hands of someone greater than they.
So what does this have to do with election? We cannot pull the injustice card on God. Whatever God does is just, whether it seems so to us or not. God directs the heart of man to point in whichever direction he chooses. Prov. 21:1 states, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes."
I believe the same is true of the election of the believers. All men are under sin, hopelessly lost in sin and in rebellion against God. By ourselves, because we do no good thing (Rom. 3:12), we will never come to God on our own. The only way we will ever come to God is if God himself comes and directs our hearts, like "channels of water" toward Himself. Other than that, we would, every single one of us, be destined to eternity in hell.
Why do I say that man will never choose God on his own? Well, I'm glad you asked! Think about Eph. 2:1-2. "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." I want to take particular care in looking at that first phrase, "dead in trespasses and sin".
I hold a CPR/AED certification from the Red Cross. In order to get it, I had to take a several hour class on the subject, and I found it rather interesting and definitely informative to this topic. CPR or AED use is for someone who is legally dead. They can do nothing to help themselves. Everything is dependent on the mercy of God and the capabilities of their rescuer.
Notice that Paul didn't use the phrase "asleep in sin" or "unconscious in sin" or even "in a coma in sin". He used the word "dead". Completely, utterly helpless. A dead person can, at no time, save themselves. They have no power, no control over their fate.
What is necessary to bring a legally dead person back to life? The rescuer must do everything himself, expecting no help from the victim. That's the example Paul chooses to use for our regeneration. So I'm going to give a few details of what that would entail.
Now, according to the idea of election, God does everything. Even the person's choosing of Him is at God's instigation. So it would go something like this. The doctor (God) walks into the room, takes off the victim's (you) shirt, places the AED pads on their chest, and steps clear. Then he reaches down and pushes the button to shock your heart back into its normal cycle. The praise for this action goes all to the doctor, because it is all Him, none of us.
Think about the other option, the one I hear most commonly from most people. The doctor (God) walks into the room, take the victim's (you) shirt off, places the AED pads on your chest, steps clear, and leaves the room. Maybe He sits next to you and tells you to push the button, encourages you to push the button. Either way, now it's up to you to push the button. You may see the problem with this scenario, but just in case you don't, I'll tell you. YOU'RE DEAD! You will never, ever push the button, because you're dead.
This is the word that Paul, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose to put down to describe our state as fallen sinners. We are helpless, and even though the offer of redemption lies within the grasp of our fingertips, because of Jesus' offer that all who come to Him will be redeemed, but we lack the willpower to come to Him on our own because of the Fall. Our sinful nature's will forever hold us to actions of sin unless Jesus himself comes to change our hearts.
Eph. 1:3-5 states, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 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."
I am not attempting to dismiss all part of free will from salvation. We see Biblically that, just as with Joseph and his brothers, man indeed has free will, but God will shape that free will to fit His purposes. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or email me!
Why do I feel this is so important? Because it affects our entire view of the gospel. If every part of salvation, even down to our choice, is sovereignly directed by God, all praise and all adoration belongs to God for His mercy. At no point in the whole deal does any praise go to me for my actions. If, however, my salvation is due to my own action of accepting Christ as Savior, and that action is entirely up to my own free will, isn't my salvation, at least to some degree, due to works? If my salvation depends on something I must do or decide to do, isn't that a work, something Rom. 11:6 is very plain has absolutely no place in salvation?
Again, I have had several friends ask me why I believe what I do, some for the sake of argument and some for the sake of honestly, truthfully seeking the truth. Hopefully, this has answered some questions y'all have had about my beliefs. If not, again, please comment at the bottom or email me and I will do my best to answer.