Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices

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Alright, I confess: I’m a Calvinist. Do you still like me? Will you still invite me over for you Super Bowl party? Will you still be my Facebook friend? Can we still do piano duets (I don’t play the piano, but if I did I would want to play duets)? I sure hope so.

But what exactly does it mean to be a Calvinist? There is a lot of confusion and misinformation and downright misrepresentation when it comes to Calvinism. Depending on who you talk to, a Calvinist is someone who:

1) Believes God hates everyone (see Westboro Baptist Church).

2) Believes God has chosen people to be saved, and no matter what a person does, nothing can change that choice.

3) Is grumpy, sour, and always making sure everyone else is obeying the rules.

4) Doesn’t believe in evangelism because God has already chosen people to be saved.

Over the next several posts I want to address several common myths regarding Calvinism, and explain how I, a Calvinist, respond to those myths.

The first, and probably most prevalent myth regarding Calvinism, has to do with free will and choices. The argument goes something like this: If God has predestined people to be saved then people don’t have a free will, and our choices for or against God are not real choices. 

I get this argument, I really do. In some ways, it’s the logical extension of the doctrine of predestination. If God does the choosing, that must mean we don’t do any real choosing. Am I right? After all, who can resist the will of the Almighty God?

Slight problem though: the Bible makes it crystal clear that God predestines people for salvation AND that every person is responsible to choose Jesus Christ. This is a paradox for which the Bible make no apologies, and a paradox which every true Calvinist gladly embraces.

Ephesians 1:4-6 says:

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

I don’t know how much clearer you can get when it comes to the doctrine of election. If I am a Christian it is because God predestined me, before the ages began, to be adopted as a son. He did not predestine me because of anything good or bad I would do. He predestined me according to the purpose of his will. This fills me with gratefulness.

These kinds of words run throughout the entirety of Scripture. Romans 8:29-30 says:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This passage forms an unbreakable chain. Before the foundation of the world God, foreknew those whom he would be predestine for salvation. Those whom he predestines are always called, those whom he calls are always justified, and those whom he justifies are always ultimately glorified. This is completely God’s doing. He gets all the credit and all the glory. From beginning to end, God does the saving. Scripture couldn’t be more clear on this subject.

But Scripture also makes it clear that every man and woman is responsible before God to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus said to the Pharisees:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In Acts 2, after preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, Peter called his listeners to repentance:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

True Calvinism embraces the unconditional election of God. The Bible makes no apologies for the fact that God elects specific men and women to be saved apart from any conditions within them. God is God, and he is free to do whatever he pleases. The clay cannot say to the Potter, “Why have you made me this way?”

True Calvinism also embraces the real need for repentance. This is not some sort of tricky word game God is playing. Every man and woman is commanded to turn from their sins and choose God. The choices we make for God or against God are real choices, and we will really be held accountable for those choices.

How do God’s sovereign, electing purposes, and man’s free will work together? I’m not sure. The Bible doesn’t spell it out in detail. It gives us some hints as to how they work together, but it doesn’t ever clearly answer the question. As a Calvinist, I fully embrace God’s sovereign perogative to choose whomever he pleases. I also fully embrace every person’s responsibility to repent. I find the following quotes from Charles Spurgeon helpful in this matter:

I believe that God will save his own elect. And I also believe that if I do not preach the gospel, the blood of men will be laid at my door.

I am quite certain that God has an elect people, for he tells me so in his word. And I am equally certain that everyone who comes to Christ shall be saved, for that also is his own declaration in the Scriptures. When people ask me how I reconcile these two truths, I usually say that there is no need to reconcile them, for they have never yet quarreled with one another.

The true Calvinist believes that election and free salvation do not quarrel with one another.

Election Keeps No One Out Of Heaven

The doctrine of election really troubled me when I first began to wrestle with it.

It seemed unfair.  It seemed like those who weren’t chosen were doomed from the start.  That they never really had a chance.  This illustration changed my whole view of the doctrine.

“After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.” –Mark Webb

Election keeps no one out of heaven, but guarantees that those God has chosen will be there.  Election is meant to be a comfort and encouragement to believers.  Never are unbelievers encouraged to try do discover if they are elect.  The message for unbelievers is you are all are invited.  Come one, come all.  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!

If you know Jesus, praise him for rescuing you from your headlong rush toward hell.  If you don’t know him, turn to him today.  He awaits you with open arms.

photo by Austin Yoder

When You Knock It Out Of The Park

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The disciples had just finished their “Kick Out The Devil” tour and were high-fiving each other and sharing victory stories.

“Did you see that guy snarling right in my face? One word, baby, and that demon was gone. Cured ‘im. Now he’s on the worship team.”

They returned to Jesus and couldn’t wait to give him their report.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (LK 10.17-20)

It feels good to knock the ball out of the park, be it in the workplace or the kingdom of God. You take an incredible photograph or cook an amazing meal. You land a large account or haul in an 18″ Palamino Trout. You lead the Care Group of the decade or dispense a life-changing pearl of wisdom to that new believer.  Success is exhilarating.

But Jesus says there’s something even more amazing than success, or spiritual gifts or power –  that our names are written in heaven.

In electing love, God wrote our names in heaven before he created the universe, even then knowing all our sins and failures, then he sent his Son to redeem us and his Spirit to transform us.

Are you a believer?  Your name is written in heaven.  It will never be erased or forgotten, and God will bring you to where your name is inscribed.  Now that is something to rejoice in.

So if you knock the ball out of the park this week, as you’re rounding the bases, rejoice that your name is indelibly engraved in the book of life.

Photo by Camlin Photography

Calling All Zeroes

As Barack Obama selects his cabinet, he’s choosing people who are wise and experienced and highly qualified.

It would be quite a feather in one’s cap to be selected for the cabinet, something you could boast about.  But there will be no boasting among those whom God selected.

“The wonder is not that God chooses some and not others (Abel not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau). The wonder is that God chooses any. Certainly God does not choose an elite. Israel is a chosen people, but not a choice people. God’s elect have no ground for pride. On the contrary, God chooses not the wise, the mighty, or the noble, but the foolish, the weak, the despised (Paul says, indeed, the ‘zeroes’). No-one may boast before him.”  –Edmund Clowney

Why does God choose the zeroes?  So he will get more glory.  The weaker we are, the better for his wisdom and power to shine.  The Extreme Home Makeover team amazes us more when they renovate a dump than if they added some nice touches to a mansion.  We love “Hoosiers” and “Remember the Titans”  because a coach makes a team of misfits into something great.  That way He gets more glory than if he coached superstars.

If God chose you, it wasn’t because of your superior qualities.  It was because you, like me, were a zero, and so pathetic he knew he’d get much glory by transforming us.  Isn’t our God amazing?

photo by Gaetan Lee

Edwards On Electing Grace

This quote by Jonathan Edwards is breathtaking:

Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine [of electing grace] shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you. And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.
Quoted in Chosen For Life by Sam Storms

If you are a Christian, it is because God has shown you peculiar mercy. He chose to pour out mercy upon you, not because of anything good in you, but because of His sovereign grace. Why did he save you and not your neighbor? Why do you know Christ, but your parents don’t? Because for some reason, God chose to pour out lavish mercy upon you. This should cause our hearts to explode in loud praise for the Lord. Take time today to sing the praises of the God who saved you.

Originally published on June 20, 2007