Friday, April 05, 2013

Calvinism: Notes on Passages

There are a few texts that are frequently cited by people who have a distaste for calvinism – calvinism being another word for Biblical Christianity. Let me cite the Biblical evidence for calvinism first.

1.      Total Depravity: Human Beings are dead in their transgression and sins; they cannot come to God; they are enemies of God (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1). Calvinism begins with this point – we are not just crippled; we are dead; we cannot come to God. This first point is crucial. If we believe that human beings are ‘dead in their transgressions and sins’ then we must confess that there is absolutely no way they can save themselves; salvation must be a work of God, and God alone. Dead people cannot rise up out of their graves apart from a miracle of God.
2.      Unconditional Election: God freely elects, or selects his people; he predestines, or chooses them, before the foundation of the world, apart from anything they have done, either good or bad (Ephesians 1:11; all of Romans 9). As Romans 9 so wonderfully puts it, God has mercy on who ever He wants to have mercy on; it has nothing to do with man’s desire or effort. This enables the believer to rest truly in the fact that his salvation is free. It also enables the believer to be truly humble; the only difference between him and anyone else is really and only the mercy of God.

“...before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being—when the ether was not fanned by an angel's wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone—even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world—even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." (Charles Spurgeon: Defense of Calvinism).”

3.   Particular Redemption (sometimes called ‘limited atonement’ or ‘definite atonement’): This means that Christ died for his people, and only his people. He died for all the sins of some men; he did not die for some of the sins of all men. If Christ died for everyone, and all their sins are paid for – then why is there a hell? Why aren’t all men saved? Instead, Christ died to pay for the all the sins of his people (Acts 20:28, John 10:11). In Acts 20:28 we are told that Christ, God, shed his blood to obtain THE CHURCH. In John 10:11 we are told that Christ died for the SHEEP, which is another way of talking about his people, his flock. This truth is a great comfort for the Christian because he realizes that Christ died for him, for all of his sins, and that the Lord Jesus had him in mind when he bled on the cross.

"[If Jesus died for all men]...why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, "Because of their unbelief; they will not believe." But unbelief, is a sin, is it not? (John Owen)"

4.   Irresistible Grace: God will draw his people to Himself; no one who is predestined can ‘resist’ the grace of God. Rather, the grace of God will conquer them and bring them to faith (John 6:37, 39).

“I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of Divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. Looking back on my past life, I can see that the dawning of it all was of God; of God effectively. I took no torch with which to light the sun, but the sun enlightened me. I did not commence my spiritual life—no, I rather kicked, and struggled against the things of the Spirit: when He drew me, for a time I did not run after Him: there was a natural hatred in my soul of everything holy and good. Wooings were lost upon me—warnings were cast to the wind—thunders were despised; and as for the whispers of His love, they were rejected as being less than nothing and vanity. But, sure I am, I can say now, speaking on behalf of myself, "He only is my salvation." (Charles Spurgeon: Defense of Calvinism).”

5.   Perseverance of the Saints: God’s people will not and cannot lose their salvation; they will persevere to the end; if someone does not persevere to the end it means they were never a true child of God (John 6:37-39; John 10:28-29; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 2:19). This is one of the most precious truths for the child of God because they understand that they will persevere because GOD perseveres with them.

“...but when I know that those whom God saves He saves with an everlasting salvation, when I know that He gives to them an everlasting righteousness, when I know that He settles them on an everlasting foundation of everlasting love, and that He will bring them to His everlasting kingdom, oh, then I do wonder, and I am astonished that such a blessing as this should ever have been given to me! (Charles Spurgeon: Defense of Calvinism)”

These are not the only texts which demonstrate the 5 points of calvinism, but the ones that come to mind at present.

Now, to the texts frequently cited to disprove calvinism. You will see that the problem is with the way these texts are cited – they are not cited in context. They are used as ‘proof texts’ rather than considering the context of the passage, and scripture as a whole.

1. John 3:16: God so loved the world...

This is taken to mean that God loves everybody the same, and that he gave his son to redeem everyone, and not a select set. However, if we read the rest of the verse we see the exact meaning of the phrase “God so loved the world.”

 “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

John 3:18 elaborates: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already...”

God so loved the world that he gave his son – but why? “That whosoever believes...” These ones will not perish, but will have everlasting life. So, this verse is actually better used as a text in the calvinist scheme!

Believing is the distinguishing mark of a child of God. The child of God hears the gospel and responds with faith. Furthermore, they respond with faith because they have been ordained for eternal life.

Acts 13:48: “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

This verse does not say, “They believed, and that is why they were appointed to eternal life.” Rather, “They were appointed to eternal and that is why they believed.”

The context of Acts 13 is that Paul’s preaching is being resisted and reviled by the Jews (13:45). So, Luke’s point, under the inspiration of the Spirit, is that though some may resist our message we can still be confident that those who are appointed to eternal life will believe. In other words, God’s purposes cannot be thwarted by wicked men who resist the saving message of the gospel.

Or, consider John 10:26: “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” Our Lord does not say, “You are not part of my flock because you do not believe.” He says, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” If these men had been, in the words of Acts 13:45 ‘appointed to eternal life’ then they would have believed. Jesus sheep WILL hear his voice, and they will follow him (John 10:27).

We might also consider Ephesians 2:8, “You are saved by grace, through faith, and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, so that no one may boast.”

Charles Spurgeon put it like this, “If any man be saved, he is saved by Divine grace, and by Divine grace alone; and the reason of his salvation is not to be found in him, but in God. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will; but we will and do as the result of God's good pleasure, and the work of his grace in our hearts. No sinner can prevent God; that is, he cannot go before him, cannot anticipate him; God is always first in the matter of salvation... The only reason why any man ever begins to pray is because God has put previous grace in his heart which leads him to pray.”

2. 2 Peter 3:9, “God is not willing that any should perish.”

Again, we need to consider the context.

The whole verse says this, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Who is it that God is not willing to perish? This verse is not talking about the whole world, everybody – but rather believers. The verse begins by saying, “The Lord is patient toward you...” Who is this ‘you?’ The ‘you’ refers to the believers that Peter is writing to. This verse is making a similar point as John 10:28. God will not let any of his people perish. Indeed, 2 Peter is written to ‘those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours (2 Peter 1:1).’ That is the ‘you’ of 2 Peter 2:9. So, this verse is written to believers and is asserting the truth of ‘the perseverance of the saints.’ Again, in context, this verse is better used as evidence in a calvinistic scheme.

Now, we do not know who is elect and who is not elect. God’s revealed will is that we are to preach the gospel to everyone, and that we pray for everyone. God’s secret will is that some will be saved, and some perish, ‘according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11)” Someone might ask, “If this is true – if God has elected some to everlasting life – then why preach the gospel?” First, because God Almighty has commanded it. Second, because the same God who ordains the end also ordains the means. God has ordained that the preaching of the gospel will be the means of salvation.

3. 1 Timothy 2:4, “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The key word in this verse is ‘all.’ So, the person seeking to disprove calvinism will say, “See there, God desires all people to be saved... he doesn’t predestine anyone – he wants everyone to be saved.”

However, a moment’s thought tells us that NOT all people are saved. So, this verse cannot mean “God’s secret will is that all people be saved.” If that was so, then everyone would be saved, and no one would be ‘cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).’ It might refer to God’s revealed will then, but I think there is a better explanation.

‘All’ in this verse refers to ‘all kinds of people.’ The Bible uses language in the normal way. When we speak normally we often use the word ‘all’ in different ways. Sometimes we mean “each and every one.” Sometimes we mean “all kinds.” If I say, “I have been to all the states.” I probably mean, “Each and every one... I have been to each and every state, all 50.” But, if I say, “I love all ice cream.” I probably mean, “I love all kinds...I love chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, etc.” The meaning of the word “all” can only be determined by the context in which we use it.

We know that this verse is referring not to ‘each and every person’ but to ‘all kinds of people’ because of the context. 1 Timothy 2:1 urges that prayers be made for ‘all people, for kings and all in high positions.’ In other words, Paul is saying, “When you pray, don’t leave any kind of person out – don’t leave out the people in authority, even though they may be hostile to Christianity. Who knows? God might save this kind of person too! He saves all kinds of people!”

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