Sunday, March 1, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 6 – Preservation of the Saints

The final point point, the letter “P” in the acronym, TULIP, stands for the Preservation of the saints or the Perseverance of the saints. It's the idea that once a person is saved, he can never lose his salvation and is sometimes referred to by the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” It's the single point in 5-point Calvinism that I absolutely agree with 100%.

This isn't exclusive to Calvinism and the idea of “eternal security” could be debated separately from the doctrine of Calvin. Many Christians who don't consider themselves Calvinists will still believe in the doctrine of eternal security. I've written about this subject on a few occasions and I'm sure I will write about it again in depth. However, in this post we will discuss the issue primarily from the perspective of Calvinism.

In the light of Calvinism, the key to eternal security lies in the fact that our salvation is entirely the work of God. That is, He elects us, He gives us the desire and ability to believe, and He preserves us in our salvation. Just like we could do nothing to come to Him, neither are we capable of turning away once we're saved. Such a notion is supported by more than a few Scriptures. Here are three examples:

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 1:7-8)

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

These verses seem to make it clear that God does not save us then send us on our merry ways. He saves us and then He keeps us.

Arguments that I've heard contrary to the doctrine of preservation all seem rather weak. Some of them, for example, will take a passage where God promises to not take away our salvation and then use them as evidence that we could lose our salvation. Consider this example:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Rev 3:5)

Now, when I read this passage, I understand it to mean that those who “overcome” (i.e. “are saved”) will not be removed from the Book of Life. However, one person commenting on this passage said the following:

Notice that God's pencil, which wrote your name in the Lamb's book of life, also has an eraser at the other end. The name can be erased from the book of life if you don't overcome.”

I think it's rather bizarre when God promises to not do something, some people understand it to mean He might do it! Yet these same people often take passages like this and use them to argue the reverse of what they're saying. They are making sort of a negative argument where they focus on what could have happened rather than what is being promised. Negative arguments aren't necessarily a bad thing. I've used them myself. For example, the Bible commands us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15); I guess that means if we don't study, God doesn't approve. I'm arguing the negative of what the Bible says.

Here are similar, negative verses “free will” advocates use to defend that it is possible to lose our salvation.

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Heb 3:6)

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; (Heb 3:14)

These verses say that we are made partakers of Christ and are of His house. Yet some people focus on the negative of the condition and say our salvation is conditional. That is, we are partakers of Christ only as long as we continue in the faith.

Another person used this analogy:

Someone might argue and say, "You are teaching that salvation must be earned through good works." No, I'm not. Salvation is free, but keeping it is costly. Suppose a friend gave me a brand new car which he paid out of his own money, and simply gave me the title and keys and said, "It's yours, Tom. Enjoy it." All I can do is reach for the keys and title and say, "Thank you!" Let me ask you a question. Is the car a free gift to me or did I have to earn it? It's free, right! But let me ask another question. Is it going to cost me money to keep and maintain the car? Sure it is. I'm going to have to put gas, change the oil, give it tune-ups, wax the car, and so on. The car is costly to keep, but it was free when I received it.

First off, the analogy is flawed. If someone gives me a car, sure it costs me to maintain it; if I don't, then the car might stop running. However, even if it stops running it is still my car! If the giver could came back to me and take it away, then the car was never really mine, was it? But besides that, as we have already seen, God not only saves us but also keeps us. I am confident that I will continue in the faith because it is God who works in me and not anything that I'm doing.

Negative arguments and analogies are the first resort when people argue that we can lose our salvation. Since that is the bulk of their argument, I believe their position is very weak.  

As I've already said, I could write more about this but this post has already gone on long enough. I'm getting off the subject of Calvinism anyway. I'll conclude by saying that the preservation of the saints is not only the fifth point of Calvinism, I also believe it is correct doctrine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 5 – Irresistible Grace

Intrinsic to the idea of predestination is the belief in Irresistible Grace. Obviously, the term suggests that if God has chosen us, we cannot turn away from His election. However, irresistible grace runs a little deeper than that. We've already talked about the fact that carnal man does not want to come to God. We are totally depraved – not only are we not able to come to God, we completely lack the desire. However, if God has elected us, we come willingly to Him. So He gives us not only the ability to call upon His name but an irresistible desire to do so.

Consider these two verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

According to Ephesians, not only are we saved by faith, one understanding of the verse is that even the faith is not your own – it is the gift of God. So even the ability to call on Him comes from Him.

The verse from John suggests something similar. Note that it says those who believe in His name were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. Instead, it says rather clearly that God Himself gave them the right to become His children. In other words, we believe in Him not because of our will but because of His will.

I would not describe myself as a Calvinist but certainly I'm sympathetic to Calvinism. It's a doctrine that is not completely without merit and there are many verses that have caused me to seriously consider the issue. However, there is one verse especially that gives me pause. I find it completely incompatible with Calvinism in general and the point of irresistible grace in particular.

Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jesus uttered those words before making His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He knew that the crowds who flocked to see Him and hail Him as their Messiah would soon be shouting for His death. It says very plainly that Jesus longed for those Jews to embrace Him and that it was they who rejected Him.

Yet men wiser than me have read this same verse and still view is as compatible with Calvinism. While commenting on this verse, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

The great destroyer of man is the will of man. I do not believe that man’s free will has ever saved a soul; but man’s free will has been the ruin of multitudes. “Ye would not,” is still the solemn accusation of Christ against guilty men. Did he not say, at another time, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life?” The human will is desperately set against God, and is the great devourer and destroyer of thousands of good intentions and emotions, which never come to anything permanent because the will is acting in opposition to that which is right and true.

I agree with his comments to a point and I can see how this verse could be used in defense of Calvin's first point, the total depravity of man. Yet I still can't see how this verse can be reconciled with the idea of irresistible grace. Matthew still says that Jesus desired them to come and they, by their own will, would not.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 4 – Limited Atonement

The third point in Calvin's acronym is Limited Atonement. According to this belief, Christ's death on the cross was only to redeem those who God had already chosen to be saved. The forgiveness found in Jesus' blood is not available to the un-elect. In other words, Christ's atonement for sins is limited to only the elect. Of the five points, I believe this is definitely the weakest but it's not entirely without merit. First, there are some Bible verses cited in defense of this position.

Matthew 1:21, She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

On its face, this verse could be understood to say, “He will save only His people from their sins.” This same sentiment is found in Acts.

Acts 20:28, Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Again, it seems like Christ's blood was shed to purchase only His church.

Finally, some people try to make hay out of the Bible's frequent use of the word, “many.” Consider the following verse, for example:

Matthew 26:28, “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

The use of the word “many” here could be understood to mean “a large number but not all” - that is, the verse means, “poured out not for all for the forgiveness of sins, just many.” However, the use of the word “many” is ambiguous and can refer to the number instead of the percentage. For example, I could say, “There are many people in the world.” In that case, “many” includes all; I'm saying there are a lot of people. Likewise, a large number of people (i.e. “many”) are saved through Jesus' blood.

In contrast to the idea of limited atonement, we could consider John's words:

1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The phrase, “the whole world” seems a lot less ambiguous than the term, “many.” Yet even though the term “whole world” seems to include everyone, we must still be on guard against the false doctrine of universalism. The Bible is clear that not everyone is or will be saved. Revelation 20:15 warns sinners that when the dead are judged by their works, anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

As is always the case, we must reconcile those verses which seem to suggest a limited atonement with the verses that suggest universalism. I believe the solution is rather obvious: Christ died so that He might make salvation available to everyone but only those who repent and accept His forgiveness are saved. In that sense, atonement truly is limited to the elect.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 3 – Unconditional Election

The next point in Calvinism is Unconditional Election. This is really the meat and potatoes of Calvinism. It's the idea that God has already chosen who is going to be saved and who is going to be lost. The word “elect” in the Bible is always a reference to those who are saved. Unconditional election means that God has ordained the elect to be saved only according to His divine will and is not conditioned upon anything that we have done.

Of the five points, this one probably has the most compelling Scriptural support. There are several passages that can be used to support the idea of election but the following are perhaps the most persuasive:

Ephesians 1:4-5, 11, “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..... also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

Romans 9:10-16, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

What I find especially interesting is Paul's letter to the Romans, when he says that God loved Jacob above Esau even “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” At first hearing, it seems a clear cut example of God simply choosing one person over another. Jacob certainly had not done anything before he was born to earn God's favor so he received God's mercy unconditionally. Yet as clear cut as it might seem, we must still consider these passages in the light of the rest of Scripture. Look at the following passages:

1 Timothy 2:3-4, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Acts 17:30, The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,

If God has already ordained that only some people will be saved and the others lost, how can He simultaneously not want anyone to perish? Perhaps it is because God is omniscient and already knows who will accept Him and who will not. Peter said that he was elect, “according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:1-2). It could be that God elects those He knows will believe and makes plans for them even before they are born.

God is not capricious. Because of His love and mercy, He has made salvation available to everyone; but because He is also just and holy, He has laid out a very clear method of redemption. God will have mercy upon whoever believes in His Son – even the most vile sinner.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 2 – The Total Depravity of Man

As I discussed in my last post, the 5 points of Calvinism are summarized with the acronym, TULIP. The letters stand for:
  • Total depravity of man
  • Unconditional election
  • Limited atonement
  • Irresistible grace
  • Preservation of the saints
Fundamental to Calvinism is the idea that mankind is totally depraved. He is a hopeless sinner who is not only completely unable to do good works but also lacks even the desire to do good. Therefore, a man is totally without any power to even call on God to save him. According to Calvinism, a man lacks the ability or desire to be saved in the same way a dead person lacks the ability or desire to come out of the grave. It's impossible.

There are some verses in the Bible that support this concept:

John 6:63, It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing

Romans 3:10-11, as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” (Paul is paraphrasing Psalm 14)

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

John 6:44, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

If I read only these verses and nothing else in the Bible, I would have to agree 100% that a man could not and would not come to God by his own will. However, there are other verses that we must consider.

Joshua 24:15, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

1 Kings 18:21, “Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.””

Isaiah 1:18, ““Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”

As clearly as the first passages seemed to say we are unable to come to God, these other passages seem clearly seem to say we have a choice. I admit that it seems to be a dilemma. I think the key to understanding all verses in harmony hinges on the realization that God is sovereign but even the sovereignty of God is a difficult subject to grasp.

My point here is not to establish which verses are “correct.” The fact of the matter is that all the verses are correct. Neither am I trying to suggest what is the more likely understanding. Like I've already said, I only intend to discuss the different points of view. As we can see, Scriptural support for either view can be found. It would be rather narrow minded of us to cling dogmatically to one or the other and “explain away” the opposing verses. A better course of action would be to trust that God is loving, merciful, and just and know that He will always do what is right.

We need to simply trust in Jesus as our Savior without worrying about whether or not we were predestined to do so.