Responses to the Calvinist
For many, Calvinism is more than a way of life. It is life. For many who have been born and raised hearing these doctrines, it is difficult for them to imagine any other way. This is true for anyone who has been surrounded by any element for their entire life. It is difficult, and uncomfortable, to imagine life outside. For such a person, who needs answers for their questions, and wants to know the truth, this article is devoted - a list of frequently asked questions.
Most questions are asked in defense of Calvinism, as if by a Calvinist, while a few are questions are raised for the Calvinist to consider in addition to the article series. Many are indexed by the Scriptures that are central to their question. Some contain quotation of a Calvinistic viewpoint followed by a response, while others are simply responses to Scriptures that are often misused.
For the Calvinist, Questions to Consider:
By the Calvinist, Questions Asked and Scriptures Used:
- A Calvinist's Ultimate Basis for Calvinism
- Proof Through a "Spiritual Experience"
- Psalm 51:5
- Ecclesiastes 7:20
- Jeremiah 17:9
- Matthew 19:17
- John 1:13
- John 6:37-44
- John 8:24, 32-35
- John 8:44
- Romans 2:4
- Romans 3:10-12
- Romans 6:18-22
- Romans 7:18
- Romans 8:7
- Romans 9:18
- Ephesians 1:5-6
- Ephesians 2:1-3
- Ephesians 2:8-9
- Philippians 2:13
- II Peter 3:9
- Request your question to be considered here
Often Calvin and the adherents to his theology seem to be arguing against a "straw-man" construction of a "freewill" based position. This does great violence in misdirecting their arguments and building up zealous wrath against a position, that while despicable, is not really believed by anybody.
This author does not personally hold to this "straw-man" view, and no individual or denomination can be called to remembrance who would accept this easily dismissed view. The misunderstanding that associates all opposing views with this "staw-man" has corollary misconceptions. Both are included below.
The following points make up an extreme freewill based "straw-man" theology, which are often erroneously associated to anyone who would oppose Calvinism:
- Man 100% meritoriously earns his salvation through works by his own freewill
- Man discovers and achieves salvation apart from God's will and, or awareness.
- Man cannot become morally depraved, much less be born as such.
- God in no way predestined or foreknew who would be saved.
This straw man is constructed because of the following corollaries that exists in the mind of some Calvinist. These corollaries represent extreme dilemmas that fail to recognize a third alternative to Calvinism and the straw-man:
- Either only God works or man works, but not both. It is grace versus works, with no possibility of grace and works - conditional works.
- If man is able to recognize his plight when presented with the gospel, then His intelligence rivals that of God, Who created him and extended salvation unto Him.
- If man ever becomes morally depraved, then he must become so instantly and irreversibly. The heart becomes hardened to the extent that only the direct working of the Spirit on the heart can undo the damage.
- The only possible basis for God's predestination of man unto salvation is limited to election by named individual, apart from anything relating to the individual.
An alternative to the "straw-man" and the Calvinistic viewpoint is outlined as follows:
- A third alternative: God works and man works. God's work is primary, necessary, gracious, and justifying. Man's work is reactionary, conditional, required by God, grateful, and evidentiary. There is no "either-or" dilemma but a complimentary harmony.
- Although man may recognize something is amiss by his conscience or the consequences of sin, he could have never formulated or executed the plan that God revealed. Without God's direction, man's intelligence would have vainly floundered in misery, but with God's revelation, man may initially appreciate some basic aspects of this mystery and accept the rest in faith. Ever growing, man continues to learn from God, he but may only fully understand the mystery when in eternity with God.
- Moral depravity is real and gravely dangerous; however, it only happens after repeatedly sinning, stubbornly ignoring and searing the conscience. The rate of this process depends on the will of the person. When ultimately completed, it is irreversible, because nothing is left that wants it to be reversed. Until completed, it may be undone and reversed by exposure to the gospel, which is delivered, empowered, and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
- There are multiple, possible bases of predestination and foreknowledge towards salvation. The Bible doctrine of predestination is according to a type, class, or body of people. This body is defined as those "in Christ", and entry into it depends on one's willingness to be added to this body. Only a certain type will respond to the call. The message, messenger, and, consequently, type of person to respond, were determined before time began - predestined and foreknown
Recognizing the discontinuity between with what a person may think he is disagreeing and with what he is really disagreeing is a key step toward recognition of the truth. Secondly recognizing the full body of possible interpretations is also essential. Eliminating any option, possibly the correct one, makes proper discernment of truth dangerous at best.
Whenever faced with this charge against their doctrine, the Calvinist may repeat a version of an old illustration. They might explain,
"Imagine that 10 men are sitting on death row. Each one faces the death penalty in few days, but a change of events brings hope to some. A man enters the dreadful walkway and selects one, saying 'I will die for him, in his stead.' The once condemned prisoner springs from his opened prison cell. The stranger takes his punishment, while the others eventually bear their own. Is it really unfair that the others suffered the punishment due them? Can God not have mercy on the one if He chooses?"
This story seems persuasive at first, but it neglects one monumentous fact. Typically, men face the death penalty because they have committed murder. They are not present without just cause. They chose to murder and were consequently punished. The men on death row were there held because they were responsible for and guilty of horrible crime. But, according to Calvin, mankind is on death row not because man deserved it as a consequence to sin, but because God forced it to be so.
Our concern still stands. Calvinism is the gospel message in reverse. In Calvinism, God does not mercifully descend to redeem man and bear the punishment of man's mistakes, but instead, man unwillingly feeds God's ego by ascending to bear eternal punishment for God's mistakes, and that is just not fair!
"... that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26
"... He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6
Here a question regarding II Peter 3:9 is offered to the Calvinist. A common response is raised and examined.
If Calvinism be true, then God alone wills and brings about His will. If it is His will that all men may be saved, then who hinders Him?
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." II Peter 3:9
If Calvinism be true, then according to this verse, then all men should be saved, since God desires all men to be saved. Obviously, this is contrary to other plain passages (Luke 13:23-24; Matthew 7:13-14). Even Calvin recognized that this was contrary to his doctrines and explained it as follows:
"For His will that they should come to repentance cannot be used in any other sense than that which is uniformly employed. Conversion is undoubtedly in the hand of God, whether He designs to convert all can be learned from Himself, when He promises that He will give some a heart of flesh, and leave to others a heart of stone (Ezek. 36:26)."
"But I hold that no man approaches God unless previously influenced from above. And if repentance were placed at the will of man, Paul would not say, 'If God peradventure will give them repentance' (2 Tim. 2:25)." Institutes, vol. 2, p. 255-256
Calvin interprets this passage based upon his other tenets. He limits "all" to only the saved, based on the fact that the book was written to the saved. This focuses our attention on two points. One, this illustrates how the previous tenets serve as the foundation for his theology, and how difficult it can be interpret a passage without one's prejudice and desires. Second, it raises a good question for us to consider and answer.
Does the context limit the words "any" and "all" to only the elect? Before, we quickly cry "Consistency with the context!" and jump to our desired conclusion, let us examine the context. Only one interpretation will be consistent with both the immediate context and the Bible as a whole.
Earlier in the chapter, Peter begins by encouraging these Christians to beware scoffers, who would mock the Christians' belief in Christ's second coming and the destruction of the world (II Peter 3:1-4). He reminds that these scoffers are "willfully forgetful" that God once destroyed the world in Noah's day by water (3:4-6), and He has similarly promised to destroy the world and punish the wicked a second time, but by fire (3:7). The difficulty for the Christians' was that they were being mocked because the fulfillment seemed anything but imminent, so Peter reminds them that time has no meaning to God, and He will keep His promise (3:8). Finally, he also reminds them that God is patient, longsuffering, and therefore waits because He does not want any to perish (3:9).
Now let's consider the implications of this context upon our earlier questions: Who are the ones to come to repentance? Peter mentions "us" in verse 9, but he also mentions the entire world and even "ungodly men" in the context. Let us consider that the words "any" and "all" are indeed general. Granting this, let us consider two interpretations and determine which makes the most sense with the context. Now if this verse refers only to the elect, then God is "longsuffering" for them to "come to repentance". How is this possible in Calvinism, if it is God who predestines all things, and if it is God who brings about their salvation through the direct operation of the Holy Spirit? Is God being longsuffering with Himself? What is He waiting on? Surely not the sinner to come to Him, or to be willing, or to repent? These would require patience. But, if God controls all things, with whom is He being longsuffering? The implications are inconsistent with Calvinism.
If Calvinism be true, then God alone wills and brings about His will. If it is His will that all men may be saved, then who hinders Him? This brings up a possible alternative interpretation: God is patient and waits as long as possible for all men to come to repentance. If man has free will, then God certainly would be longsuffering, waiting until all men had either repented or become hardened in their wickedness. This interpretation is consistent with the verse and with the previous context, in which God holds off on judgment of the wicked, because he wills that "all should come to repentance."
These verses were once quoted by Calvin as a proof-text for God's direct manipulation of man's will unto salvation. However, Calvin actually quoted Augustine, allowing him to word his thoughts on this passage:
"What means, 'Everyone that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto me,' but just that 'there is no one who hears and learns of the Father that does not come to me'? For if every one who has heard and learned, comes; assuredly every one who does not come, has neither heard nor learned of the Father; for if he had heard and learned, he would come" (Book 3, chapter 24, para. 1)
As in interpreting all passages it is crucial that we do not read into the passage the meaning that we desire it to intend. This is best seen by observing what the passage does not say. Any ambiguity cannot be forced to support our conclusion, but rather it can only mean what is consistent with all of Scripture.
How is one "drawn"? Is it against his or her freewill? Does this verse answer either of these questions? If it does not, then how is the above conclusions supported? Are they not based in assumption?
Man is drawn through God's Word, revealed by the Holy Spirit ( II Thessalonians 2:14; James 1:18). How much understanding is required to recognize the end of the goals of this world? Even in this life, one may easily see the ruin that comes from the selfish pursuit and fulfillment of one's lusts. The message of Christ's love, sacrifice, and ultimate victory and the appeal of "glory and virtue" are a few of the primary, gospel themes that call us to Him (I Peter 5:10; II Peter 1:3). It takes little intelligence to recognize the appeal of the gospel; so little, that the proud and educated often do not humble themselves because of its simplicity and unappealing stumblingblocks (I Corinthians 1:26-29). The depth of the gospel is appreciated over time, fully in eternity.
"Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:13
This classic "not-but" grammatical construction emphasizes the role of God in our spiritual rebirth. It does not eliminate the one, any more than it makes the other all-encompassing. This structure merely compares the relative importance and significance of the two items. Other examples of this construction, which show that this extreme interpretation is not valid, are found in John 6:27; John 12:44; I Corinthians 1:17; and I Timothy 2:9-10. If this verse is to be interpreted to mean that the rebirth is entirely devoid of man's will, then John 12:44 contradicts itself with the conclusion that our faith is entirely devoid of belief in Jesus.
If this "not-but" construction can only be understood in terms of absolutes, then it must be understood this way in all occurrences. The absurd interpretations of John 6:27 and John 12:44, required by this restriction, show this required absolute interpretation to be inaccurate and unnecessary.
If the language of the "not-but" construction in John 12:44 is understood by all as elliptical, then why is the same construction purported to have only one possible, absolute meaning in John 1:13? Could it not be elliptical too? Will not the context explain the meaning?
Truly, God has provided, outlined, and directed our opportunities unto salvation, but this verse does not eliminate entirely or absolutely the role of man's will in salvation. Please notice that in the immediate context of the prior verse, those who had this "right" were selected on the basis of those who "received" and "believed" Christ. Is God forcing, or is man accepting in this verse? Who is the subject and author of the action? The language of the context tells us:
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" John 1:11-12
"For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" Philippians 2:13
This passage is ambiguous to the point at hand. It is an assumption to add the word "entirely" - "God who works entirely in you both to will and do". I also agree and hope for the fact that God is working within me. However, does this verse say anything of God working within the Christian apart from God's Word or apart from the Christian's will and acceptance? It is an assumption to limit the means of the working to only direct methods, since it is not in the context.
"Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." Romans 9:18
Again, an assumed interpretation is used as the framework for understanding this verse. Does this verse mention that God's choice is apart from man's actions? Does it mention an election of named individuals before time began and separate from their choices? Does God select individuals apart from their choices, or because of their choices and desires?
What is the basis for one person's hardening of heart, while another receives mercy? Is it an arbitrary election, without standard or basis? No - Hear the Scripture:
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" Romans 1:28
"God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." I Peter 5:5
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9
Was man born this way, or does he become this way by a series of sinful choices - as his heart departs from the Lord? (Jeremiah 17:5; Romans 1:18-32; I Peter 5:5) Again, it seems that an assumed theological framework is used to filter the meaning of this passage.
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Romans 8:7
How does one receive this carnal mind? Does God give it to Him, or does man earn it as a consequence of his repeated, stubborn sinful choices? (Romans 1:18-32; I Peter 5:5)
"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
"There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
"They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12
One must be careful not to make a verse say what he wants it to say. If this verse is an all-inclusive condemnation, then it demands Universalism - the ultimate damnation of all! Obviously, some have understood and saught God, or else the Psalmist, from whom Paul quoted in Romans, could not have consistently penned, "With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!" Psalm 119:10. Again, the proposed conclusion only appears when one's mind is restricted by his assumed framework. Without that context, this context only teaches our guilty state and need for mercy. The question that must be answered remains, "How does one become depraved?" By foolishly choosing to push away God, or by God pushing away man, regardless of his actions? (Psalm 14:1-6; Romans 1:18-32; I Peter 5:5)
"For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin." Ecclesiastes 7:20
Why is this true? Does God bring each man into this world already evil, or does He bring them in innocent and upright, which they corrupt by choosing evil? (Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 1:18-32; I Peter 5:5)
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5
An assumed interpretation is placed on this verse, which even the translators of the NIV assumed in abandoning their unbiased job of translator and taking up the role of commentator. Because one translation went so far as to bias their translation, extra time will be spent on this verse.
Only the NIV translates this as "sinful state". All other significant translations have the same translation (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASV, NAU, RSV, YLT, and many others!). Regarding, the assumed interpretation, please notice the following two points:
- The verse relates to the means of the conception and "shapening". It says nothing about the final shape or his actual state.
- The context is charged with high emotion from David's sorrow for his sin. His guilt is exaggerated in hyperbolic expression. Notice a similar hyperbolic, but literally impossible, expression in Psalm 58:3. Do you know any babies that can talk when they are born, much less tell lies?
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find." Romans 7:18
I must confess that this verse seems to contradict the Calvinistic point. In fact, almost this entire chapter refutes the point of inherited depravity. The verse teaches that in this state one is capable of "willing to do good". Also, the entire last portion of the chapter is describing a struggle. How can there be a struggle, when man is 100% evil? There is no struggle where evil has triumphed. If Paul was in this context "carnal, sold under sin", how could he say:
"For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. ..."
"For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Romans 7:15-16, 22-25
These verses expressly state that man, although losing the struggle under the dominion of his sin, can and does recognize his wickedness, and often desires something better.
"...No one is good but One, that is, God..."Matthew 19:17
First, what is this verse saying: This verse states that only God is good. In an absolute sense, only God is good, but this does not imply that everyone else is absolutely evil. In addition to the two extremes, men may have some finite quality of goodness at a given time, but yet they would never be considered good, as God is absolutely good. As long as many also has additional evil qualities, then he cannot be considered "good".
Now, please consider some inconsistencies with the Calvinistic interpretation of this verse: This verse is given without qualifications; therefore, the application is unqualified and unbound, even by time. If it is assumed that this verse implies that man is absolutely evil, then man was never good, cannot now be good, and never will be good. We have no hopes of ever being with God as our sin, our absolute "un-goodness" will continue to separate us from God throughout eternity (Isaiah 59:2). This necessitates a universal and eternal damnation of mankind! Since this conclusion is absurd and contradictory with all the Bible, then the assumed Calvinistic must necessarily be false.
We are back to our question of how man ceased to be good. Man did not start sinful (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 7:29). Did God make men evil, or did He account all men evil because of one man's sin, or did all men sin and thereby individually cease to be good? (Romans 5:12)
A Calvinistic View:
Jesus Christ says quite plainly in the gospel of John that we are not free, but we are slaves of sin, and unless the Truth (Jesus Christ) makes us free, we shall die in our sins.
"You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do..." John 8:44
Again, the interpretation is assumed. Do people become "of the Devil" by their alignment with the Devil, or did God align people with the Devil, regardless of their choice? (John 8:39-47; Romans 1:18-32; I Peter 5:5)
It is agreed that we each become slaves of sin, but who sold us into slavery? If Adam, then God unfairly condemns us for which we were not responsible (Ezekiel 18:1-32; see especially vs. 20-25). If God, then He is responsible for our sin, which is inconsistent with His revealed nature (Psalm 98:9). The only alternative is that we were each created upright and innocent, just like Adam; we each disobeyed, just like Adam; and we each must suffer the consequences of our sin, just like Adam.
A Calvinistic View:
Jesus Christ says quite plainly in the gospel of John that we are not free, but we are slaves of sin, and unless the Truth (Jesus Christ) makes us free, we shall die in our sins.
"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:24, 32-35
It seems that it is difficult to assume this passage supports Calvinism, because this passage refutes the doctrines of inherited depravity, direct working of the Spirit, and unconditional election.
From verse 24, we learn that a person dies in his or her sins, "you will die in your sins". These are not Adam's or God's sins, but our personal sins. Can depravity be inherited without the sin? What kind of God would allow that miscarriage of justice?
From verse 32 we learn that the knowledge of the truth makes us free. How can the Spirit directly set us free, when we are clearly set free indirectly through the Word?
From verse 34, we learn that one can become a slave to sin, but how? Is he born a slave to sin? Do his parents sin, and he inherit their responsibilities and guilt? No, but "whoever commits sin is a slave of sin".
"Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" Romans 2:4
See notes on Ephesians 2:8-9.
A Calvinistic View:
God the Father draws His elect to Christ in His own time according to His will and His purpose. He does this by granting them repentance and giving them the gift of faith. This is entirely due God's grace and has nothing to do with man's freewill or his good works.
"Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." Ephesians 1:5-6
How is this predestination accomplished? Are we chosen by name, as individuals, before time began, and apart from any of our actions? Or, are we chosen as a class of people, as a group of humble truthseekers, who are willing to subject themselves to Christ's headship, and become part of His body?
Paul's only commentary in Ephesians was that we were "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world". Except for the mention of the basis being "in Christ" according to His "good pleasure", the basis is not otherwise defined in this passage. Also, what is "good" about His pleasure if it unfairly condemns the irresponsible to eternal punishment for crimes that either they did not commit or God forced them to commit? This passage seems to be ambiguous, at best.
A Calvinistic View:
Before one is saved, he is spiritually dead. He is enslaved by sin, only living to fulfill his desires. His natural disposition is to sin and live selfishly. Therefore, he cannot respond to the gospel. Just as a dead man cannot move, walk, or even think, God must first make him alive. If he is spiritually dead, how can he hear, understand, believe, repent, or obey?
This proves man's inability to respond to the gospel, much less save himself. It also proves that man is born with a nature that is totally depraved, since the following passage specifically says that men were "by nature children of wrath".
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others." Ephesians 2:1-3
Both physical and spiritual death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). Spiritual severance from God occurs whenever we sin, since the Holy God cannot fellowship sin (I John 1:5-6; I Peter 1:16). However, physical death also came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:17-24). By himself, man cannot resolve this condition. Without God's grace, condemnation and wrath looms over the head of the sinful man. However, the fact that man, without God's help, cannot do anything to save himself, does not imply that man is not required to do something with God's help.
Erroneously inferring from "death" that man is unable to move or respond to God's spiritual call comes from an underestimation of the power of the gospel, with which God calls us. It is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). It has the power to prick the sinner's heart (Acts 1:37), convicting his conscience of sin (Hebrews 4:12; John 16:8; Titus 1:9). It is the mirror that shows us our horrible, twisted condition (James 1:21-25). In this way, God calls us through His Word, message, and gospel (II Thessalonians 2:14; I Peter 5:10). Jesus referred to the dead, who would hear this call:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live." (John 5:25)
Please notice that "hearing" the call precedes "living". How can one hear anything if he is dead, as taught by the Calvinist? The Calvinist would have us to believe that we are dead, unconscious, unresponsive, and unaware, just as are those bodies lying in the cemeteries, yet Christ said they could hear. Therefore, this presents a dilemma: Did the Calvinist push the illustration of Ephesians 2:1 beyond the intention of the author, or did Christ misspeak when he stated that hearing preceded life, and not the other way around? Again, please notice that on Pentecost, when the Jews were "pricked in their hearts" by the gospel, they were still in need of forgiveness. When they felt the prick and responded, they were not yet spiritually alive (Acts 2:37-38).
The phrase "by nature children of wrath" is brought into harmony with the remainder of Scripture when we realize that the Greek word for "nature" has multiple meanings. It can be used to refer to the primary and innate constitution of a subject (Galatians 2:15; 4:8), but according to Thayer's Greek Dictionary, it can also refer to the nature acquired through long course of habit (I Corinthians 11:14). Therefore, it does not necessarily refer to the way someone is born. It can also refer to man's sinful nature acquired through repeated sins. How do we know which one is intended?
The context speaks nothing of birth, much less a sinful nature acquired at birth. However, it does speak of all men as having once "walked according to the course of this world ... fulfilling the desires of the flesh". Although this sounds more like a long term, habitual lifestyle, the question is best answered when the verse placed in the context of Scripture as a whole, which clearly teaches that man is born innocent. The nature under discussion in this context comes as a consequence of the process under discussion in verse 3: lusts, then fulfillment, then repeated until it became their nature, which placed them in a doomed state. It is the result, not the cause.
Unless one can show from the context that the sinful "nature" is acquired at birth, opposed to acquirement through long-term practice, then how can it be used as a proof-text, if it is ambiguous at best?
A Calvinistic View:
A truly born again Christian has the Christ's saving faith working in his life, and he is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Such a Christian abides in Christ and Christ's words abide in him. This union with Christ bears much fruit and glorifies the Father. Such a Christian now works the works of faith (Christ's faith in him) as opposed to man's works when he was an unbeliever. Such a Christian is now free and truly free. But free from what and free to do what?
Christ says that an unbeliever is a slave of sin, and he is not free. On the other hand a true believer has been set free form sin. A believer is no longer a slave of sin, in fact he has been freed from sin to become a slave of righteousness.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
God certainly works in our lives, in fact man must struggle to resist and despise God's desire for him to be saved (Acts 17:26-29; Romans 2:3-4). Although it is difficult and hard, it can be done (Acts 9:5; 26:14). The Spirit also certainly works in our life (John 7:37-39), teaching us to become good like God, through God's Word (Ephesians 3:3-5; II John 1:1-2; Psalm 119:97-105), but recognizing these facts is a far cry from stating that they happen directly without our acquiescence. Also, the same misunderstanding regarding conditional works and meritorious works, which was discussed earlier, is here again erroneously applied. Just because God places conditions on His grace, does not mean these conditions earn salvation. Only the "straw-man" thinks being immersed in water, or any other act, merits, or earns forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
"The gift" refers not to faith, as is presumed by the Calvinist. This is not quite so clear in the English language, as it is in the original Greek. The gender of the word for "faith" is feminine, but the gender for "it", which is equated to "the gift of God", is neuter. Therefore, it cannot refer to "faith", rather it refers to the entire phrase, indicating that being saved is a gift.
Faith can and should only be thought of as a gift in the sense that the gospel of Christ's sacrifice, the opportunity to hear it, and the opportunity to respond in faith is a gift (Philippians 1:29). Faith is not something that is implanted directly by the Holy Spirit, but rather it comes indirectly from the Holy Spirit through hearing and believing the message, which He inspired, confirmed, and protects (Romans 10:17).
A Calvinistic View:
The true freedom consists of changing form a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness. The choice is whether to be a slave of sin or slave of righteousness, but slaves we will be. But man is incapable of making this choice thorough his own free will because a natural man is spiritually dead and he is a slave to sin.
"And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life." Romans 6:18-22
First, from the context of the passage, the Roman Christians were continuing to live sinful lives, even though had been "raised to walk in newness of life". Notice the introduction to this problem in verses 1-2 and the separate pleas in verses 2-14 and verses 15-23. If man is incapable of making such choices, then who makes them? Why does this Person choose that sin continue? And, then why does He plea with man to stop (6:12-13)? The inconsistencies make such a proposition an illogical interpretation that violates the very context of the passage.
Second, how does the Bible say such a person becomes a slave? Where does it say that they are forced into a slavery under sin or righteousness? The only commentary on the process from this context reads:
"Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered." Romans 6:16-17
One becomes a slave to whomever they present themselves as obedient subjects (Romans 6:16). We were not forced, but it is to whomever we present ourselves as slaves that unto whom we become slaves. It seems as though this context suggest a willing choice to indentured slavery rather than a forced bondage.
Third, Paul is making a heavenly plea based on an argument according to human terms (slavery), just as a parable is an earthly illustration of divine truths (6:19). Similarly, it has the same limitation: The analogy cannot be pressed on all points, especially points not reinforced by inspired men, without violently forcing the analogy to express an untruth that was not the intention of the original illustrator. We must be careful not to press the analogy beyond the context. Outside of the opposing references to our willing enslavement, where is there any reference to God electing us apart from our choice? Reading our interpretation into the Scripture instead of gleaning an interpretation from the Scripture is the challenge of all Bible students and truthseekers.
Many religious people base much of their conviction on a "spiritual experience" that occurred to them. These experiences are often typified has producing a "warm, lofty feeling" as if they were suddenly and spontaneously soaring through the sky. They may see a bright light, or hear a personal message from God. Sometimes the experience may not be miraculous, but natural; yet, the believer may view it as a providential sign.
There are two fundamental problems with using such an experience or discerning God's providence as proof of one's salvation or basis of conviction and faith:
First, real faith can only be based on God's Word. The only truth we can learn about God from the natural world is His great power and divinity (Romans 1:18-20); however, we can not even discern His approval or disapproval from the events surrounding us (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3). Without His revelation, the gospel would remain a mystery (Ephesians 3:3-5).
Secondly, God did use visions to directly communicate with the patriarchs and His prophets and apostles; however, these directions were always consistent. God cannot lie; therefore, His directions are always in harmony. If one's vision or interpretation of providence contradicts God's revealed Word, then we must adhere to God's Word (Galatians 1:6-8). Also, the time for such revelations has passed (I Corinthians 13:8-11; Ephesians 3:3-5).
Therefore, if we do receive a new, but conflicting revelation or sensation, then we must question, if we did not cause ourselves to have such a revelation. It happened during Jeremiah's time (Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 13:1-3, 6-9). It should not surprise us that it would happen today.
A Calvinistic View:
It is the failure to accept and believe the three basic truths of the Bible (as given below) that give rise to much unsound theology including the erroneous doctrine of man's free will. These three basic truths are:
- God is absolutely sovereign, but man is responsible for his sins. This is a divine paradox and cannot be understood or reconciled by our limited human mind, but it must be accepted and believed. From Genesis to Revelation, this truth is emphasized in almost every page of the bible.
- No one is good but One God. (Matthew 19:17). This simple statement by Jesus is of profound theological importance. Only God is good, very good but man is bad, very bad.
- Man's salvation is 100% the work of God, the work of God the Father,
God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God starts the work of salvation
and He also finishes. (
Philippians 1:6). All the glory goes to God and none to man.
This seems to be the crux of the matter. Although it is believed that examining all of the earlier passages in detail are profitable towards a better understanding and confirming the central conclusion, it is inefficient and often ineffective to eliminate a tree by pulling it down one leaf at a time. Typically, one who seeks to remove a tree from the landscape does so by laying the ax to the trunk, or the root. Now, let us examine these fundamental points as outlined above:
A paradox is defined as:
"a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true" Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
But a contradiction is defined as:
"logical incongruity" or "a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another" Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
How can God make all choices, including determining that every one is born lost beyond their control, and then selecting a few to be saved without basis? All to bring about His own glory? According to the Bible this is unfair and proudful! What we see in the doctrines of unconditional election, total inherited depravity, and irresistible grace are contradictions with the Bible teaching of God's character. By faith, I am prepared to accept Bible teaching that does not reconcile with my experience. However, when one accepts a doctrine contrary to Bible teaching, it cannot be called faith, because it is not according to the Bible (Romans 10:17).
The chief inconsistency has been recognized, and it must not be hastily dismissed. If we cannot understand and harmonize the Bible, then how can we base any beliefs on it, including the arguments that were originally proposed? The Scripture must harmonize. God does not lie (Titus 1:2); therefore, any contradictions must be accounted to man's lie, else we abandon the idea of an all-powerful and all-knowing God, including all fundamental basis for understanding the Bible.
There are two ways to look at this, depending on how one views Adam's will: Either, God gave Adam free will and then unfairly condemned all of mankind for one man's mistake, over which mankind, except Adam, had no influence or control; or, God made Adam sin, by which He unfairly condemned all of mankind including Adam. There is no way around this. How can we honestly believe any doctrine that contradicts the Bible's clear teaching of God's character?
The absolute nature of the absolute statement that God is absolutely sovereign leaves no room but for the conclusion that God is absolutely responsible! How can one make Him 100% responsible for the salvation of the elect without making Him 100% responsible the condemnation of the reprobate? If we have nothing to do with our salvation, then we have nothing to do with our condemnation! This is the necessary implication of such absolute statements. There is no way around it.
If one cannot justify or base their belief on the Bible, then they cannot have faith in it according to the Bible. At this point, the entire doctrine collapses about the root!
God directly says that man is not to be held responsible for the actions of his ancestors, whether good or bad, but each will be judged on his own actions (Ezekiel 18:1-18). Also, He states that those who repent will not be held accountable for their past actions, whether good or bad (Ezekiel 18:19-32). Instead, each man will be judged based on his own ultimate actions (II Corinthians 5:10; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Matthew 16:27; Exodus 32:33).
I would really like to see these verses and thoughts explained, as they are my personal, fundamental Bible objection to the doctrines of Calvinism. Certainly, much more is included, and not everything is summarized by this point, yet it does seem to be a fundamental, unavoidable, and unacceptable inconsistency with the Bible.
- Matthew 19:17 contains another classic "not-but" construction, "not man, but God". Please observe the following contradiction, if such an interpretation is assumed: If the Calvinist interpretation is assumed that man is entirely devoid of good, absolutely, and since this statement is unqualified and unbounded by time, we were therefore never good, we are not good, and we will never be good - absolutely. Therefore, we will never be with God, since He cannot fellowship evil. Our sins and unworthiness to stand before God are not denied, but this passage cannot be read so that the words "entirely" or "absolutely" are inserted at the reader's discretion. Notice the following references to man being good, or having good qualities: Luke 23:50 and Acts 11:24. These verses directly contradict man being absolutely evil. Although some men may become absolutely evil, this does not negate that some men have some good qualities, ideals, and goals without being "good" to the same degree as God is absolutely "good".
One cannot present one set of verses while ignoring others:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." James 2:14-26
It seems that it takes all these things working together. God certainly does not need these things, yet He has made them a requirement and condition. Who are we to reject it? If we do not like God's requirements, who are we to complain or judge? Notice the fine difference between this and dismissing God's injustice: one accepts the Bible teaching on faith against his own reason, while the other accepts his own desired philosophy against the reason of Bible teaching.
Also, God has already promised to offer some form of praise to man on Judgment Day (I Corinthians 4:5; Romans 2:29). How is it that God can praise man without violating His own glorious sovereignty, yet man cannot accept God's grace without violating God's sovereignty?
"Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord." Matthew 25:23
Of course, man is not to praise himself, since it is useless and misdirected (I Corinthians 4:4; I Corinthians 1:31).
When it's all said and done, how can we accept a doctrine, no matter how rich its tradition and large its acceptance, when it contradicts the Bible's fundamental teaching of the nature of God? After all, the primary point of the doctrines of Calvin was to explain the nature of God and man. If it fails in its ultimate purpose, what is the purpose in believing it?
If one does not accept Calvinism, what is the alternative? A summary of the Bible teaching on the nature of man in relation to God and salvation is here provided.
God created man good and upright, beginning with Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 7:29). Adam and Eve sinned, ushering sin into the world (Genesis 3:1-13), bringing a physical curse upon the race (Genesis 3:16-24), separating themselves from God by sin (Genesis 3:16-24), and altering their character such that they became knowledgeable of both good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Although Adam and Eve lost their relationship with God, they did not immediately become depraved, but were knowledgeable of both good and evil (Genesis 3:22). All children begin life as fresh and innocent as Adam and Eve (compare Deuteronomy 1:39 with Genesis 3:22). They begin life in an innocent, pure, and humble state, which God fellowships (Matthew 18:1-5; 19:14).
Given enough time, all men reach a time of accountability and eventually sin (Romans 7:9-11; Romans 3:23). Death and sin spread through the world, not because Adam sinned, but "because all have sinned" (Romans 5:12). Like Adam and Eve, their sins separate them from God (Isaiah 59:2). Similarly, they do not immediately become depraved, but become subject to the gradual depravity, which God inflicts as a consequence of continually rejecting Him (Romans 1:18-32). Once a person rejects truth and providence long enough, which are the works of the Holy Spirit and the calling mechanisms of God (II Thessalonians 2:13-14; James 1:18; I Peter 5:10; John 16:7-15; and Psalm 119:67, 71), then man's conscience becomes seared, and he becomes utterly depraved and ceases to be reachable and repentable (Mark 3:28-30; Romans 1:21, 28; Ephesians 4:17-19; I Timothy 4:1-2). However, this is only accomplished through great stubbornness, resisting unavoidable pleas to repentance (Acts 9:5; Romans 2:4-10; II Peter 3:9).
If any time during this rebellion, man responds to the gospel (Romans 1:16), repents, and moves toward God (Acts 2:38), then God draws closer to him (James 4:6-8) and helps us continue to grow closer to Him through His Word (II Timothy 3:16-17; II Corinthians 3:18; James 1:21-25). If the Christian remains faithful to God and His Word, then he will ultimately be saved and reconciled to God (I Corinthians 15:1-2; Hebrews 10:35-39); however, if he again turns to evil, rebuilding the old prison of sin, then he will be lost (Galatians 2:17-18; I Corinthians 9:26-27; 10:12; Galatians 5:4; II Peter 2:20-22).
Why do people sin? We sin because we are drawn away by the lusts (I John 2:15-17), which are part of our natural body (Romans 8:20-21), and transgress God's commandments (James 1:14-15). Why does God save? God saves because He loves the whole world and does not want any one to be lost and destroyed (John 3:16; II Peter 3:9) - a far nobler goal than just to heap up His own glory. Why do men choose to be saved? Men sin, which separates them from God, but because of their Godlike nature (Genesis 1:26), they regret in their conscience and seek something better, maybe not knowing what or where, to which God responds in mercy (Romans 1:16; Matthew 21:28-31; II Corinthians 7:9-11; James 4:6-10; Acts 17:26-31). What is the basis of our salvation? How are we justified? It is certainly not by being wicked (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 17:15), or by justifying ourselves over God (Job 32:2; 40:8; Luke 7:29). But, we are justified first and foremost by accessing God's gracious gift of His Son on the cross, which provides forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 53:11; Romans 3:24; 5:9). When we humbly submit to God's Will through obedient faith (Luke 18:14; James 4:5-10), our sins are forgiven (Acts 15:38-39; 2:38), and our faith is substituted for the meritorious works which we should have accomplished (Romans 3:28; 4:2-5). This faith is evidenced, judged, and perfected through obedience to God's will (James 2:14-26; Matthew 12:37). Ultimately, it requires God working and man working (Philippians 2:12-13). Eliminating either is an unbiblical extreme. It is not that God could not have done it another way, but this is the way He revealed to us; therefore, it is the way that He chose and we must accept, if we want to be saved ...
These thoughts are offered to address points and questions that could not be addressed in the article series due to length constraints. Also, this page offers the opportunity for feedback from the reader. This page is constantly under construction and development. If you would like your question or comment considered here, please e-mail your thoughts to the page's author. If you would like to offer more of your thoughts concerning Calvinism, be sure to complete our on-line correspondence course on Calvinism.
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