Dluxe's World

Tuesday, October 17

(Pre)Destined for debate [4]

Part 1, Part 2, and/or Part 3 should be considered required reading before diving in here.

Reading the Bible had led proto-Dluxe (aka, Me) to conclude that salvation is a gift the God grants to those He chooses to save. I was and am convinced that Ephesians 1 & 2 clearly shows God as the 'first-mover' who softens our heart to hear and understand the Gospel.

My home church's pastor would probably have agreed with that statement, provided it was qualified that the final choice rests with the individual. The problem I had with that view is that it still puts God in the position of being selective... Think about it: If we're hardened to the Gospel and unresponsive to God then the Holy Spirit has to be 'on the hook' for our outcome. He's the one who softens me, and He determines the amount of tenderizing that my heart gets.

If He softens me only a little, my natural choice is going to be sin. If He softens me past the tipping point, I'm going to choose Christ. And He can't simply push me to a neutral position and "let me decide", because everything in me (naturally) is craving evil and I have no motive force towards good. So by getting me to the middle, I'd end up like a boat that's grounded on a reef - Stuck.

And when we get right down to it even simply 'foreknowing' whether or not I'd come to faith casts God as the choice-maker. He made me, so couldn't He choose to make me some better, more responsive, way? Couldn't He put more objects in my path to push me closer and closer to choosing Christ? God is still sovereignly shaping the little microcosm in which I make my 'choice'. Predestination, then, is an argument of semantics at its core.

This put me in an awkward spot... I was a Methodist, after all! And the beliefs I now held were on the fringe (at best) of the official position of the church. It wasn't when I was 25, married, and out of college that I first heard the word 'Calvinism' used favorably. For a long time, I would've been fairly categorized as a 4-point Calvinist. It's only been within the last year-and-a-half that I've come to affirm all 5 points of Calvin's doctrine. What I'd like to do is just go through the TULIP briefly and present my little take on each.
  • [T]otal Depravity - Though the issue I struggled with as a teenager was the idea of 'election', it was the recognition of the nature of sin that turned the lightbulb on in my heart. It's fitting then that this is the first doctrine in Calvin's system.

    We are dead in our sins and enemies of God by nature (Ephesians 2:1-5, Mark 7:21-23, Romans 3:18-32). Our sin takes us past the point of being 'deaf' to God's voice... Instead, we're actually sitting with our fingers stuck in our ears babbling "LALALALALA" like a petulant child. We're unable to understand God or respond to Him (1 Corinthians 2:14) until we undergo some radical change.

  • [U]nconditional Election - God could justly leave us dead and that would be the end of things. We'd all die, go to Hell for our sins, and God would be just and glorious. Simple.

    But God has chosen to glorify Himself by actively choosing to redeem some of us (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:3-14, Acts 13:48) out of nothing but grace. Scripture is clear that not all will be saved (Matthew 7:21-22) so some discrimination is being made here... Why would God not save everyone or give everyone an equal shot? Isn't that the obvious question?

    The default answer is simply that God has chosen a different method which must, therefore, be maximally glorious. Going beyond that quasi-philosophical (but completely Biblical) position, we should also recognize that God's desire is to display His surpassing grace and love through those He saves. While I want to tread gently here, I think it is fair to say that there must be some contrast in order to make God's love appear as awesome as it is. So, love without un-love isn't really love at all. Would we think that a husband really loves his wife if we couldn't see differences between his conduct and feelings towards her versus towards the rest of the world?

    I think it's also important to distinguish between fact and experience here... I don't know many people, Calvinist or otherwise, who'd argue that we 'make a decision' for Christ at the time of our salvation. We certainly respond to the Gospel in an act of our will... But while that is our experience, what is the reality that envelopes that experience? I love this quote from Spurgeon:
    When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this.

    I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul... One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?

    Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God." (C.H. Spurgeon, "A Defense of Calvinism")
  • [L]imited Atonement - Ok... This is the one that took me the longest, thanks to many over-the-top, inappropriately zealous Calvinists. Some people look at the idea of Limited Atonement and simply state something like "Christ died solely for the elect" with chests puffed out. That position, while Biblical, is really only narrowly Biblical. It ignores the obvious relationship of Christ to the rest of the world (remember John 3:16).

    Properly defined, however, the concept of Limited Atonement is absolutely neccessary (baggage or no baggage) Without it, we must logically fall into one of two very heretical stances. Christ bore the active wrath of God, paying the penalty for sin while He was on the cross. If Christ's atonement is unlimited, either God is obligated to save everyone (which Scripture plainly states isn't the case) or will dish out double-punishment for some sins. In the latter case, God is effectively like bookie who decides to break your kneecaps anyway, even though you paid off your tab.

    In this case, the modern Reformed 'label' of Particular Redemption really does capture the truth of the Gospel better then 'Limited Atonement'. Christ went to the cross to redeem particular people from particular sins. This is not meant to set aside that the cross has benefit, in some way, for all mankind (the world). But it is clearly only salvific [oooh!] for those who God intended to redeem.

  • [I]rrestistable Grace - God stands at the door of Heaven and offers salvation to all mankind. The problem is that we're running away from His offer just as fast as we can. God reaches out, through election, and grabs us by the shirt collar - like a parent grabs a kid wandering into traffic - and turns us back to Himself. Those who God has purposed to save will be saved.

    John Piper, as always, puts it so well:
    The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible....

    More specifically irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If our doctrine of total depravity is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, totally unable to submit to God, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.

    Someone may say, "Yes, the Holy Spirit must draw us to God, but we can use our freedom to resist or accept that drawing." Our answer is: except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God. That is what it means to be "unable to submit to God." If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature. If a person remains too hard hearted and proud to submit to God, it is because that person has not been given such a willing spirit. (John Piper, "What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism")

  • [P]erseverance of the Saints - Your salvation is a gift from God, wrought through Christ's sacrifice, and applied by the Holy Spirit. As such, you are eternally secure. God will preserve you and bring to a completion the work that has started in you (1 Peter 1:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

    This does not mean that we won't sin again. It does mean that God's love for us was sufficient to overcome our weakness in the first place and will continue to do so. If we pulled ourselves out of the ocean, the next wave could easily drag us right back out to sea. But if God's hand reached down to pull us out, there's nothing that could pull us away.

    The danger here obviously that some will use God's preservation of the saints either for an excuse to go on sinning or as some sort of Anti-Hell Insurance. And such behavior makes us doubt the whole doctrine... But ask yourself: Do these people demonstrate hearts that have been softened by the Gospel and honestly submitted to Christ? I don't think we have a good framework to judge, but we shouldn't let the obvious abuse invalidate the truth of the doctrine.
This is already a long post, so I want to bring it to a close quickly... First, allow me one last quote - this time from Donald Barnhouse via Phil Ryken in "The Message of Salvation":
The famous American Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895–1960) often used an illustration to help people make sense of election. He asked them to imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: "Whosoever will may come." These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life.

On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: "Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world." Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past."

That God would allow us to come to Him is amazing. That God pursues and brings us to Himself is too great for words... And that is the Gospel.

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