I am going to give a brief overview of Calvinism in this post. This means that I am going to provide a explanation of each of the five points of Calvinism and then provide the strongest arguments in favor of each point. This was a Sermon I present at Grace URC for the second Service and so the content is very simple at the cost of not being overly precise. But this is a very good general introduction and defense to Calvinism.
With that being said let us move right into the first point of Calvinism which is Total depravity. There are a few misunderstandings about this point so I will start with what this point is not saying: This point is not saying that human beings are so evil that they cannot do any civil or public good. Furthermore, this is not saying that we ought to expect human beings to be so evil that we should expect every unbeliever to have actually committed murder and adultery. Why if that were true that would make the T.V. Show Law and Order only 30 minutes instead of hour because the cops would know right away that the prime suspects to all the crimes would be unbelievers. Well this is not what Total depravity is teaching rather what it is teaching is that Human beings in their fallen state cannot do any spiritual good and cannot choose God (unless of course God chooses to give them grace sufficient to save them). The three best verses in support of this doctrine are John 6:44, Romans 3:10-12, and Romans 8:8, I am telling you them ahead of time so that you can turn to them in your bibles. So let us first look at John 6:44 44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. The verse just says you cannot come to God unless he draws you and that person who is drawn is raised in glory on the last day. Now let us turn to Romans 3:10-12 10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." The funny thing is that some of these are so clear that they require little exposition. But the point of this passage is that unbelievers cannot do spiritual good and they cannot seek God. And obviously if one were believing in Christ they would be seeking God, so this verse clearly teaches total depravity. But perhaps the clearest and concise verse of all is Romans 8:8 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. If you are a unbeliever you cannot please God and clearly by believing in Christ and doing a good work is pleasing to God, therefore, according to Romans 8:8 unbelievers cannot do this.
All of these verses clearly establish total depravity, so let us move on to the next point which is unconditional election. The point of unconditional election teaches that before the foundation of the word and before we were born God choose us and predestined us in Christ Jesus. This choosing of God is based on anything about us like our foreseen faith or works but rather it is based on the free will and good pleasure of God. God chooses many for eternal life and others for eternal distress and this is not based on the creature, but based on God and bringing about his greater glory. This is clearly taught in two places in God's word: Romans 9:11-23 and Ephesians 1:4-12, Let us read Romans 9:11-23 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad-- in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls-- she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-- prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory--” This verse really could not be any clearer. God freely chooses many for eternal life and eternal death not based on anything about them, but based on his greater glory. If anyone ever objects that this verse is not really teaching Calvinism then all you really have to do is point out all of the objections that Paul anticipates like 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! And "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" These are precisely the sort of objections you get when you teach Calvinism, so clearly Paul is teaching Calvinism otherwise he would not anticipate these objections. Well Ephesians 1:4-12 is just as strong so let us turn there Ephesians 1:4-12 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” This verse is a wonderful verse that shows us God's unconditional love for us in Christ Jesus. The point is that we were chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world and this was not according to our agenda, but according to God's free will, pleasure, and glorification. I would say that these two places are by far the strongest places to go to support this doctrine.
But with that being said lets move to one of the most controversial points of Calvinism Limited Atonement. Limited atonement or perhaps more accurately called particular redemption teaches that Christ dies for the elect only, that is to say Christ death only atones for the sins of those who were chosen and saved by God. This view denies that Christ has died for every single person who has ever lived. So whats the biblical evidence for this controversial view? The nature of the atonement itself is perhaps the best evidence for this view. The atonement is a propitiation, that is to say, the atonement is a turning aside of the wrath and anger of God for sin because Jesus Christ took our place. For this let us look to Romans 3:25 which reads Romans 3:25 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- Now the NIV translates the Greek word i`lasth,rion to mean a sacrifice of atonement, but that is technically not precise enough. The Greek word i`lasth,rion means propitiation and the definition of propitiation is turning aside the wrath of God. Therefore, the implication is that Christ's death turns asides and satisfied God's anger and wrath toward sin. So if this is what the atonement did and Christ satisfied God's just anger and wrath for our sins. Then what is the implication if one rejects limited atonement and says that Christ died for all people? Well this means that God is not justly angry or wrathful toward anyone which means everyone is going to heaven, but this is false because the Bible clearly teaches that there are people who are going to hell in Matthew 25:46 - 26:1 46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Finally, another strong argument comes from Romans 8:31-34 and Romans 8 especially verses 31 and following is about how believers should not worry about losing their salvation because nothing can separate us from the saving love of Christ Jesus, so with that in mind lets read Romans 8:31-34 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Here the fact that Christ died for us is suppose to comfort us and assure us that we are saved. Now if the arminian is right and Christ died for those who are suffering in hell forever and ever, then mentioning the fact that Christ died for you would not be a very comforting fact because Christ dies for those who are in hell and who do not have salvation. And lastly perhaps one of the most classic texts in support of the Reformed position is John 10:11 which reads 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Now arminians are quick to point out that just because Jesus says he dies for his sheep (believers) it does not mean that Jesus did not die for other people. But the problem with this rationalization of this text is that Jesus mentions unbelievers and false teachers in the context, so it seems like Jesus is implicitly excluding them from the benefits of His death. So let me give you an example of what I mean: If I came to you today and I said well there are some churches in town like a baptist church, and there is a Lutheran church, but today I have gift for this church. Now I dare say that everyone would take what I am saying in a exclusive sense, that is to say you would all interpret it to mean that I have only given this church a gift and not the other churches in town. But this is what Jesus does in John 10 he mentions unbelievers in the context and in so doing he implicitly does not includes unbelievers from the benefits of his death and includes only believers. Those are the most powerful arguments for limited atonement so lets move on to the most powerful arguments for Irresistible grace.
Irresistible grace is the doctrine that when God graciously wills to saved you and creates faith in your heart you cannot resist and you cannot do otherwise. There three verses that strongly support Irresistible grace John 6:44, Ephesians 2:8-9, and Romans 9:18-20. Let us turn to our first verse found in John 6:44 it reads: 44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. This passage is teaching that anyone who is drawn is raised up on the last day. Raised up refers to being raised up in glory rather than damnation because Jesus consistently uses the phrase “on the last day” in this way throughout the entire discourse (John 6:39-40). Moreover, the Greek word e[lkw (or "draws") suggests that it is Irresistible because John uses it with regards to Peter dragging fish that he has caught (John 21:11) and John seems to use it this way consistently throughout his Gospel. If the arminian wants to suggest that all persons are drawn then all people will go to heaven because those who are drawn are raised in glory in verse 44. And Suggesting that all people go to heaven as we have seen is demonstrably false from Matthew 25. As we will see John 6:44 also has implication for perseverance of the saints. So lets move on to our next verse Ephesians 2:8-9 which reads Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. The reason why this verse teaches irresistible grace is because the faith and grace we have is not from us, but it originates with God which means if God wills to save us and our ability to have faith solely comes from God then we cannot resist it (because after all it is not of us). In the Greek “this not from yourselves” refers both to faith and grace. So faith is a creation of God and not of us which means it is not of our ability to resist it. So with that in mind let us move to our last verse which is Romans 9:18-20 it reads 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will? 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?” Paul here is anticipating a common arminian objection to irresistible grace which is “well if God irresistibly causes you to be saved and to be damned then why would God hold you morally accountable for something you cannot resist?” If Paul were not teaching Calvinism here specifically irresistible grace then Paul would never anticipate these objections. In other words, if Paul was teaching the arminian view which is resistible grace then these questions and objections would never come up. But they do which shows conclusively that Paul was teaching Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace. So if we are getting the same objections that Paul got we are probably in pretty good shape.
Perseverance of the Saint
Perseverance of the saints is the last point of Calvinism which teaches that once you are genuinely saved you cannot lose your salvation. This point has been subject to gross misrepresentation and mocking because people paint it like this: Once saved always saved no matter what you do, no matter what you do your always going to be saved. And people also say well if once saved always saved is true then you could just take out a gun and start shooting people at random and you still you will saved. Well this is not the way we as Reformed Christian view it. We view it like this: those who are genuinely saved will not lose their salvation and a sign that someone never had salvation to begin with is if they do not persevere in the faith which is manifested by rejecting Christ and living in unrepentant sin. Now although this view has been mocked by many it has ample biblical support, the verse we will be looking at is John 6:44, John 10:28-29, and Romans 8:34-39. Lets us turn in our Bibles to John 6:44: John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. Here John could not make it any clearer if you are drawn by God you will be raised in a glorious resurrection body, there is no thought or concern in John's mind that those who are drawn will fall away and be damned to hell. But John makes this even clearer in John 10:28-29 which reads 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. Again John is crystal clear: those who have eternal life and who are in the Fathers hand no one can snatch them out, in other words when they are in the Fathers hand they will always remain there. And finally we are going to end on this last verse which is perhaps one of the strongest verses in favor of perseverance of the saints and it is found in Romans 8:34 – 8:39 and it reads 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This verse teaches that nothing in all creation can separate us from the saving love of Jesus Christ and the logic here is inescapable: If nothing in all creation can separate us from Jesus Christ's saving love, then are you a part of creation? The answer is: Yes! So once you are genuinely saved you cannot even separate yourselves from the love of Christ Jesus which means you cannot lose your salvation. This is an amazing truth as are all the points of Calvinism. And this is why I wanted to spend our time on them today, for you see if one rejects Calvinism they are ultimately compromising the Love and Glory of God. And in all we do we should glorify God even in our Doctrine.