Posted by Pastor Bryan Walker

A Summary of Reformed Theology by Justin West

Reformed theology can best be summed up in Calvin’s Five Points:

– Total Depravity

– Unconditional Election

– Limited Atonement

– Irresistible Grace

– Perseverance of the Saints

This theological worldview is exactly that, a worldview, and as such, no list of five points could possibly encompass all that it entails.  However, this list is the best way to briefly summarize the belief system and contrast it with other worldviews, primarily Arminianism, also known as Semi-Pelagianism.  Semi-Pelagianism is a derivative of Pelagianism, a theological point of view which developed from a 4th century monk named Pelagius, who taught that grace was helpful in salvation, but not necessary. Semi-Pelagianism claims that grace is necessary for salvation, but that this grace is resistible, offered to all men, and dependent upon the free choice of man to accept it.

 

It is the goal of this paper to explore a wide-ranging and thorough view of the Scriptures on these ideas, rather than to cherry-pick verses from their natural context in order to be shaped to a particular theology. We are not interested in making Scripture fit our worldviews; we are dedicated to shaping our worldview from Scripture.

 

Total Depravity

R.C. Sproul refers to total depravity as radical corruption, since the term total depravity could be misconstrued to mean that man is utterly depraved, meaning that he is as wicked as he could possibly be and that there is no goodness in him.  This is not what total depravity means; the “total” should be seen as referring to the fact that every part of man is affected by Adam’s fall.  One of the most significant results of this fall is that man’s will is also depraved and fallen, and as such, no man desires God on his own.  The only way that a man is able to desire God, and ultimately salvation, is if his will is first changed by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration.

 

Psalm 14:1-3: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.  The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

– None do good. None understand. None seek God. “Not even one.”

 

Ecclesiastes 7:20: Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

 

Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

 

Romans 8:5-8: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 

– “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” A valid question to ask is, “What would please God more than a man choosing him?” In fact, Jesus even says this very thing: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

However, it is impossible to please God in the flesh. Only those in the Spirit can please God, so being in the Spirit must logically precede repentance.

 

Ephesians 2:1-3: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind

 

–           Sometimes Arminians may refer to man’s condition as a terminal illness or grave situation.  A man is in a hospital bed, on the verge of death. The gospel is the only medicine that will save him. God does everything He possibly can…He brings the perfect medicine to the man and places it on a spoon, putting it up to the man’s lips. All he has to do is open his mouth and receive it, and he will live.

Another example involves a drowning man. He is bobbing up and down in the wave-tossed ocean, going under and coming back up, gasping for breath, almost about to drown. God throws the life preserver to the perfect position, right into the man’s hand. All the man has to do is take hold of the life preserver and he will be saved.

These examples couldn’t be further from the truth. As Paul states above in Ephesians, a man in the flesh is DEAD. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”  Dead. No life. Dead. In a body bag. At the bottom of the ocean. Incapable of anything and everything related to God. Dead.

 

John 6:63-65: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

– No one can come to Jesus unless the Father grants it. “Can” is a term of ability. Man does not even have the ability to come to Christ unless the Father acts first.

 

Westminster Confession of Faith: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

 

John Calvin: “This liberty is compatible with our being depraved, the servants of sin, able to do nothing but sin. In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! That man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however ethelodoulous (a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin.”

 

Jonathan Edwards spoke of our will as “the mind choosing.” He concluded “we always choose according to the inclination that is strongest at the moment. This is a crucial insight into the will. It means that every choice we make has an antecedent cause. Our choices are not ‘spontaneous,’ arising out of nothing. There is a reason for every choice we make. In a narrow sense every choice we make is determined.” (R.C. Sproul, What Is Reformed Theology? p 133).

 

The reason that we do not choose God while we are in the flesh is because we have no desire to choose Him. Our inclination is strongest toward sin while we are in the flesh. The only way that our desire can be inclined toward the things of God is if we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, are our inclinations changed to desiring God.

 

Westminster Confession of Faith: “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.”

 

In summation, total depravity means that the fall has affected every man such that no man desires to come to God, and no man is even able to come to God, as Jesus stated in John 6, unless he is first chosen and regenerated by God.  We have free will; we are never under compulsion. Those who are in the flesh choose sin and do it gladly. Those who are in the Spirit choose Christ and do it gladly. But the only way one can be in the Spirit is if the Holy Spirit first regenerates him, since it is impossible to choose God in the flesh.

 

Unconditional Election

Unconditional election is the choosing of God for some to salvation, necessarily meaning that those not chosen are left to their sin and ultimately eternal damnation. This can also be referred to as predestination. This can be quite the sticking point for those who don’t hold to the Reformed theology. However, it is painfully obvious that the Bible teaches a doctrine of predestination; to claim otherwise is refuted by numerous Scripture passages.

 

Ephesians 1:4-5: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will

 

Ephesians 1:11: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will

 

– God works ALL THINGS according to the counsel of His will.

 

Acts 4:28: to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place

 

Romans 8:29-30: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

 

One aspect of predestination is election.  The Bible certainly speaks of election as well:

 

2 John 1:13: The children of your elect sister greet you.

 

Romans 8:33: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

 

Romans 11:7: What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened

 

Romans 11:28: As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

 

2 John 1:1: The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth

 

Matthew 24:22: And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

 

Matthew 24:24: For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

 

Mark 13:20: And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.

 

Mark 13:22: For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

 

Mark 13:27: And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 

Luke 18:7: And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?

 

1 Timothy 5:21: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

 

2 Timothy 2:10: Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

 

Titus 1:1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness

 

1 Peter 1:1: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

 

2 Peter 1:10: Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

 

Matthew 24:31: And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

 

Romans 9:11: though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—

 

Why belabor this point? Why list so many references to election and predestination? The answer is simple: to show that the Bible certainly teaches election and predestination.  There is no avoiding it. A Bible-believing Christian must have a doctrine of predestination. The question is, what does the Bible mean by the doctrine of predestination? How should we handle these texts, and many others?

 

R.C. Sproul says: “In summary we may define predestination broadly as follows: From all eternity God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish. God made a choice—he chose some individuals to be saved unto everlasting blessedness in heaven, and he chose others to pass over, allowing them to suffer the consequences of their sins, eternal punishment in hell.” (Sproul, p 143).

 

I would assume that both those following Reformed theology and Arminians alike would agree that God is sovereign. That means that He can and does do whatever He chooses. It means that everything that happens in the universe happens within His sovereignty, and by logical extension, is His will. Let’s spend some time researching Scripture addressing God’s sovereignty.

 

Isaiah 46:9-11: Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

 

God will accomplish ALL His purpose. He has a purpose, and He will accomplish it. This is a non-negotiable truth. Even things that have not yet happened have been declared, planned, and purposed by God, and they will happen.

 

Proverbs 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

 

– Even the roll of the dice in Las Vegas is from God. Seemingly random occurrences…all from God. Everything.

 

Matthew 10:29-31: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

Isaiah 40:26: Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

 

– Every last corner of the universe, every molecule obeys the command and the will of God. He calls every star by name.

 

Job 37:10-13: By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

 

– All of creation obeys God’s commands. He causes every natural event to happen.

 

Exodus 4:11: Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

 

Deuteronomy 32:39: ‘See now that I, even I, am he,

and there is no god beside me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

 

James 4:13-15: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

 

– God has sovereignty over the affairs of men.

 

 

Daniel 2:21: He changes times and seasons;

he removes kings and sets up kings;

he gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to those who have understanding;

 

– The world’s leaders are established by God…see also Romans 13.

 

Proverbs 21:1: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

– Not only does God establish the world’s leaders; He moves their hearts as He pleases.

 

Acts 4:27-28: For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

 

– Even, and especially, in humanity’s worst act, the murder of the only sinless man in history, God’s will was being accomplished.

 

Matthew 11:27: All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

 

– No one can know the Father except for Jesus, and except for anyone to whom the Son CHOOSES to reveal Him.  It is Jesus’ choice. It is God’s choice.

 

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.

 

– Faith is not our own doing. We cannot choose faith. It is a gift from God.

 

Romans 9:10-12: And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

 

– God’s purpose of election is not based on anything we do. It is because of God.

 

Romans 9:15-16: For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

 

It does not depend on our exertion. It does not depend on our will. It is not our choice. It all depends on God, who has mercy on whom He chooses to have mercy.

 

This list is thorough but by no means comprehensive or all-encompassing. Scripture screams God’s sovereignty, from Genesis through Revelation. God chose Abraham. He chose Moses. He chose Israel. He chose David. He chose the twelve. He chose Paul. He chooses.

 

A question to ponder: could God have saved everyone? The answer, in view of God’s sovereignty, must necessarily be yes. However, that was not and is not His will. God chose to allow some to perish and spend eternity separated from Him in hell.

 

So regardless of a Christian’s views of election, he must hold the logical conclusion that God, in His omniscience and foreknowledge, chose for most of the human race to spend eternity in hell. If this were not His will, it would not be so. The only alternative to this supposition is that God is not sovereign. God could have created a world without humans. He could have created a world with humans in which every man was saved. However, this is clearly not the case. God created a universe knowing from eternity past that most men would be destined for eternal damnation.

 

One last question on the issue of God’s sovereignty: if you claim that it was your choice to receive Christ, how do you reconcile that with God’s sovereignty? Take some time, marinate in the reality of God’s sovereignty. Read the Scripture passages that are explicit that God is absolutely sovereign. And then, after you’ve done that, ask yourself, “If I am saved, is that God’s will?” Ask, “If my neighbor is not saved, is that God’s will?”  I cannot see how anyone who claims the sovereignty of God can also claim that he is saved because of his choice. Yes, you did freely choose God, but only after He freely chose you. Your salvation, or lack thereof, is His will. It must be so.

 

Now we turn to the question of why God chooses whom He chooses.

 

One view of predestination is that God looks down the corridors of time and sees who will eventually come to faith. It is these that He “predestines.” Hopefully, studying the doctrine of total depravity has extinguished this possibility in your mind, but for argument’s sake, let’s entertain the idea.

 

This would be called “conditional election.” God’s election would be based on some action or quality in a man that leads him to faith, so God elects him. God knows in advance who will choose Him, so those He chooses.

 

Romans 8:29-30 sheds some light on the issue: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” The Armenian, or prescient, view of this doctrine claims that since foreknowledge is first in the “golden chain,” that foreknowledge must be the basis of predestination. In other words, because God already knows who will choose Him, those are the ones He predestines.

 

This order is crucial. We can assume by the language the word “all.” All whom are predestined are called, all whom are called are justified, etc. Otherwise, the argument is nonsense. So let’s follow the chain in view of the prescient belief.

 

All whom are foreknown are predestined. Those whom are predestined are called. Those whom are called are justified. Here we have a problem.  What is meant by “called”? There are two possibilities: the external call and the internal call. The external call can be experienced by believers and non-believers alike; it is hearing the gospel, and it applies to everyone within earshot of someone proclaiming the gospel.

 

However, if the external call is in view here, the prescient view collapses. The implication is that “all” is assumed in every step of this chain, or else it makes no sense. So obviously not all who hear the external call are justified. The other possible meaning of “call” is an internal call, the effectual call of the Holy Spirit, which leads a man to repentance and salvation. The language of these verses leads us to believe that the calling must refer to the internal, effectual call of the Holy Spirit.

 

The order of salvation is Foreknowledge->Predestination->Calling->Justification->Glorification. If calling (which would necessarily have to be the external call to make sense in the prescient view) preceded predestination, then the prescient view may have a case, meaning that some respond to the external call and are then predestined. However, as it stands, predestination precedes calling. We are predestined, then we are called. In the Reformed view, God foreknows those He will predestine to receive the internal, effectual call of the Holy Sprit, leading to justification and, ultimately, glorification. This is exactly how Romans 8:29-30 reads. As R.C. Sproul puts it, “The prescient view makes faith a condition of election; Reformed theology sees faith as the result of election…Reformed theologians understand the golden chain as follows: From all eternity God foreknew his elect. He had an idea of their identity in his mind before he created them. He foreknew them not only in the sense of having a prior idea of their personal identities, but also in the sense of foreloving them…The Reformed view teaches that all whom God has foreknown, he has also predestined to be inwardly called, justified, and glorified. God sovereignly brings to pass the salvation of his elect and only of his elect” (Sproul, p. 147).

 

One final consideration on unconditional election: what makes one man respond to the same gospel message in faith and another man reject it? The Reformed view would say that the one who responds in faith is one of God’s elect who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, the answer from the Arminian point of view must necessarily be something in the man that is the difference. It must mean that the one who responds in faith is more knowledgeable or more righteous or more discerning or more humble…he must be better in some way than the one who rejects the gospel. This would lead to boasting, which is excluded: “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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

The Arminian must hold that there is something different within those who respond positively to faith. It must necessarily be so. But Scripture clearly teaches that “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). Salvation is wholly dependent upon God.

 

One of the biggest objections Arminians have with the Reformed doctrine is that it seems unfair for God to choose some and not others. It’s unfair that Christ only died for some and not all. However, from whose perspective are we looking at this? What’s “fair” is for all men to perish and spend eternity in hell. God doesn’t owe us anything, and the moment that He does owe us something, whatever it is He gives us becomes an obligation rather than grace. The very definition of grace means that it is given under no obligation. If His election is based on our faith, then it is an obligation and ceases to be grace.

 

A better way to look at the situation is from the perspective of justice, rather than fairness. Justice would be for all of us to spend eternity separated from God, because of the massive offense that our sins are against God. God chooses to give some people mercy. The rest receive justice. So there is no injustice in God! “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (Romans 9:14-15). Because of this, it only follows that Christ’s atonement was not for all but rather for the elect.

 

Limited Atonement

J.I. Packer says of the difference between Reformed and Arminian theology:

 

The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man… (Sproul, p 163-164).

 

The question of atonement centers on the question: “Did Christ die to atone for the sins of every human being, or did he die to atone for the sins of the elect only?…Is Christ a real Savior or merely a ‘potential’ Savior?” (Sproul, p 164).

 

All believers in Christ who are not Universalists must believe in some form of limited atonement. If, from the Arminian point of view, the atonement was for all mankind and was a full, total atonement, then everyone would be saved. Arminians do not believe this is the case, so in that sense, the atonement for them is only a potential atonement. The “transaction” is only completed when one chooses to have faith in God (again, we’ve seen previously that this is not Scriptural). Packer says it this way: “Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe” (Sproul, p 164).

 

On the other hand, the Reformed doctrine of the atonement holds that Christ died only for the elect, for those whom He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and will eventually glorify, known from eternity past. The atonement was not for everyone. However, those whom the atonement was intended for receive a full atonement. The act was complete and depends on no other action. Those who were redeemed by the atonement will necessarily come to faith, for this is the will of God (again, we have already seen that this must be the case in view of God’s sovereignty).

 

Arminians often claim that in their view of the atonement, Christ’s work is sufficient for all, but only efficient for some. However, how can that be the case? If something is sufficient, then it is enough. That means there is nothing else that needs to be done. If this were the case, then Christ’s atonement for all would be sufficient, and all would be saved, which both sides agree is not the case. This further limits the atonement that Arminians say is unlimited. “If faith is a condition for God’s justice to be satisfied,” R.C. Sproul states, “then the atonement, in itself, is not sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. In itself the atonement is not ‘sufficient’ for anyone, let alone for all. Full satisfaction is not rendered until or unless a person adds to the atonement his faith” (Sproul, p 166).

 

Again, let me defer to Sproul to further settle the matter:

 

Let me consider the benefit of Christ’s atonement for me. I am presently a believer in Christ. Today I enjoy the benefit of an atonement made for me centuries ago. Did that atonement satisfy the demands of God’s justice on all of my sins? If it did, then it satisfied the penalty for the sin of my previous unbelief. Was that sin paid for before I believed? Or was Christ’s atonement not complete until I came to faith? Did his death cover my unbelief or not? If it did, why then does his atonement not cover the unbelief of unbelievers? It covers my former unbelief but not the present unbelief or unbelievers. Advocates of unlimited atonement say the sin of unbelief is not covered unless the condition of faith is met. My faith then makes Christ’s atonement efficacious for me. If faith is necessary to the atonement, then Christ’s work was indeed a mere potentiality. In itself it saves no one. It merely makes salvation possible. Theoretically we must ask the obvious question, What would have happened to the work of Christ if nobody believed in it? That had to be a theoretical possibility. In this case Christ would have died in vain. He would have been a potential Savior of all but an actual Savior of none (Sproul, p 167).

 

Irresistible Grace

We now move on to irresistible grace. I will allow the Westminster Confession to introduce this concept in much more elegant language than I am capable of writing:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace (Reformation Study Bible, p 1747).

 

In summary, irresistible grace is also known as effectual calling. God the Holy Spirit will by grace bring to faith those whom God the Father has elected from before the universe was created.   “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). This grace is grace that man cannot overcome, and once he is regenerated, in fact does not desire to overcome but rather desires the opposite: to enter into a permanent saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

The semi-Pelagian views that there is grace that is extended to all mankind, called prevenient grace, which empowers every man the ability to respond to the gospel. Sproul on the issue of prevenient grace:

The problem is this: If grace is necessary but not effectual, what makes it work? Obviously it is the positive response of the sinner, who is still in the flesh. Why does one sinner respond to the offer of grace positively and the other negatively? Is the difference in response found in the power of the human will or in some added measure of grace? Does grace assist the sinner in cooperating with grace, or does the sinner cooperate by the power of the flesh alone? If the latter, it is unvarnished Pelagianism. If the former, it is still Pelagianism in that grace merely facilitates regeneration and salvation….If the flesh can, by itself, incline itself to grace, where is the need of grace? If the grace of regeneration is merely offered and its efficacy depends on the sinner’s response, what does grace accomplish that is not already present in the power of the flesh? (Sproul, p 188).

 

This is a question that must be answered. Scripture clearly teaches that the man in the flesh is hostile to God. He hates God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).But Sproul does not stop there.

What the unregenerate person desperately needs in order to come to faith is regeneration. This is the necessary grace. It is the sine qua non of salvation. Unless God changes the disposition of my sinful heart, I will never choose to cooperate with grace or embrace Christ in faith. These are the very things to which the flesh is indisposed. If God merely offers to change my heart, what will that accomplish for me as long as my heart remains opposed to him? If he offers me grace while I am a slave to sin and still in the flesh, what good is the offer? Saving grace does not offer liberation, it liberates. Saving grace does not merely offer regeneration, it regenerates. This is what makes grace so gracious: God unilaterally and monergistically does for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Sproul, p 188).

 

So grace is irresistible because of the golden chain in Romans 8. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). Those who are predestined are also called. This is the internal, effectual call of the Holy Spirit. All who are predestined are called; all who are called are justified; all who are justified are glorified. If the “all” is not implied, the verses are nonsense. All who are predestined are called, by effectual calling, or irresistible grace.

 

Perseverance of the Saints

This point can be summed up in the previous passage from Romans 8; in the golden chain, all who are foreknown and predestined are eventually glorified, meaning they reach heaven and enter eternal communion and fellowship with their Father. Not much else needs to be said, as the five points form somewhat of a pyramid, with the bulk of the arguments being made initially and building on each other. Total depravity is the base of the pyramid, and we work our way up to perseverance of the saints. Once these foundational arguments are formed, the rest of the points must logically follow.

 

R.C. Sproul refers to this concept as preservation of the saints, rather than perseverance. Perseverance can have a misleading connotation, meaning that it is the power of man to persevere to the end, where preservation has a more accurate tone, intending to mean that God preserves us to the end. Regardless of the language used, the concept is that those whom God predestines and saves will always ultimately be saved. The elect are unable to fall from salvation. “Once saved, always saved,” or even more accurately, “always saved, always saved.” “A simple way to remember the essence of the doctrine of perseverance is to learn this ditty: ‘If we have it, we never lose it. If we lose it, we never had it.” (Sproul, p 197). This does not mean that the elect won’t fall into sin or falter in the faith, sometimes even spectacularly and dramatically. However, the elect will, when this happens, ultimately be restored to faith, which leads to glorification.

 

Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 8:31-39: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

 

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

John 6:37-40: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

 

The Westminster Confession states this concept eloquently:

They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved (Reformation Study Bible, p 1627).

 

And

 

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof (Sproul, p 210).

 

After making the assertions of the previous four points, preservation of the saints is an essential and necessary conclusion, and we come to this end logically and without reservation.

 

So Why Evangelize?

Some may ask that if we are to accept the Reformed theological viewpoint, why do we evangelize? Won’t the elect be saved regardless of what we do?

 

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Matthew 9:37-38: Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

 

John 10:16: And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

 

Romans 10:11—15: For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

 

Philemon 6: and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

 

God told Paul that He had many people in Corinth (even though many had not yet heard the gospel) so what was Paul’s response? Did he leave the city and move on, since God would save those people anyway? Quite the opposite:

 

Acts 18:9-11: And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

 

This was Paul’s first missionary trip to Corinth. How did God already have many in the city, if they hadn’t heard the gospel yet? Some had already believed because of Paul’s teaching, but Paul would have already known about those. Why would God tell Paul about believers of which Paul was already aware?

 

The answer is simple: He didn’t talk to Paul about those who already believed. The many in the city who were God’s people were the elect who had not yet heard the gospel and believed. So, based on the revelation from God, commanding Paul to continue to speak for the sake of the elect, Paul continued in Corinth for a year and a half, preaching and teaching the good news of the gospel. Paul set the example in response to God’s election: we continue to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ, because we don’t know who the elect are.

 

The short answer to “Why evangelize?” is “Because Christ has commanded us to do so.” Yes, it is true that the elect will certainly be redeemed. However, in God’s sovereignty, He has chosen his elect to share in the glory of spreading the gospel. How great a privilege He has bestowed on us, that we have the honor of sharing the good news with the world. The method that God has chosen to bring the elect to faith is evangelism. Anyone who claims to believe Reformed theology and therefore sees his beliefs as a license to refuse to share the gospel, because of some warped fatalistic mentality, is one who does not accurately understand the gospel and who has not been truly impacted by the grace of God. What an honor that we should be allowed, even commanded, to share in the glory of pushing back darkness in this world and in the furtherance of God’s kingdom!

 

Potential Objections

Obviously not all Christians hold to the Reformed doctrines. There are objections, so a careful investigation of differing positions is necessary. This passage from Arthur Pink puts these objections into a helpful perspective:

 

That there are difficulties involved in an attempt to set forth the truth of God’s sovereignty is readily acknowledged. The hardest thing of all, perhaps, is to maintain the balance of truth. It is largely a matter of perspective. That God is sovereign is explicitly declared in Scripture: that man is a responsible creature is also expressly affirmed in Holy Writ. To define the relationship of these two truths, to fix the dividing line betwixt them, to show exactly where they meet, to exhibit the perfect consistency of the one with the other, is the weightiest task of all. Many have openly declared that it is impossible for the finite mind to harmonize them. Others tell us it is not necessary or even wise to attempt it. But, as we have remarked in an earlier chapter, it seems to us more honoring to God to seek in His Word the solution to every problem. What is impossible to man is possible with God, and while we grant that the finite mind is limited in its reach, yet, we remember that the Scriptures are given to us that the man of God may be “thoroughly furnished,” and if we approach their study in the spirit of humility and of expectancy, then, according unto our faith will it be unto us (Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty Of God).

 

The main thrust of Arminian objections to Reformed doctrines usually falls along the line of fairness; it is unfair for God to choose some and not choose others. However, if we are to take seriously the doctrines of God’s sovereignty so clearly laid out in the Scriptures, while at the same time holding that man is personally responsible for his actions, as is also explicitly taught, then we must necessarily live while holding both assertions concurrently.

 

A common objection to the full application of God’s sovereignty is that it reduces man to a robot: since his actions are pre-determined, he cannot actually choose, but his life is devoid of true meaning since everything he does has been ordained to happen from before the foundation of the world. Since, in the Arminian viewpoint, this does not allow for man to be responsible for his actions, we mustn’t extend the belief of God’s sovereignty to the free will of man. However, the Reformed doctrine asserts that the answer lies with the affirmation of both sides, and just because we may not be able to comprehend how the two can coexist, doesn’t mean that we reject one or the other.

 

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

Reformed theology holds to the belief that God is absolutely sovereign, including every detail in the affairs of man, and that man is responsible for his actions. We hold both of these beliefs because Scripture teaches them both.

 

This last section of the paper will address common proof texts offered by Arminians to refute Reformed theology.

 

Genesis 6:6: And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Doesn’t this mean that man had rebelled against God and that something outside of what God ordained had come to pass, that man freely chose to rebel against what God had in store for him? How would it be possible for God to regret something that He had ordained from eternity past?

 

Pink describes the apparent contradiction: “The Word of God is addressed to men, and therefore it speaks the language of men. Because we cannot rise to God’s level He, in grace, comes down to ours and converses with us in our own speech…it is for this reason the Bible contains many anthropomorphisms—i.e., representations of God in the form of man. God is Spirit, yet the Scriptures speak of Him as having eyes, ears, nostrils, breath, hands, etc., which is surely an accommodation of terms brought down to the level of human comprehension” (Pink).

 

If we assert that God truly regretted that He had made man, in the same sense that man regrets, then also asserting His omniscience and foreknowledge makes it absurd. How could God be surprised and disappointed in something that He had always known would happen? We must interpret this verse as a figurative expression of God’s reaction to man’s sinfulness, with God applying to Himself human methods of expression.

 

Matthew 23:37: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

 

Doesn’t this verse show that Israel has resisted Jesus’ grace extended to them? Isn’t it true that Jesus loved all of the people of Jerusalem and is just waiting for them to turn to Him and be restored? How can we interpret this verse in any other way?

 

As always, it is necessary to study a verse of Scripture in its context. Matthew 23 is full of Jesus pronouncing woes to the scribes and Pharisees. Verses 13, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29, and 33 all show Jesus condemning the teachers of the Law for leading others astray.

 

Verse 37, now seen in its context, is Jesus continuing to declare woe to the teachers of the Law. In the verse, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” refers to the scribes and Pharisees as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” They are resisting and railing against Jesus’ drawing of Jerusalem’s children. Two groups are being addressed: Jerusalem (the scribes and Pharisees) and the children of Jerusalem (those whom Jesus is calling to Himself). He is pronouncing woe to those who resist these efforts.

 

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

It may seem that this Scripture explicitly claims that God loves everyone in the world, and because of His love for all mankind, sent His son to make possible eternal life, if only they believe. Once again, let’s look at the context of the verse.

 

Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee. Pharisees were the most exclusive group of the world’s most exclusive nation, Israel. One overarching guiding principle of reading Scripture is: The Bible was not written to us. It was written for us, with us in mind, but it was not written to us. Keeping this in mind, we must be careful not to read Scripture only at face value, with our own biases ever present.

 

As we read the Scripture, the natural interpretation of “world” to us means all without exception.  However, I will give a few examples where “all” doesn’t mean all without exception but rather means all without distinction. It doesn’t always mean everyone, everywhere, for all time. Sometimes all means all types or groups of people, excluding those not in those groups.

 

Mark 1:5: And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

 

Obviously, not every person without exception in Judea and Jerusalem went out to John to be baptized.

 

John 8:2: Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

 

It would be logistically impossible and absurd to say that all people without exception came and were taught by Jesus.

 

Acts 22:15: for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.

 

Not everyone without exception hears the gospel.

 

1 Timothy 2:5-6: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

 

Contrasted with

 

Matthew 20:28: even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

 

– These do not contradict. It is logically impossible for a ransom to be given for many to also mean a ransom given for all without exception.  Why would Jesus say that His life was a ransom for many if He meant all without exception? However, if “all” is interpreted in a different sense than that which may be our natural interpretation, both can be true simultaneously.

 

“All” in Matthew 20:28 should be seen in the same sense as Revelation 5:9:

Revelation 5:9: And they sang a new song, saying,

 

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation

 

The “all” means people from every tribe and language and people and nation.

 

2 Corinthians 5:19: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

 

Obviously, “world” here does not mean all without exception. If it did, then no one would have their trespasses counted against them, and Arminians and Calvinists alike agree that this is not true.

 

Why belabor this point? It is important to recognize the setting in which the authors of the New Testament were writing their letters. The Jews were a very narrow-minded people, and for good reason. They were God’s only chosen people, the only people out of all the nations of the world that had communion with the one true God. The concept that salvation is not just for the Jews, especially since the Savior was a Jew Himself, was a foreign concept. It was a radical mindset shift. That salvation would now be for the entire world (meaning the elect from all nations), and not just Israel, was a concept that Paul devoted most of Romans to explain.

 

For this reason, it is irresponsible for us to see the words “all” or “world” and automatically assume it means all without exception. For us, salvation for all nations is not a new concept, so there is no radical shift in mindset from salvation being only for the Jews to now being available for all nations.

 

Additionally, if we say that “world” means all without exception, it must mean for all time as well. However, we do not often see God’s love extended to foreign nations before the time of Christ. God did not extend salvation to Egypt. He did not extend it to those who were occupying the Holy Land before Israel claimed it. In fact, we see a much different picture. God commands Israel to completely wipe out these nations. He commands them to have nothing to do with outsiders, to keep themselves pure from the defilement of foreign nations. This was the biggest reason for Solomon’s downfall: he took for himself many foreign wives. It would be impossible to argue that God’s love and offer of salvation was universally extended to nations other than Israel before the coming of Christ.

 

So, we reach the conclusion that “the world” in John 3:16 does not have to mean all men everywhere, for all time, without exception. It follows that the verse means that God loved His elect from every tribe and nation throughout the world that He sent His only Son to die for their sins, that they would be brought to faith, and that they would receive eternal life.

 

1 Timothy 2:4: This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

Again, let us look at the context.  Two verses later is the aforementioned 1 Timothy 2:6, speaking of Jesus giving His life as a ransom for all, which we have already shown to mean all without distinction, not all without exception.

 

Here is the verse in a wider context, including the previous verses in the chapter:

 

1 Timothy 2:1-4: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

Are we to pray for all people without exception, or are we to pray for all types of people, all without distinction?  The Reformation Study Bible puts it this way: “As can be seen from the next expression (‘for kings and all who are in high positions’), this does not mean ‘every human being,’ but rather ‘all types of people,” whatever their station in life” (Reformation Study Bible, p 1752).

 

The context lends more to the command that we are to pray for all types of people, since Paul specifically lists types of people (kings and those who are in high positions) after he says that we should pray for all people. It is all without distinction, not all without exception. The Reformation Study Bible says the following about verse 4: “This does not mean that God sovereignly wills every human being to be saved (i.e., that God saves everyone). It may refer to God’s general benevolence in taking no delight in the death of the wicked, or to God’s desire that all types of people (v. 1 note) be saved (i.e., God does not choose His elect from any single group)” (Reformation Study Bible, p 1752). Finally, if God desires all people without exception to be saved, but this is not reality, then the will of God is not accomplished. As has been discussed before, nothing that happens in the universe can be outside of the will of God, or He is not sovereign.

 

2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

 

Again, on the surface and taken out of context, this verse seems to be a clear declaration that God wants all people to come to repentance, implying the free offer of salvation for all men.

 

Of course, we need to do a little more analysis.

 

This letter was not written to us, as 21st century American believers. Peter opens the letter with the following:

 

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2 Peter 1:1)

 

The letter is written to those who have obtained a faith, by the righteousness of Christ. Peter wrote this letter to encourage believers whose faith was being attacked by false prophets (2:1). We, as readers in the present day, are third-party participants in this epistle. There are very real and necessary applications from this letter to us in our lives today, but we must be careful not to make the Scriptures say something that we think they should say. We must keep the Scriptures in their context and read them for what they are. They are not God’s guidebook for our lives. The Scriptures are what God has chosen to reveal to us through His written Word, and as such, we must be careful that we do much more listening than talking as we read them. We must strive to read them not through the lenses that we want to read them through or read them through the mindset of what we have been taught in the past, but rather we need to read Scripture to discover what God has said to us.

 

In that light, it seems natural that a loving God would not want anyone to perish. In our finite minds, this passage seems to be reflective of the loving God we may have in our minds who loves all mankind. But read in context, this Scripture is an exhortation only to believers, saying that God will not allow any of the elect to perish. This passage is much more about the preservation of the saints than a fabricated doctrine of universal atonement.

 

In summation, the Reformed doctrine makes much of God and minimizes man. This is consistent with the whole of Scriptures.  Arthur Pink puts a fine point on the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism:

 

To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent that the great majority of our fellowmen are dying in sin, and passing into a hopeless eternity; is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue baldly, but there is no escaping the conclusion. To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God, then, Satan is almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being.

To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God. To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most High to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the bounds assigned by his Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless spectator before the sin and suffering entailed by Adam’s fall, is to repudiate the express declaration of Holy Writ, namely, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10). In a word, to deny the sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism.

 

Ultimately, the modern evangelical church has made worship about us, rather than about God, largely because of Arminian leanings.  David Platt puts it plainly in his book Radical:

 

We live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God. Our hearts resonate with the idea of enjoying God’s grace. We bask in sermons, conferences, and books that exalt a grace centering on us. And while the wonder of grace is worthy of our attention, if that grace is disconnected from its purpose, the sad result is a self-centered Christianity that bypasses the heart of God.

 

If you were to ask the average Christian sitting in a worship service on Sunday morning to summarize the message of Christianity, you would most likely hear something along the lines of “The message of Christianity is that God loves me.” Or someone might say, “The message of Christianity is that God loves me enough to send his Son, Jesus, to die for me.”

 

As wonderful as this sentiment sounds, is it biblical? Isn’t it incomplete, based on what we have seen in the Bible? “God loves me” is not the essence of Biblical Christianity. Because if “God loves me” is the message of Christianity, then who is the object of Christianity?

 

God loves me.

 

 

Christianity’s object is me.

 

Therefore, when I look for a church, I look for the music that best fits me and the programs that best cater to me and my family. When I make plans for my life and career, it is about what works best for me and my family. When I consider the house I will live in, the car I will drive, the clothes I will wear, the way I will live, I will choose according to what is best for me. This is the version of Christianity that largely prevails in our culture.

 

But it is not biblical Christianity.

 

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God love me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him—his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness—known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.

 

God centers on himself, even in our salvation. Remember his words in Ezekiel: he saves us, not for our sake, but for the sake of his holy name. We have received salvation so that his name will be proclaimed in all nations. God loves us for his sake in the world.

 

It is of note that the most widely held theological viewpoint since the Reformation is Reformed theology. Despite the ubiquitous presence of Arminianism in the American church today, this view is actually a historical minority, as the great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon explains:

 

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, which are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus.

 

Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic of no very honourable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren—I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church.

 

Martin Luther agrees and shows the necessity of understanding these doctrines in order to understand and relate to God at all:

 

For, if I know not how much I can do myself, how far my ability extends, and what I can do God-wards; I shall be equally uncertain and ignorant how much God is to do, how far His ability is to extend, and what He is to do toward me: whereas it is “God that worketh all in all.” (1 Cor. xii. 6.) But if I know not the distinction between our working and the power of God, I know not God Himself. And if I know not God, I cannot worship Him, praise Him, give Him thanks, nor serve Him; for I shall not know how much I ought to ascribe unto myself, and how much unto God. It is necessary, therefore, to hold the most certain distinction, between the power of God and our power, the working of God and our working, if we would live in His fear.

 

Most of the church’s theological giants have taken the Reformed doctrine as the true gospel. St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards…the list goes on. This is undoubtedly the historical view of the church; it is the Arminian beliefs that are the departure from the norm. In the grand view of church history, Arminianism could currently even be viewed as a fad. While history does not determine truth, it would be irresponsible to dismiss the views of these great men in the Protestant line in favor of doctrines which may more easily suit our human instincts and intuition.

 

2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

 

I pray that these words are not discarded as too harsh. I pray that you do not dismiss this as hyperbole. When the logical conclusion of Arminianism is reached logically and systematically, God is no longer sovereign. Scripture does not allow for anything other than God’s absolute and unchallenged rule over the entire universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the awesome power of nature, from directing the paths of the world’s leaders to being intimately and purposefully involved in the life of every believer to ultimately bring him to glory. It must be so, and I pray that any previous teachings, prejudices, and objections may be laid aside to examine the Scriptures and find for yourself whether what this paper has labored to assert is true.

 

Ezekiel 18:25, 30-32: “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?…therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

 

Ezekiel 36:26-28: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


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