For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. - Eph 2:8-9 (NKJV)
So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
- Romans 9:16 (NKJV)
“…divine sovereignty is not an issue peculiar to Calvinism, or even to Christianity. Without sovereignty God cannot be God. If we reject divine sovereignty than we must embrace atheism. This is the problem we all face. We must hold tightly to God’s sovereignty. Yet we must do it in such a way so as not to violate human freedom.” – R.C. Sproul
For parts 1-3 see previous posts! Please refer to part 1 especially for a foundation. This post will probably be the most “theological”… and the most controversial!
Through college I was really growing in my study of Scripture, learning more about the character and attributes of God and the Christian walk. From my sophomore into my junior year of college I had begun wrestling particularly with passages in the Bible that spoke clearly of God’s sovereignty… not just generally, but in regards to salvation. While I had no doubt that God was sovereign (in complete control) over nature, world events and even the details of my life, my natural reasoning was opposed to the idea that God chose to save me apart from any real choice of my own. Surely I had some role in this did I not? I had to make a decision to follow Him didn’t I? But the more I studied the more I found these verses…
“The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” - Prov 21:1, NKJV
“Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” - Romans 9:18, NKJV
“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” - Dan 4:35, NKJV
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them”. - Ezek 36:26-27, NKJV
“But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.” - John 10:26, NKJV
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace…” - Eph 1:3-6, NKJV
Every time I would come across these verses and many others (and I kept coming across them!) I wrestled with the concept. How did I reconcile these with other verses that spoke firmly of my personal responsibility to choose, believe and obey? Then one night, I remember it clearly, the teacher in my Apologetics class made a passing comment: “Well, God is God and He can do whatever He wants.” God used that very simple statement to open my understanding further to 1) the great and deserved sovereignty of God, and 2) the greatness of my salvation! It really was like a light bulb went on. I realized that before I was saved I was indeed a very wretched sinner and I didn’t WANT to be saved… that I didn’t really desire God and He had to give me that desire in order for me to want to be saved. He had to open my eyes to my sinfulness and put His love in my heart. He changed me first, and then I repented!
“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…” - Titus 3:3-5, NKJV
The Bible teaches that God is 100% sovereign, yet man is still 100% responsible. How those two reconcile, I do not completely understand, but I came to believe it. I consider this to be another milestone in my Christian life… an incredible realization of the amazing totally-undeserved grace of God upon my life! I had no part in my actually being saved, I was entirely passive, I was dead! He is the One who loved me, He is the One who made me alive, who opened my eyes to Himself and drew me to repentance. What a gift! While I responded in repentance and faith even that was not from within my own heart, for my sinful heart did not want to repent, but His love and grace changed me and gave me a new heart that despised sin and loved Him!
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. - Eph 2:8-9, NKJV
As with all other doctrine, this precious doctrine is intended to lead us to Christ, to place Him at the center and humble our hearts before Him in worship. However, while this revelation was humbling to me, I became distracted by it from my worship of Christ. The result unfortunately led to my becoming a devout disciple of John Calvin and anyone else who strongly taught what is known as “Reformed” doctrine. I was a “Calvinist”* (see * at bottom)… and rather proud of the fact although I wouldn’t have openly admitted it. Gradually, without really realizing it, I put myself in the “elite” of Christianity. I had been “enlightened”.
“For where self or the natural man is become great in religious learning, the more firmly will he be fixed in the religion of proving himself to be right, rather than in surrendering to the will of God.” -William Law
My thirst for doctrinal knowledge began to distract me from my pursuit of Christ. Instead of allowing this grace to humble me and keep me centered on Christ, this particular doctrinal stream became the center of who I was. There were many times I sacrificed love for Christ and for the universal church for my particular viewpoint. I looked down on those who had not “attained” to the knowledge that I held. While I grew and learned a lot over the next few years I was hindered in many ways by my narrow mindedness. But the Lord slowly began working away at my heart and calling me to pursue HIM. He began showing me the pride in my thinking and that I was making doctrine an idol. I was proud that He had chosen me instead of humbling myself in worshiping Him. Also, slowly He began to widen my horizon and show me the glory of the church – that despite minor doctrinal differences, she was the body of Christ. It wasn’t about me or my particular doctrinal standpoint; it was about Christ, the Gospel and the glory of God. I had to repent of pride and a superior attitude and learn to show the same grace to others that God had bestowed upon me. Over the summer of 2010 the Lord really began doing this and that fall I was at a conference where I ended up having a long dialogue with a friend who was a brother in Christ, but not a “Calvinist”. We were able to talk about our viewpoint, ask questions, have some discussion and while at the end neither of us had changed our mind, we both walked away better understanding the other viewpoint and having respect for the heart for God behind it.
Paul Washer put it so accurately when he said, “Calvinism is not the issue, regeneration is the issue.” There are forms of “Arminian” theology that are indeed heretical because they deny the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in leading to and producing salvation. But I have found many who do not accept “Calvinism” but their view of regeneration is Biblical (maybe not complete, but still within Biblical teaching). I have learned from and been blessed by many of them. One preacher said about a man who was Wesleyan-holiness and Arminian: “I could have fellowship with him because he was a man of God. I didn’t always agree with him, but I could have fellowship with him because he was a man of God. I sat under him.” Of course, wisdom and caution must be used, and we must ALWAYS hold Scripture as our guide and not what others say.
So what’s the main point I’m trying to make? Simply, study Scripture and take it as it is! Don’t try to explain away parts you don’t understand or don’t like, pray and wait on the Lord for the Spirit’s help in understanding. Don’t stress over the fact that you don’t understand some things… there are many things in Scripture that are mysteries, some of which we will never completely understand till we get to Heaven. And if you don’t agree with someone on a particular doctrine (“Calvinism”/“Arminianism”, end times, spiritual gifts, view of sanctification, etc.), don’t let it get to your head. Remember they are your brother or sister and you are to love them, simply point them to worship of Christ, and encourage them in their walk. This is not to say there aren’t times to discuss these things and perhaps teach them a more Biblical view, but my prayer is that we will remember to keep the main thing, the main thing. Christ is the head, may we keep Him at the center or our focus. Don’t worship doctrine, don't get proud in your spiritual understanding, worship Christ!
“To the church of God… those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…” - 1 Cor 1:2 NKJV
“There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer – I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.”
- C.H. Spurgeon (from A Defense of Calvinism)
*In agreement with C.H. Spurgeon above, I really don’t like the term “Calvinism”. However, it is the easiest way to sum up this particular doctrinal stance. Personally, I prefer to use the term “monergism” instead. For definition see: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/monergism_simple.html