Questions and Answers
Are the five points of Calvinism supported by Scripture?
Calvinism is a theological construct devised by men. Portions of it are aligned with Scripture, while most of it is unbiblical.
The five points of Calvinism can be summarized by the acronym Tulip:
T - Total depravity.
U - Unconditional election
L - Limited atonement
I - Irresistible grace
P - Perseverance of the saints
In essence, man is too sinful to make a choice for God. He is totally blinded by sin. In His graciousness toward a few, God chose to save certain elect individuals. The basis of the election is arbitrary. Christ died for the chosen and for them alone. The Holy Spirit calls the chosen out of their sin and brings them to Christ. The remainder of humanity is not given a chance to be saved, but, yet, are held responsible for their sins. No grace, no love, no kindness is shown to them. In effect, the non-elect were born to be damned.
It is only necessary to quote one verse of Scripture to bring down the whole house of Calvinism. That verse is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The Apostle Peter helps us to understand the Biblical doctrine of election. He writes in his first epistle, "To the ... Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, ..." (I Peter 1:1-2) We can see from this passage that God's election is based on His foreknowledge. (Compare Romans 8:29) God's election is not arbitrary. Before the world began, God knew that man would rebel. But God chose to deal with the sin problem through the sacrifice of His Son. He also knew who would respond to His offer of salvation and chose to give these individuals the gift of eternal life.
Peter speaks of man's part in God's election when he counsels his readers, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:10-11)
We must make our election sure because God's election is dependent on our response to Him. Man's part in election is made clear by Revelation 22:17, which gives this invitation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Salvation is offered freely to all who desire. But it is not forced. We must decide to drink of the water of life, which is so freely offered to us.
Peter said that the Lord is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) The Apostle John added, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) It is clear that Christ died for all men, and that salvation is offered to all.
The Apostle Paul said of God "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) God's desire for the salvation of all men motivated Paul to write, "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." (1 Timothy 4:10)
Christ died for all men. Therefore, He is the Savior of all. But that salvation only comes to those who choose to believe. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:" (Hebrews 3:8) God does not offer an irresistible call. It is our choice to accept or turn away.
In Paul's great passage on election in Romans 8 and 9, he explains God's rejection of the mass of Israel and His choice of Gentiles. Paul said that there was a great mystery now made manifest, that God would make the Jews and Gentiles one people in Christ. (Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:3-6) God predestined, or determined from time immemorial, to accomplish this work.
Paul explained that the rejection of the Jews was not arbitrary. He wrote, "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law." (Romans 9:31-32) The rejected Jews were responsible for their own choices.
But what about Acts 13:48 which states, "and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed"? In this passage, election precedes belief.
But this changes nothing. They were ordained to life because God knew that they would believe, especially so with His help. All human beings are corrupted by sin. In that sense, depravity is the universal condition. A man cannot single handedly reason his way out of sin to God. The Lord must shine His light into our darkened hearts and enable us to believe. Jesus said, "No man can come to Me, except the Father Which hath sent Me draw him;" (John 6:44) The Father drew His own to the Son, while leaving the Pharisees in darkness.
Yet, the act of belief is a partnership, and it is far more than mere intellectual assent. God initiates the handshake. God even looks us in the eye and beckons us to take His hand. The choice of whether to return the handshake is still ours. God does not issue an irresistable call. If we return the handshake, God takes us in His arms and makes us His.
For while depravity is the universal condition, total depravity is not. Total depravity results from the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees blasphemed the Holy Spirit by calling the Spirit's testimony of Christ satanic. (Matthew 12) It was not a one-time act or outburst on their part. For they had so hardened their hearts that they could no longer distinguish between God and satan. They were not merely intellectually blind. They hated good and loved evil. These individuals had become totally depraved. They were not born that way. Paul speaks of those "whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4:2) and those who have lost all feeling (Eph. 4:19). Falling into total depravity is a process based on one's own willful choices of rebellion against God.
A major flaw of calvinism is that it denies our humanity. Man has free will. Free will is part of the human soul. In contrast to man, a computer does not have free will. A computer only follow its software instructions. A computer can be programmed to take actions based on the results of a random generator, but random generators are based on hard coded algorithms. True individual randomness, which is the basis of independence, can never be programmed. A computer can never make an independent decision that is not directed by its software code. Further, a computer cannot feel. It can only mimic human emotion based on its programming, and has no internal sense of awareness. A computer is not an "I". Conversely, animals have limited free will. Higher animals are an "I". However, animals do not have the ability to reason through their actions as a man. The animal soul was not made in the image of God as was the human soul. Calvinists treat men as though they were machines or animals. As such, calvinism is an effront to man and his Creator.
The perfect illustration of Christ's call to salvation is found in Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." The Lord Jesus knocks on the door of our heart. We must decide whether we will open the door. If we choose to open the door, however haltingly, His light will flood in, and He will enable us to believe. And belief means far more than reciting a creed or accepting the right dogma. It means giving yourself to Christ; taking His side; adopting His views. It means that we have joined His team and we look to Him as our coach and our captain.
The one and only point on which the Calvinists are partially right is the perseverance of the saints. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27-29)
The calvinist understanding of perseverance is flawed, however. For the calvinist, P means that the elect will show continuous performance of works. In reality, Christians do not cease to be human. All humans are sinful, including Christians. Only Jesus is perfect. It is His work that saves us, not our works.
Here is the truth of the matter. Once we give our hearts to God, the Holy Spirit takes up residence, never to leave. Even if we stumble and backslide, even if we go through periods of despair and disbelief, God's gift of salvation is eternal and will never be revoked. Even the great John the Baptist experienced a temporary loss of faith. Yet, Christ did not reject him, and still called John the greatest of men. Why? Because Jesus is the Savior, not us. He performs the whole work of salvation from beginning to end. We do not work to become saved and we do not work to remain saved. A stumble, a sin, a period of doubt, does not revoke His work for us on the Cross. Thus, it is the perseverance of Christ that keeps us saved, not our own perseverance.
Still, we must remember the warnings of Peter about making our election sure. There are those who attend church and say that they believe. Yet, they are not Christ's because they are not really with Him. So, in that sense, make sure that you really know Christ, and are not just a cultural Christian. We do not save ourselves, but we must actually join Christ's team. A member of Christ's team does not become perfect, yet, he knows Who is Captain is.
The Lord said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5) The Lord also said, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matthew 24:13) Not everyone will continue to abide and not all will endure. In some, the faith is weak, and not a permanent reality as indicated by Christ's Parable of the Sower. (Matthew 13:1-23) There is a difference between saving faith and transitory faith. That is why Peter says to "make our calling and election sure". Real faith may stumble, it may waiver, but it does not ever truly go away. True Christians never lose the pull of God on their hearts.
As a final statement, let me say this. Calvinism is a man-made theological system that goes beyond the Bible and contradicts much of it. Yet, many calvinists adhere to their beliefs with a combination of fury and smug self-righteousness. I have encountered calvinists who believe that non-calvinists are not even Christians. It is dangerous to go beyond the Bible. It is wisest to base one's theology strictly on Scripture and not on that of any man. Further, if a theological question arises that the Bible does not answer or address, it is best to be humble and say, "I don't know the answer to that question. I will know someday in Heaven when God tells me. Until then, any answer on my part would be nothing more than an idle guess." Man-made theology and philosophy are based on pure guess work. They have no validity.