I have already given a brief summary of what the essence is of Calvinism. However, as a short introduction to part 2 of my series on Calvinism, I would like to repeat it here.
John Calvin and Calvinism in a nutshell
* It is clear that Christ did not die to make redemption a mere possibility; He died to actually save people.
* God’s purpose cannot fail (Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10).
* Therefore every single person for whom He died, shall be saved.
* Nevertheless, not all people are saved.
* Consequently Christ did not die for all people. If it were true that He died for all people He would have been a failure. (Emphasis added).
The question we need to ask ourselves, is: WHAT REDEEMS SINNERS? Is it merely the fact that they placed a crown of thorns on Christ’s head, scourged Him, nailed Him to a cross and that He died and rose from the dead? If it were true that his crucifixion and resurrection automatically saves sinners (i.e. without the requirement to believe in his blood and to acknowledge that sinners will perish if the Spirit of God does not apply the cleansing power of His blood to their souls through faith), then the entire human race would have been redeemed without exception. His death and resurrection minus faith on the part of the lost sinner would then have constituted eternal redemption. It would then not have been so difficult to accept the doctrine of Universal Redemption which, of course, is one of the things Calvinists accuse non-Calvinists of.
The Pharisees, Sadducees and Jewish rabble were eye witnesses to his crucifixion and yet most of them were never saved. Was it because they were not chosen unto salvation before the foundation of the world or was it because they rejected (refused to believe) in Him and his vicarious death on the cross? Was it their monergistically applied non-elected status or their unbelief that condemned them to an eternal hell? These questions may at first seem somewhat overbearing but their importance will surface as we go along.
Is faith essential for a person’s salvation?
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
We need to focus on a few things in the above quoted verse which may give us some insight in the meaning of faith. What does it mean to believe that HE IS? The amplified Bible says ‘For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists . . .’ It is a rather unfortunate translation because it implies that you only need to know and acknowledge that God exists in order to come near to Him. However, to merely know and acknowledge that He exists is not enough. Even the demons know that He exists and they tremble (James 2:19). Jesus once said to the Pharisees ‘ . . . ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins (John 8:24). The ‘he’ in ‘I am he’ is not in the original and should read ‘ . . . if you do not believe that I AM, ye shall die in your sins.’ The Jews were well acquainted with the God’s unique Name ‘I AM.’ When Jesus claimed to be ‘I AM’ they accused Him of blasphemy that ultimately lead to his death (Mark 14:62-64). (Emphasis added throughout).
When God sent Moses from Midian back to his oppressed people in Egypt, He told him to introduce Him as I AM. ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.’ This was the very first time that God revealed Himself as the Great Deliverer from bondage to slavery and oppression.
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land . . . (Exodus 3:7-8)
God’s unique Name ‘I AM’ is closely associated with deliverance from slavery and bondage to sin and death. But not only that; it signifies that He alone and no other god or gods are able to deliver from sin and it’s consequences which is eternal separation from Him. What Jesus in effect said to the Pharisees was: ‘If you do not believe that IAM (the only Deliverer from sin and death) you will die in your sins and perish for all eternity.’
The conditional or provisional ‘if’ very clearly shows that faith is an essential prerequisite for salvation and that it precedes it; it is not given as a gift to the elect in the aftermath of salvation as the Calvinists claim. It is common knowledge that Calvinists do not believe that mankind who, in view of the ‘T’ in the acronym TULIP is utterly ensnared in a condition of total depravity, is able to believe unto salvation. According to their thinking a corpse (who is dead in sins and trespasses) is entirely incapable of believing the Gospel PRIOR to salvation. Faith, they contend, is a gift of God and He sovereignly and monergistically imposes the gift of faith ONLY on those whom it was his good pleasure to predestine unto salvation before the foundation of the earth, and ‘justifiably’ withholds it from those whom He has predestined to an eternal perdition in hell.
A corpse cannot believe but neither can it not believe. The sixteen appearances of the word ‘unbelief’ in the New Testament are ample proof that mankind is not only capable of believing but also able not to believe. The word ‘faith’ appears no less than 247 times in the Bible and the word ‘believe’ 143 times which demonstrates its vital importance in one’s spiritual life. But is ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ enough to save a sinner and at what stage does God require you to have faith in Him to secure your salvation ‘ do you believe in order to be saved or do you believe because you have been saved? Although both statements are true, Calvinists insist that the latter argument, ‘because you have been saved’ is the only biblically viable one because it does not violate God’s sovereignty. The argument, ‘in order to be saved’ they say, makes man a co-worker in God’s plan of salvation. In fact, the notion that a sinner needs to believe in order to be saved, according to Calvinist thinking, is a work and God cannot accept men’s works in any shape or form.
Is faith a work or a gift?
In the Gospel according to John there is a scene where the crowds, who had been looking diligently for Jesus, eventually found Him on the other side of the sea of Galilee and where the following conversation took place.
And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:25-29).
Voila! ‘ the Calvinists would say ‘ this proves beyond any doubt that faith is a work of God and not of men. Nonetheless, the crowd did not want to know what God should do but ‘What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?’ Surely, if Jesus wanted to drive home the notion that there is nothing man can do to inherit the Kingdom of God, He would have said so plainly. He would probably have told them that they are completely unable to believe and that God had to do a gift-work of faith in them before they could believe, only after they had been regenerated monergistically and sovereignly by Him. No! the fact is that Jesus answered them strictly in accordance with their question ‘What shall we do . . .? by telling them ‘This is the work that God requires (asks) of you, that you believe on him whom He has sent.’
Faith has nothing to do with physical exertion as in the performance of manual labour. The physical doing of something good and congenial in order to obtain salvation is the kind of work God forbids, such as the giving of alms. Faith is a spiritual ‘work,’ if you will, and simply means to put your trust in Him whom God has sent to fulfill his sovereign will on the cross, that is, to reconcile repentant sinners to Him by satisfying to the brim his righteous judgments on mankind’s sin and transgressions against Him and Him alone. Faith is therefore the full appropriation of Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross for you personally which means that his vicarious death on the cross was actually your and my death; his burial was your and my burial; his resurrection was your and my resurrection and his ascension was your and my ascension. It was the only way God could put the old man (inherited from Adam) to death and raise the new man (inherited from Christ) to life. This is precisely why the prophet Daniel said that He was cut off but not for Himself (Daniel 9:26). There is nothing we can do physically to earn those things I mentioned; it can only be appropriated by a spiritual ‘work’ of faith because it is ‘the substance of things hoped for’ and ‘the evidence of things not seen.’ Have you seen yourself being crucified, buried and raised from the dead with Christ? Of course not, and that is precisely why you can appropriate it only by an act (spiritual ‘work’) of faith. This is the kind of ‘work,’ Jesus said, that God requires of you.
Faith is to enter into and to go through the strait gate onto the narrow road
To further enhance the meaning of a spiritual ‘work’ of faith I would like us to turn to the well-known passage in Matthew 7.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) (Emphasis added).
God will never do for you whatever He commands you to do yourself. He has already provided for you the Way (the strait gate and the narrow way) that leads to eternal life but He expects you to find it and enter through it. During one of my recent visits to Malawi I stayed in the house of one of the village pastors. Needless to say I had to adapt myself to the very small room which seemed to have the smallest door in the entire house. I am six feet tall’ and it took me some time to realize that I had to bend down very low whenever I wanted to enter my room. My forehead slowly became a veritable witness to my inordinate forgetfulness to bend down low.
Why do only a few find the strait gate and the narrow way? Is it because only a few were elected unto salvation before the foundation of the world? That doesn’t seem to be the reason because Jesus never said that the elect are snatched or yanked through the strait gate by a monergistic and sovereign act of God. I remember as a young man I was told that predestination works as follows: ‘Because you are dead in trespasses and sins you cannot find the strait gate of your own accord. In fact, you are completely unable to seek and to find the strait gate. You must be taken through it by a sovereign act of God. Only when you have gone through the gate and look back will you see written on the inside over the gate ‘THE ELECT OF GOD.’ I never could accept that kind of reasoning, simply because Jesus said that very few find the strait gate. The verb ‘find’ clearly suggests that you must ‘seek’ in order to find whatsoever you are seeking. God will never do the seeking on your behalf and neither will He find it instead of you.
Why do only a few find the strait gate? The answer lies in the fact that very few people refuse to bend down low and to humble themselves before God so that they may enter through the strait gate. The majority of people readily admit that they are sinners but very few acknowledge that they are lost sinners. Jesus said that He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) ‘ not those who refuse to admit that they are lost sinners on their deserved way to hell. He can only find those who admit that they are lost and in dire need of a Saviour. He also once told the Pharisees that they who are whole (self-righteous) do not need a doctor but only those who are sick (Luke 5:31). The entire human race is sick but only a few are prepared to admit it (bend down low in humble anxiety over their lost status).
If, as Calvinists believe, man is totally depraved and unable to understand and respond in faith to the Gospel in order to be saved, at what stage do the elect become aware of their lost status so that they may bend down low and humble themselves (admit that they are lost) in order to enter the strait gate? Allow me to rephrase my question a wee bit. At what stage does the Holy Spirit convict the elect of sin, righteousness and judgment? If God unilaterally,’ monergistically, sovereignly and irresistibly redeems the elect without them having to understand and believe the Gospel just because they are unable to do so, then their is no need whatsoever for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sins and lost status.
‘Whoa! stop the bus right here. That’s just not true!’ Is what the Calvinists probably would say to this. ‘The Holy Spirit convicts them of sin, righteousness and judgment subsequent to their redemption and after they had received faith as a gift from God.’ Really . . .? Please bear in mind that the Holy Spirit does not only convict of sins but also of God’s righteous judgments. As I said earlier, many people admit that they are sinners but refuse to believe that a God of love would execute his righteous judgments by casting them into hell, if they do not repent and believe the Gospel.
Although the conviction of sin is essential before and after a person’s salvation, the conviction of God’s righteous judgments (the Holy Spirit inspired acknowledgment that hell is your inevitable destination if you should refuse to believe the Gospel and repent) can only occur BEFORE salvation, never AFTER salvation. If Jesus spoke the truth in John 16:7-11, then the Holy Spirit MUST convict every person (including Calvin’s predestined elect) of God’s righteous judgments BEFORE redemption. It is absurd to believe that the Holy Spirit convicts the elect after they had been redeemed sovereignly, irresistibly and monergistically by God. It would amount to the irrational situation where the Holy Spirit’s warning with regard to God’s righteous judgments reach the ears and heart of the elect AFTER they had already been set free from God’s righteous judgments. Can the Holy Spirit simultaneously say to someone ‘You are on your way to a well-earned hell’ and ‘You have been set free of God’s righteous judgments’ after having been redeemed irresistibly, monergistically and sovereignly? If you have already been set free from God’s righteous judgments by virtue of your irresistibly and sovereignly imposed redemption by the Holy Spirit, then you cannot possibly be convicted of judgment by the same Holy Spirit after your irresistibly imposed redemption. What’s the logic in that?
For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:11-13)
Calvinists maintain that Saul/Paul was saved on his way to Damascus when he saw a blinding white light and was thrown off his horse to the ground. Had that been true, predestination along with its doctrine of irresistible grace and limited atonement could effortlessly have been adopted as a genuine biblical doctrine. Think of it: here’s a man riding on a horse on his way to Damascus with murder and mayhem in his heart when suddenly a light from heaven flashes around him, he falls to the ground, is instantly blinded and calls out to the One who appeared to Him, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Voila! Saul calls Jesus Lord without knowing who He was. Now, that my dear friends is real Lordship Salvation. Bear with me a little longer when I try to re-enact Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus from a Calvinist’s point of view.
To begin with, Paul after having heard Stephen’s majestic sermon in Acts 7 probably put both his hands over his ears like the rest of the rabble and stopped them from hearing the Gospel because he did not understand it. How could he when Calvin tells us that man is totally depraved and completely unable to comprehend the Gospel and to respond’ to it in faith? The only thing about the Gospel that seemed to have reached the grey matter in Paul’s brain was the fact that he knew that there were men, women and children who belonged to the Way and that they deserved to be put in chains for their “crime.” Now, why would anyone in his right mind go to all the trouble of galloping on his horse to Damascus because he vowed to put in chains the people of a Way he could not possibly understand because he was totally depraved? Says who? Saul, before he became Paul, understood the Gospel 100 percent but refused to respond to it. His own religion, Phariseism, forbad him to believe that Jesus Christ was God and that He was one with the Father. That’s just plain blasphemy and anyone who believes such “nonsense” deserves to be put in chains. How do I know that Paul understood the Gospel 100 percent in spite of Calvin’s heresy that man is totally depraved and completely inept to understand the Gospel? Listen very carefully to Jesus’ admonishment when Saul encountered Him on his way to Damascus.
This was a well-known proverbial expression that was used in antiquity for stubbornness, pigheadedness and obstinacy. An ox who had learnt by experience what his master’s wishes were when he pulled a cart or a plow with other oxen, knew how to avoid the large pricks behind its hind legs by obediently and submissively pulling in sync with the other oxen. The pricks or goads were there to straighten out an obstinate ox and it was hard. Jesus actually said to Paul: Your rebellion against the Highest Authority in the universe is causing you much harm and it hurts. It proves that Paul was not oblivious of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and neither was he unable to understand it. While he held the clothes of the Jewish rebels who murdered Stephen he heard every word spoken by Stephen the martyr. He distinctly heard him speaking about the Just One (the Messiah) and also heard him calling out to the Just One (the living Messiah) who was already seated at the right hand of God when he cried out: ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.’ Later in Romans 10 verses 17 and 18 Paul says of Israel: ‘Have they not heard?’ and then he answers his own question, Yes indeed, they have heard because preachers (prophets) were sent to them who proclaimed to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ‘But they have not all obeyed the gospel’ (Romans 10:16). In order to obey you must be able to understand. Like the Israelites of old Paul also heard the Gospel preached to him but he did not obey it at first. If depraved man is unable to understand the Gospel then he is also unable to obey it which, of course, makes Paul’s argument in Romans 10:17-18 a complete misnomer.
Not a single Calvinist will be able to contend that Paul did not understand the Gospel because he was totally depraved and that he had to be redeemed by a sovereign and monergistic act of God before he could receive the gift of faith. On the contrary, Paul understood the Gospel perfectly well but did not obey it when he heard it the first time. He rebelled against it; he kicked against the goads and it hurt him. But didn’t Paul experience God’s irresistible grace and limited atonement when he fell off his horse to the ground on his way to Damascus? Was Paul already a redeemed man when he reached the house of Ananias in Damascus? To answer the question we must turn to Acts 9:6 and 22:16
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Acts 9:6).
And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:14-16).
Please note the imperative ‘must’ in Acts 9: 6. Paul had to do something before he could do what God called and had chosen him to do. One can easily argue that because Paul was a chosen vessel of God (even before the foundation of the earth) that he was already saved when he arrived at the house of Ananias. Only a redeemed man can know and do the will of God. Only a saved man can be God’s witness unto all men (please note ‘all men’ and not only ‘all the elect’). However, before he could do all these things, he, Paul himself, had to do something and that something is explained for us in Acts 22:16 ‘ to call on the Name of the Lord.
The most important ‘must’ Paul had to do, was to call on the Name of the Lord and for one reason only ‘ to have his sins washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. If Paul had already been saved when he arrived in the house of Ananias he would never have urged Paul to call on the Name of the Lord so that his sins may be washed away. The cleansing power of Jesus Christ’s blood took its effect in Paul’s life only when he in faith called on the Name of the Lord. Why is it so important to call on the Name of the Lord for your salvation? Apart from the fact that Jesus said ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ (Matthew 11:28) Paul also stressed the necessity of coming to the Lord Jesus Christ when he wrote: ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). Only those who are weary of their sins, whose sins have chafed away every bit of their life and who are heavy-laden with sins will come to the Lord Jesus Christ and call on his Name for their salvation. They really know that they are sick and desperately in need of the Great Physician (Luke 5:31).
It is interesting to note that the name ‘Just One’ is used only twice in the New Testament ‘ in Acts 22:14 and guess where else? Yep! in Acts 7:52 and it came from Stephen’s lips whose murder Paul approved. Could it be that the Holy Spirit inspired Ananias to use the very same Name Stephen uttered from his lips just before he was stoned to death? Now why would He do that? I truly believe that the Holy Spirit did so to convince/convict Paul that there was just One Person who IS the JUST ONE. Paul, who belonged to the strictest (straitest) sect (Phariseism) (Acts 26:5) believed that they were the just ones. They convinced themselves that they kept every iota and title of the Law. The word ‘dikaios’ which the Holy Spirit inspired Stephen and Ananias to use, is also used ‘of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined. (1) It was his sin of self-righteousness in particular that prevented Paul from finding the strait gate and the narrow way. Jesus once said to the Pharisees:
Then Jesus said, I came into this world for judgment [as a Separator, in order that there may be separation between those who believe on Me and those who reject Me], to make the sightless see and to make those who see become blind. Some Pharisees who were near, hearing this remark, said to Him, Are we also blind? Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but because you now claim to have sight, your sin remains. [If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but because you insist, We do see clearly, you are unable to escape your guilt.] (John 9:39-41). (Emphasis added)
Saul was blinded by Christ’s intense white light of supreme righteousness and holiness, He had to be made sightless, so to speak, before he could see and he only began to see when Ananias told him what to do.
And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:14-16). (Emphasis added)
Paul was a chosen vessel of God, even before the foundation of the world to be a witness unto all men (not only the elect) of what he had seen and heard. From whence did he receive his witness? He received it directly from ‘the voice of His own mouth.’ The meaning of this is explained in
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:10-12) . . . (Emphasis added)
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: (Gal 1:15-16)
Paul was chosen from his mother’s womb to preach the Gospel which he later received directly from Jesus Christ’s own lips. Does that mean that he was predestined and chosen unto salvation before the foundation of the world according to Calvin’s doctrine expounded in TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints)? If Paul hadn’t called on the Name of the Lord to be cleansed and washed from his self-righteousness (which is but hidden unrighteousness), he would have remained a lost and unpardoned sinner. Paul seemed to have procrastinated a little and Ananias needed to prod him to take the necessary step of calling on the Name of the Lord. Surely if Ananias had known, according to Calvinism, that Paul had been totally depraved and completely unable to understand and believe the Gospel he would never have egged him on to call on the Name of the Lord. He would probably have thought, like today’s Calvinists believe, that Paul was saved monergistically and sovereignly by God when he fell off his horse on his way to Damascus.
(1) (Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order. Ontario : Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996, S. G1342)