The very mention of any of these words strikes fear into the hearts of most of Christians in the Bible belt. Churches are split by this debate over how God saves. Is man born inherently good, having the free will of his own to either choose God or deny him? Or are all men born into sin, totally depraved at birth and dead to the things of God until God chooses to save some by giving them a new heart? Man’s free will verses God’s chosen will.
The doctrine of mans right to choose or deny God was defended and taught first by a man named Jacob Arminius in the late 1500’s/early 1600’s. Those who believe God’s will is dependant on man’s free will are labeled Arminianist. John Calvin in the early to late 1500’s believed differently than Arminius. Calvin believed that man has no choice in the matter of salvation. That God alone did the choosing, because sinful man by nature is so depraved in his sins that without the drawing of the Holy Spirit, would never choose God for himself. Believers who lean more towards John Calvin’s view of salvation are generally called Calvinist. Both camps even have their own five point system to argue why their way of believing is right.
John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Let me start off by saying I do not consider myself a Calvinist or an Arminianist. Im a truth junkie. I believe every word of scripture is accurate and true. And I hunger to know God as well as the character of God more intimately. Let me also say that regarding these two lines of theology, I dont have all the answers. There are some things in scripture that even after much studying and prayer, I cannot seem to comprehend. But my lack of understanding doesnt in the least diminish from the truth found in scripture. The example I use with our college and youth is the relationship between a human and an ant. The ant may look at us and understand some things about humanity. But even the most basic concepts such as marriage, a job, how to drive a car, are far beyond the ants mental capability to grasp. In the same way, God is far superior to humanity. We can defend our theological camps all day but in the end, neither camp will ever understand how God saves fully, because we dont have Gods mental capacity.
1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
We dont know it all. And for us to even pretend that we have all the answers regarding how God operates is blasphemy. However we are given a glimpse of how God operates. And we can know Him in part just from scripture and paying attention to the language used in the Bible. I want to look at just a few of the arguments standing between the doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism.
The biggest argument and red flag to many who consider Calvinism a heresy is the thought of God sending people to Hell. Would God really choose to save some of his creation while sending others to Hell? This is one of the biggest arguments people use to defend their free will. People will say in defense of Arminianism, “God would never send anyone to Hell without giving them a chance and free choice to turn from their sins!” The arminianist believe that when the Bible refers to God choosing people by predestination, that what is meant is that God chooses those whom he knows will choose him. But here are the problems I see with these arguments….
First, if God chooses those whom he knows will choose him, then God is really not the catalyst…man is. God is really not the one choosing, man is. If I am team captain in a game of Dodgeball, and I am choosing my team, I would never say something like this. “Ralph, I choose you to be on my team because I know that you choose me to be your captain. This would make no sense. I am the team captain, therefore I am the one who has total choice, not Ralph.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16.
“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.”John 13:18.
And secondly, many consider the doctrine of Calvinism a heresy because they cannot fathom that a loving God would choose or elect some while allowing others to go to Hell. So they will claim God chooses those who God knew would choose him. But what they dont realize is that even in free will, they are running into the same problem. The question could then be asked, “Why would God create someone he knew would never choose him?” Think about that. In each case, it would seem that God is choosing to send part of his creation to Hell. Even in the case of free will.
So both parties must examine God as he is, not as they think or wish he was. Does God send people to Hell? As the apostle Paul would say, by no means!
Matthew 25:41, ““Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Hell was created as a prison for the devil and his angel, those who rebelled against God. People who do not follow Christ prove that they love sin more than God. I heard one pastor put it like this, “If a person cannot get excited and find joy in things of the Lord here on earth, then they will surly not be satisfied in Heaven. God doesnt send people to Hell. Those living apart from God are getting exactly what they wanted, separation from God. They dont want to live under Gods commands. Hell is free from the commandments of God. And they dont want God in their lives. In Hell, they will be eternally separated from His love. Heaven isnt a place for people who dont want to go to Hell, Heaven is a place for people who really love God!
Also, we must pay attention to the choice of words God uses to describe our relationship with him.
” For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”Romans 8:14-16.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6.
Do you see the common denominator in these two scriptures listed above? God describes us that are in Christ as his adopted children. If you decide to go and adopt a child, does that child have any say so in the matter? Of course not. You are the one making the choice. The adopted child is being saved in a sense from a life without a parent. The child did nothing to deserve your love and affection. The child would have nothing to boast in. The child could not say, “I choose them to be my parents.” Thats the definition of grace. Grace is receiving love when you did nothing to deserve it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 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.
Look again at the verse above in Ephesians. We have been saved through the grace of God. There was nothing we did, such as making a choice, that we can boast in. God reached down and in love, saved us. If I can choose God, then I can boast in the fact that I accepted Jesus. As if Jesus is sitting up in Heaven with his fingers crossed hoping that we will choose him. Jesus doesnt need our acceptance. We need his grace. And that grace is described as a gift from God. Most normal people dont by gifts for themselves. A gift is given, and many times, undeserved by the receiving party. If you go out and choose something for yourself, it is not a gift, it is a purchase you decided to make. But we have nothing to purchase and cleanse our sins. You cant buy righteous blood. It has to be shed and given as a gift. Do you see the language used by God? Describing us as adopted children, and salvation as a gift, not as some we decided to do.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13.
All those who have received Christ and believed in him, he has given the right to become his children. The verse goes on to say that these children were not born of human decision, but born of God. Our sinful nature desperately wants to recieve some credit for our life change in Christ. We wrestle against this idea of God being in total control and recieving all credit for human salvation because its offensive to a selfish creature such as we are. Jesus said he choose us, we didnt choose him. God said that those in him are not justified by any decision they made at one point in life. This is done so that no one but God receives credit and glory for salvation.
It all boils down to one question you must ask yourself. Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you believe that God is in total control of everything in the universe? Or are there some things that are beyond Gods control. For example, think about Jesus mother Mary. When the angel came to Mary and told her she would give birth to God in human form, do you think she could have chosen to say, “No thanks, I think Ill pass.” Of course not. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus.
How about the Apostle Paul? The man persecuted and killed Christians. He had no love for Christ. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul and told him to stop killing Christians and to proclaim the very Gospel he hated! God even called Paul his Chosen instrument. Do you think Paul could have just gone, “Nah, Im going to keep killing Christians no matter what you say.” God chose Paul! He didnt have a choice. If you love Jesus and are a follower of Christ, think back to that moment where Jesus became so real to you and you repented of your sins and began to love God. Think back….in that moment….could you have denied Jesus? I can remember that moment, and there was nothing in me that could have turned from him. In fact, even now, when I think back to my life without Jesus it turns my stomach to think about life without him. I had no choice in the matter. Jesus gave me an undeserved gift of grace.
In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh had enslaved Gods people. He was the most powerful ruler at the time on earth. Yet God allowed him to come to that power.
“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.”Exodus 9:12.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God allowed him to have extreme power on earth. And then he crushed Pharaoh and his army showing that regardless of power, no man can ever match God. This was done to show the glory of God to man.
“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”Acts 16:14.
In the same way God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, God chose to open Lydia’s heart. You see, God does the opening, and God chooses who will be hardened, and whom he will extend his mercy and grace.
“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 9:15.
“So then he has mercy on whom ever he wills, and he hardens whom ever he wills.” Romans 9:18.
God is in total control of everything. And no matter where we look in the Bible, we see Gods sovereign choice and election.
Remember the story of twin brothers Jacob and Esau in Genesis. God made the statement, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” What did God mean by this. Why did he hate one and love the other? Paul explains this to us in Romans.
“…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— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
God was putting his divine election on display. The twins at birth had done nothing good or bad. God made his choice so that his divine election and his plan, that we only see in part, might carry on.
So Calvinist believe in the sovereignty of God. That God is in total control and what will be is what will be because God has control. Some will take this to an extreme level. Some Calvinist will say, “Since God is sovereign, what is the point of mission?” But that is an unbiblical mindset. Jesus repeatedly extends the opportunity for us as his children to participate in his plan. Jesus commands us to go to all parts of the world preaching the gospel. Its a privilege bestowed to his followers. The greatest gift I can give my sons right now besides knowing Christ is for them to feel like they are just like me. Sons look up to their fathers, and at some level, want to be like them. My six year old Andy gets the biggest smile on his face when Lacy says of something he does, “You are just like your daddy.” God gives us the privilege of working with our Heavenly father.
Charles Spurgeon once said if we could lift a persons shirt us and there be a mark indicating that they were Gods chosen, then that would make witnessing alot easier. We could just witness to some. But there is no such mark. Therefore, we are to go to all people and declare the glory of God.
There are plenty of verses in the Bible that speak of God desiring for ALL men to be saved. And I absolutely believe that to be true. How that works into his soverign will and his divine election is beyond my understanding. To pretend that I did have all the mysteries of God figured out would be no different than an ant claiming the knowledge of human.
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”Deuteronomy 29:29.
Im not God. Im was not created to understand everything this side of Heaven. Some things are considered the secret things of God. Maybe because they are irrelevant to Christ’s command for us to go and make disciples. Sort of like a small child asking his parents, “why…” over and over. Eventually, the parent would say, “Dont worry about why, just do what I told you.” Some things we as parents know our children will not understand and grasp. And it really doesnt matter that they understand, just that they are obediant. Because our commands for our kids are for their own good.
There are some things God never intended for man to figure out. Some questions are left unanswered. And Im ok with that. Many verses speak on Gods desire for all to be saved. And that is true. But in no way do these verses take away from the numerous others that clearly state that God is soverign over all things, including salvation. How it all plays out is one of the secret things of the Lord. I do believe that the choice is entirely up to God. And I believe I have been commissioned to go to ALL men and preach his gospel, so I may be a chosen tool, as was said of the apostle Paul, to open the hearts of many. Im not a Calvinist. But I will not try to twist and argue with scripture so that it fits what I am comfortable believing in. Man made theology doesnt define me. Christ does. And at the end of the day, its not important how God saves. The only thing that matters is that God does save. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is of First Importance. Amen.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, “
1 Corinthians 15:3-4.