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How great is God's grace?  Find out just a portion of its depths in this issue as we look at the five points of Calvinism!

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Doctrines!

With the passing of Valentine's it’s appropriate to go straight to the heart of the gospel and the Reformed faith.  This issue is dedicated solely to the distinctive doctrines we call Calvinism or the "doctrines of grace."  Reformed theology has always stressed the Bible's repeated declaration that salvation is purely of the Lord and His sovereign will.  The following articles will briefly flesh out this principle as they follow the TULIP acronym often associated with these Biblical truths.  

Before getting into the articles though, I do wish to publicly thank those who contributed.  I know that it must be no easy work condensing your discussion of these truths into 500 words or less.  Do know that your time and effort is not unnoticed.  I greatly appreciate your assistance.  

Also, because the articles are restricted to such brevity, links to further scripture and Confessional support are provided at the end of each.

Total Depravity

Bad to the Bone. The concept of total depravity is simple: man is inherently bad. As we can see in Psalms 51:5, from his birth man is a sinner:  “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”      

Man is like a rotten apple.  But this raises a question: is the apple rotten from the core, or is it just rotten on the edges? Clearly, in the passage above, the psalmist says that he was shapen in iniquity; as an unborn or very young child, sin was in him. Mathew Henry puts it quite well in describing it as a “proneness to evil”:

"He confesses his original corruption. This is that foolishness which is bound in the heart of a child, that proneness to evil, and that backwardness to good, which is the burden of the regenerate, and the ruin of the unregenerate."
 
Man’s sin is an inherited characteristic. Man cannot get away from it on his own. As Psalm 14:1-3 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

So, sin is definitely in man; it is foolish and false to say otherwise. All men commit sin, but is it in the core of his being? In other words: does he occasionally do its bidding, or is he its slave? Our Lord Jesus Christ answered that question:

"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?  Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.  And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.  I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you." John 8:31-37 (KJV)

Truly, man is enslaved to sin, sin permeates his entire being, the apple is rotten from the core, and it will land with an ugly splat if it is not caught and transformed by our good Lord. Thank God!

-Eric Laub

SOURCES:  The Calvinist Corner: http://calvinistcorner.com/tulip

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Limited Atonement

"I lay down my life for my sheep": A very erroneous notion that plagues evangelicalism today is the idea that Christ laid down his life for each and every individual; that he went to the cross to save all men without exception. Such a view is not consistent with Biblical Christianity. If a person says they subscribe to four of the five points of Calvinism, there is a high likelihood that “limited atonement” is the one they reject. The reality is that Calvinism is an integrated system, and individual points cannot logically be accepted or rejected.  

In John 10:14-15 Jesus said that he dies for His sheep and not the goats. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  In other words, Jesus died for the elect (sheep) not for unbelievers (goats). The only alternatives to limited atonement are universal salvation or salvation by works, both of which are unbiblical.

Arminians hold to a “potential” or “indefinite” atonement that can be accessed by sinners exercising “belief” in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. This is in effect making faith or belief a work that must be performed in order to acquire the benefits of Christ’s atonement.

Advocates of unlimited atonement point to scriptures like 1 John 2: 1-2, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  They claim that use terms like “the world,” or “all men” or “all nations,” to claim that Christ’s atonement was for “each and every person.”

However, in most instances these words were used by N.T. writers to emphatically correct the mistaken Jewish notion that full salvation was not for the Gentiles. The idea of the “whole world,” for instance, does not mean each and every person, but people from all tribes, tongues, and nations.

Even if we grant, for sake of discussion, the Arminian notion that atonement is potentially available for all men if they exercise belief, there is a logical contradiction involved, that the English Puritan, John Owen (1616-1683) pointed out.  Here is the dillema:

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for either...
  1. All the sins of all men,
  2. All the sins of some men,
  3. Some sins of all men.
If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved.

If the Second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins?  You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not?  If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not.  If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death?  If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins, let them choose which part they will.

-Eric Wagner

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Perseverance of the Saints

Never forsaken:  In order to get right to the heart of this critical doctrine, here is a definition:  “the perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again” (Grudem, 2000, 788).  Due to space restrictions, there are only two subtopics that I will address:

  1. Any who are truly saved will not lose that salvation.
  2. Any who are not truly saved will fail to persevere in their faith until the end.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29, ESV). 

John MacArthur, in his typical straight to the point style, says of these verses, “Who are the true sheep?  The ones who follow.  Who are the ones who follow?  The ones who are given eternal life” (1994, 194). 

From this then, we can see that none who are given eternal life (the elect) will ever be lost.  Numerous other Scriptures also support this doctrine, some of which are cited here:  John 6:38-40, Romans 8:1 (the pardon we receive as a result of Christ’s atonement is not a temporary pardon), Romans 8:30 (only those saved go through these steps), Ephesians 1:13-14 (the Holy Spirit serves as our guarantee), Philippians 1:6 (the good work is our salvation, which will be completed), and I Peter 1:5 (God is protecting us until the time of our salvation takes full effect).

I believe one of the best examples of failure to persevere comes from Scripture, but it is a relatively hidden story.  Demas must have shown signs of faith at some point in his life. Paul mentions him in three separate passages.  In the first two, Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24, Demas is included in lists of fellow workers for Christ.  It is worth noting that Paul describes Luke as “the beloved physician” and then only lists the name Demas in the Colossians passage.  From these two passages it is reasonable to believe that Demas was known among the leaders of the Christian churches at that time. 

However, one of the last things that Paul wrote was the book of 2 Timothy.  In 2 Timothy 4:9-11, Paul states that Demas has “deserted me” because he was “in love with this world.”  It is also worth noting how Paul speaks of John Mark in that passage,  the very same John Mark that had caused Paul and Barnabas to split ways prior to the start of Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-40).  It is clear that despite John Mark’s failure on the first missionary journey, whatever it may have been, that John Mark persevered in his faith.  It is also quite clear that Demas did not persevere, despite his earlier appearance of faith.

Other passages relating to those who do not persevere in their faith include: I John 2:19 (going out from us refers to leaving the body of Christ), John 8:31-32 (continuing to follow Christ is a sign of being a true disciple), Matthew 7:21-23 (not all who show evidence of faith will be saved), Mark 4:1-20 (the parable of the sower where both the seed that fell in the stony ground and also the seed that was later choked out by the weeds initially showed signs of growth).

-Craig Redmond

Grudem, Wayne (2000). Systematic Theology. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

MacArthur, John (1994). The Gospel According to Jesus.  Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan

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Unconditional Election

Chosen before the foundation of the world: Unconditional election is frequently referred to as Predetermination.  This overarching term describes God’s decree regarding the eternal destination of people.

To understand this principle requires the clarification of basic terms.  Pure Calvinism describes actually two specific decrees as unconditional election.  First, there is the choosing by God of those who will be saved.  Secondly, there is reprobation, the “non-choosing”, if you will, of those who will not be saved. 
 
The election is described as unconditional because there is nothing that we can do to cause God to choose us. The driving force in the decision is God’s sovereign pleasure.  The application of both these decrees together is sometimes referred to as double predestination or double election. This idea of unconditional election can be found in verses from scripture such as the following:
 
“Who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…And those he predestined he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  Rom. 8:28-30

“It does not therefore depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Rom. 9:16

“You did not choose me but I chose you.” John 15:16 

"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy?" Rom. 9:22

The opposite of unconditional election is conditional election, which is supported by Arminian theology. In conditional election, God selects those whom He knows will choose Him.  Reprobation does not exist in this theology.  Weaknesses and criticisms of this doctrine include that it supports works-based salvation, and is a man-centered theology.
 
This question of election cannot be debated without discussing total depravity first.  If you truly believe that people will chose God on their own free will, then conditional election makes sense. If it has taken the Holy Spirit grabbing you by the scruff of the neck to show you that you are a hopeless sinner, you may doubt the possibility reaching that conclusion yourself.
 
Concerning reprobation, probably the most frequent argument against this aspect of Calvinism is that the damned are damned without the option of repenting.  They are punished for sins which they have no way of avoiding, and this just doesn’t seem fair.  When pressed on the harshness of the meaning of reprobation, Calvin did admit that “the decree is dreadful indeed, I confess.”  He maintained that double election was a great mystery, and we should adopt “a learned ignorance” and be not ashamed to not know the answer of what is God’s will and why. It is difficult to accept that we are not capable of knowing everything.  Luther stated that it was dangerous to try. 
 
R.C. Sproul concurs that predestination is a difficult doctrine and should be handled with great care, but reminds us that it is also a biblical doctrine and therefore must be handled.  We cannot just ignore it.

-Kathy Laub

Sources:
Allison, Gregg R. Historical Theology; An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Zondervan. 2011.

Olsen, Roger E.  Against Calvinism. Zondervan. 2011.

Spencer, Duane Edward. TULIP. The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture. Baker Books. 2009.

Sproul, R.C Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1992.

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Irresistable Grace

The power of God's call: When my wife and I moved into our first apartment, we ran to the store to purchase a very large can of bug spray.  When we got home, the little critters residing there received a hearty dousing.  It’s likely that many of the pests died from drowning instead of the fumes. 

Nevertheless, the spray did its job.  It was effectual, and the creepy-crawlies couldn’t resist its overwhelming power.

While this anecdote might be crude, it wonderfully illustrates how God’s grace works in the life of a sinner.  The only difference is that the grace God brings life to the sinner, and not death.

The classic text for this doctrine is found in John 6:44.  Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”  Then He reiterates these words a few verses later, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (v.65).  In sum, Jesus says that salvation is solely by the sovereign power of God and His effectual application of grace.

We can see an analogy of this doctrine in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Lazarus would not come out of the tomb by his own power.   The only way he could leave his tomb was by the life giving intervention of Christ.  Once the Lord granted this, he could come forth.

Just so, those who are dead in sin will not jump up and grasp the eternal life that is in Christ.  It is only when the Spirit quickens the lifeless soul that he will rightly respond to the gospel.

This stands in opposition to the belief that God merely woo's sinners with the gospel in order to win them over.  It is widely believed today that the Lord would never intrude upon one's free will when it comes to his accepting or rejecting Christ.  This being so, they assert that the Spirit simply entices sinners the best He can, and leaves it to them to accept it or resist it.

However, Scripture never presents the Spirit's work in such a light.  Instead, He is described as "enlightening the eyes" (Eph 1:18), giving a "new birth"  (Jn 3), and raising sinners from the dead (Eph 2:4).  His work is portrayed as an active one, whereby He engages the sinner and radically transforms their stubbornly resistant nature.  

At this point our Arminian brothers object, saying, "Does God then drag a man, contrary to his wishes, into heaven?"  (or "kicking and screaming" as they say).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  When the Spirit renews a sinner's heart, He renews the will and affections too.  In sum, He enables them to respond to Christ.

We can come back to our earlier illustration regarding the resurrection of Lazarus.  We know that Lazarus didn’t pitch a fit about coming back to life.  Once he came to life, he gladly embraced it.  

The same holds true with the regenerating power of the Spirit.  Once the Lord takes the heart of stone and turns it into a heart of flesh the individual readily embraces his new life. 

In the end, we can say this:  Yes, men do come kicking and screaming into heaven.  But it is not because they are being drug there against their will.  Rather the whoop-la is due to our great delight.  They have recieved a glorious gift that they would never have had if it were up to their own power or potential.  By the Spirit's enablement they kick and scream with joy at having been given this undeserved opportunity.

-Matt Timmons

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Worship at Providence

Focus on the majesty of God!:  Providence Church meets in the Lion's Club in Mifflin, OH on Sate Route 603.  Services begin each Lord's Day at 10:30 am.

At Providence you'll find a traditional service that integrates the great hymns of the church with quality contemporary songs and psalter selections.  The service is saturated with Scripture and focused on the majesty of God.

For more information go to www.free-reformed.net.
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