Tulip, Anyone?

Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or,
Predestination and Responsibility

by O. P. Martin

tulip flower

Today I took a look at the arguments for Calvinism and Arminianism. In part, my friend, Barry, drove me to it with his incessant questions. I find that Calvinism is closer to the truth than Arminianism, but cannot completely espouse either. In particular, Calvinists should not get lazy, nor let their doctrine devolve into tenets of hyper-Calvinism.

As has been said, we are followers of Jesus Christ, are we not? Not Apollos, or Calvin, or anyone else.

However, let me briefly visit the five points:

1. Total depravity - The main point to ponder here is that God's calling precedes saving faith. The words of our Lord in John 6:44 are particularly poignant. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."

All persons receive common grace - Matthew 5:45 "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." The preceding verse says to love your enemies.

God chooses in His inscrutable reasons to lavish more grace, saving grace, on some. The Old and New Testaments both say that God does it in order to bring glory to Himself. "What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-- completely fitted for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-- even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24). This is not selfish. Remember, He sacrificed His Son for us. He deserves the glory. He is perfect. He will share His glory with us at the appropriate time. Praise Him!

2. Unconditional election - The Lord told the nation of Israel many times that He was not blessing them or bringing them back into favor because of any good thing they deserved, but so that His promises would be fulfilled. The same is true of us, as we see clearly in Romans 9:16 "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy."

The words "election" and "predestination" each appear multiple times in scripture, and there can be no argument that these things are true (if one believes the Bible). The phrase "free will" does not appear. We do enjoy freedom in Christ, after we are in Christ that is, but this is the freedom not to sin, freedom from the old law that brings death, and from decay.

Yet we do have a choice, and we are held accountable for our choice. How can this be? Both points, predestination and accountability, are taught and strongly emphasized in the Bible. We must accept them both even if we do not understand how they work together. That is one of the main points of Romans 9.

But, the two can be seen working together in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." God works IN us first, then we work OUT, second. We know that our works do not cause salvation but are an outgrowth of it. God is great enough that He can work behind the scenes of our hearts while still holding us responsible. Who are we to argue?

3. Limited atonement - This seems to me to be a very fine point. I doubt it makes much difference which way you believe here as long as it is recognized that the blood of Jesus takes away sin and provides salvation. Arguing over exactly for whom Christ died only takes away from time we should be loving others. We can say, the sacrifice on the cross is "sufficient for all, but effective only to the elect." It is as simple as that.

God is complex, and He has many loves in Him. It is true that God wants all to be saved ("For God so loved the world"). But, He has other, higher goals as well, such as glorifying Himself. If we humans can have conflicts of interest, certainly our Creator can as well. Even so, noone can claim that God has not shown ultimate love to us by sending His Son and giving everyone the chance to accept, even if we in our depraved state - our fault - need an extra nudge from Him. Remember, God gives grace to all so that we are without excuse, but to the elect He gave extra, special grace to cause us to believe. It is all more than what we deserve.

4. Irresistible grace - This would seem to be another somewhat fine point that once again is a function of the tension (at least in our puny minds) between predestination and responsibility.

God's general invitation is in view in Matthew 22:14, where it says "For many are invited, but few are chosen." Those who are chosen receive His "irresistible" call, which is seen in such verses as Romans 8:30: "And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." and Hebrews 3:1: "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess."

So, regarding a person who has a "fall from grace", assuming they do not return, 1 John 2:19 reveals: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."

5. Perseverance of the saints - This is the crux of the issue as far as our daily walk is concerned. A key concept that helps explain the two difficult ideas, which was first suggested to me by Dale Christopher, is the concept of point of view. Predestination and election are from God's point of view. The only reason we know about them is in how God has revealed them to us. From our point of view, we have choice and responsibility.

Therefore, a person who may have something of a belief - even the demons believe, and shudder - but does not persevere to the end in such a way that produces fruit, is not saved. This is not easy believism. The idea of "once saved always saved" and statements such as "No one can snatch them from Jesus' or the Father's hand." (John 10:28) are from God's point of view, not ours.

The Christian can experience assurance, though. One way is to examine one's life to see if there are the true marks of a believer as described in scripture (see 1 John). The Bible also says that the Holy Spirit will testify in us that we are God's adopted children. But if there is sin in your life, don't expect assurance. On the other hand, just because you are going through hardships, don't assume that you have lost His grace. God will not allow us to be tested more than we can bear, nor less than we need for salvation (1 Corinthians 10:13, Acts 14:22). God will be in the business of providing discipline, using the world, the flesh, the devil, and even our own mistakes, for the purpose of growing character, strengthening faith, and preparing us to help others, in order to mature us to be complete in Him.

Ultimately, if we cannot understand all that God has revealed to us, we must accept it by faith. If the parts we do understand are seen to be true, then we can trust the rest as well.

Of course, we wish to avoid the mistakes of hyper-Calvinism, such as that the Lord would author sin and evil, (although He does allow it and uses it), or that the will of man would be unimportant. Assurance is not strictly necessary, and, of course, one need not be a Calvinist to be saved. Some say that because God predestines, therefore we need not or should not evangelize. But, that is not true, for the gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." - Romans 1:16.

It is not enough to get our doctrine correct. We must practice what we believe as well.

In conclusion, the truth that God predestines is the greater truth, since God is greater and He initiates all good things. But, only He knows for sure at this time who the elect really are, those who will persevere to the end. From our point of view, our responsibility is very important, since our vision is limited, and we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And, 1 Timothy 3:13 "Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus."

Why does God want us to know about predestination? There are at least two reasons I can think of. First, it brings glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3:14 "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him." Second, it focuses on our humility in our dependence on Him. Since all good and perfect gifts come down from above from the Father of lights, we should be inspired to pray before each step, as it says, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 "Pray without ceasing."



Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

© copyright 2005-2007, O. P. Martin