The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #2

The Dilemmas and Contradictions of Calvinism

In this post, I continue to explore the role that man plays in God’s plan of salvation. Particularly, I will focus on the doctrine of Calvinism in order to highlight the dilemmas and contradictions that emerge in its interpretation of predestination and election. I do not intend to review fully this theology, as it would require a much longer essay. However, I will present some points that give us an idea of its falsity. As I mentioned in my first post, there are five main points that summarize God’s plan of salvation within the Calvinistic doctrine, which are represented by the mnemonic device TULIP: T- Total Hereditary Depravity, U- Unconditional Election, L- Limited Atonement, I- Irresistible Grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints. These points are so intimately related that if you can see the fallacy in one or two of them, the whole system falls. Therefore, I will discuss specifically the concepts of predestination and election.

The details of Calvinist theology are laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The following is stated concerning predestination and election:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished”.

Calvinism teaches that God, in his sovereign counsel, determined before the foundation of the world certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. That is, each person in this world and those to be born have been predestined for either salvation or condemnation, and there is nothing that can be done to change it because their design and God’s decision are immutable. God’s election of the saved is independent of any works that man could do, and therefore, it is unconditional (Chap. III, Secs. III-IV). Calvinism also teaches that, if you are elected for eternal life, God personally calls you in such a way that you are irresistibly drawn to Christ (Chap. X, Sec. I). Once you have been called according to God’s grace, it is impossible to willfully fall away. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “[t]his perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (Chap. XVII, Sec. II). Although this summary is not exhaustive, the basic ideas of this theology present a dilemma because it contradicts basic truths concerning the righteousness of God and the free will of man. Calvinists claim to accept these truths; however, their teachings on these matters are conflictive and are based on an incorrect interpretation of the Scriptures. Note also that the implication of this doctrine is that once you are saved, you can never fall from grace, which does not align with what we observe in the Bible as it relates to the practice of sin.

One of the passages cited within Calvinism to support predestination is Romans 9:20-24:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

When these verses are taken out of context, and we do not consider the author’s original intent, they would indeed lead us to believe that God has predestined specific individuals to be saved or lost. However, this interpretation presents a serious conflict with verses concerning the righteousness of God (See Post #1). Even in the same chapter of the above passage, Paul asked the question, “[w]hat shall we say then? Is the unrighteousness with God?” (Rom. 9:14). His answer was clear, “certainly not!”

Calvinists support their interpretation of election with 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9 and Ephesians 2:8-10:

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (New King James Version)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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. (ESV)

These verses also have been taken out of their context, which has distorted the true message of the author’s writing. This abuse of the Scriptures lends to misunderstandings and false teachings. The idea that God elected certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost and that those who are saved cannot at any time fall from grace does not align with the word of God. If God’s decrees are unchangeable, and he has decreed that some will be saved and others will be lost, then we have to conclude the following: 1) God creates evil people who are designed this way from birth, 2) man does not have free will in making a decision to do good or evil, 3) even if a person wanted to be saved and actually lived a Christian life, it would be impossible because God has already decided that they would be lost, and 4) there is no way of knowing that you are saved or lost.

The Calvinistic view of salvation does not, in fact, teach anyone how to be saved. This doctrine contradicts fundamental principles concerning the Creator and his creation. It compromises the integrity of God, takes away our free will, and does not give us any assurance of salvation. The Scriptures teach that we should be confident in the fact that we are saved and are to have assurance in the faith (Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11, 10:22, 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:13). The only way to have that assurance is to trust God’s plan and to choose to submit to whatever his plan entails; that is, we must be obedient just like Christ was (Rom. 16:26; Phil 2:8). This is not to say that we have the opportunity to boast because even when we are obedient, we continue to be unprofitable servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).

In my third post, I will attempt to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the Calvinist doctrine by defining predestination according to the Scriptures and by correctly interpreting Romans 9:20-24. We will see that, although God’s plan of salvation does involve predestination, it is not the type that is taught in Calvinism. The passage in Romans does not demonstrate that specific individuals are headed towards salvation or condemnation independent of their own free will and by an immutable decree made by God.

Love Those Who Hate You

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God is merciful, gracious, and patient. Even though we don’t deserve it, he blesses us anyway. He makes the rain fall and the sun shine on the just and the unjust, and he expects us to be like him in this respect. Therefore, we can’t love just the people that love us; we also have to love those that hate and persecute us, which is the real challenge. Christ came to this earth to die so that we all could have the opportunity of salvation and be reconciled with God, and he did it even though we were his enemies. Since he did that great work for us, we should learn how to forgive our enemies and love them even when they hate us. I pray that God would help us through his word to learn how to be merciful, gracious, and patient with others.

By Grace (God’s Part) Through Faith (Man’s Part)

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:9-10)

God offered salvation to all mankind according to his grace and by the death of Jesus Christ even before the beginning of time. No work of man could have brought about salvation since mankind had not been created at the time God devised his plan. However, salvation is not by grace only; it is by grace through faith. Some say salvation depends solely on God. If this affirmation were true, we would have to conclude that God has grace and faith, which is impossible. He is omniscient – all knowing, and thus, does not have faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Man is who has faith, and therefore, we conclude that man must appropriate God’s grace through faith: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). We cannot be saved without faith because it is impossible to please God without it. We must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The word of God teaches that, despite the fact that salvation is a gift of God, both man and God have a part to play in order for man to be saved because faith is a requirement that must be fulfilled by man.

If man is saved through his faith in God who has offered his grace, it is important to understand what faith is. As mentioned, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, such as the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God commands us to do something, although we do not understand it completely or see the connection, we must do it in order to please him. Faith is not just believing, but taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are presented with many examples of people who manifested their faith in the actions that they carried out: by faith, Noah prepared an ark; by faith, Abraham obeyed and offered up Isaac; by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; by faith, Jacob blessed each of his sons and worshipped; by faith, Joseph gave instructions; by faith, Moses suffered affliction with the people of God, forsook Egypt, kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of the blood; by faith, the people of God passed through the Red Sea by dry land; by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled seven times; by faith, the harlot Rahab did not perish because she received the spies with peace. All of these people obeyed God and took action. They had obedient faith, not inactive belief (cf. Rom. 16:26).

Since faith is understood as obedience to the commandments of God, we must know what God’s commandments are concerning salvation. We learn about salvation by hearing the preaching and teaching of the gospel or by studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11; Rom. 10:17). The message of the gospel is expressed in simple terms. God manifested himself in human form, and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. Although he lived just like us, he fulfilled all righteousness and committed no sin (Matt. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The very people he came to save crucified him unjustly, and his blood was spilled in order for man to receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16). This sacrifice was an act of grace, which is God’s part. Now, we must do our part and appropriate that grace through faith by being obedient to the commandments of God. We must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:8-9), repent of our past sins (Acts 17:30-31), and be baptized or immersed in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16). As a result, we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord adds us to his church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; cf. Matt. 16:18). We come to see that, as we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation.

Many reject the plain and simple teachings of the Bible, and manipulate God’s word in order to formulate their own false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They deceive themselves (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13) by believing that they have no role in their own salvation. Logically, this kind of doctrine takes all the responsibility off of them. Whether they are saved or lost would not be their fault, but rather God’s. They state that man is saved by grace through faith without understanding what faith truly is. They also deny the essentiality of baptism, and repentance for that matter, in the plan of salvation. However, when one studies the Scriptures with an open and honest heart, it is difficult to deny that God has devised a plan based on his matchless grace and man’s obedient faith.

Saved by Grace, but what about Works?

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

James 2:24
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

There is a lot of discussion on whether our salvation is based on grace through faith or on our works. The most prominent theme in the Bible is the grace and mercy of God. Grace is that God has given us what we do not deserve, and mercy is that He has withheld what we do deserve. He sacrificed His Son for our sins and withheld His wrath. His grace and mercy always have been taken for granted, which is evidenced in the Old and New Testaments and also in modern times. We should be thankful for the gift of grace, which was the atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His Son. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, our salvation is based on this gift of grace, in which we believed (John 1:12-13; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23, 4:4, 4:16, 11:6; Galatians 2:16). We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He came to die on the cross as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). There was nothing that we could do on our own to cleanse ourselves of the sins we had committed before being saved. And even after receiving His grace, we still continue to sin against each other and against God. However, His grace is so sufficient that the blood of Christ cleanses us of our sins throughout our lives if we continue to walk in the light (cf., 1 John 1:7-10). It is clear that no one can boast of anything they do because we are all guilty of sin, and no matter how much we strive to be righteous, we will never be able to meet the standard (see Romans 7) because our righteousness is like filthy rags.

“as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:10-11)

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:27-28).

“You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23).

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6 New King James Version).

So those who believe that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works are correct. It is clearly stated in the Bible. However, in James 2:24 it is also clear that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Also, there are several verses in the Scriptures that express the fact that we are to do good works as Christians.

“…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

We know that God does not contradict himself, and I believe the reason why these verses appear to be contradictory is because we tend to look at passages without considering the historical context. Let’s start first with the texts that say that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works. We see this idea emerging mainly in Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and also when Paul addresses the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13. The Jewish Christians were binding themselves to mosaic law (but not out of obligation), and were also trying to bind Gentile Christians to that law. They couldn’t accept the fact that Gentiles could be saved only by the gospel and not by adhering to the law also. They were requiring that the Gentile Christians be circumcised because that was part of their tradition. Paul had to explain to both Jews and Gentiles why their works of the law were no longer necessary (Ephesians 2:8-9): “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…” The word “works” is referring to the different sacrifices and rituals of the law, such as sin-offerings and circumcision. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that would take care of what the law couldn’t do, cleanse them of their sins.

The context of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians was different from that of Paul’s letters. James was addressing Christians that supposedly had faith but weren’t doing the good works that showed their faith. They were hearers of the word but not doers. We could think of them as lukewarm Christians like those in the church in Laodicea (cf., Revelations 3:14-21). James was basically saying to them that just because you believe, it doesn’t mean that you stop there because even the demons believe in God and shudder (cf., James 2:19). According to chapters 1 and 2, these Christians had several issues: favoritism, false wisdom/teaching, lack of humility, lack of mercy and patience with one another, etc. All these things showed that they lacked faith. Their faith was dead because they did not have good works (cf., James 2:20).

So what can we take from these verses that appear to contradict each other? We are indeed saved by grace through our belief that Christ did die for the sins of mankind, and because of that, we should have an active faith, doing what we have been created to – good works (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot say that we love God and have faith in Him if we do not keep His commandments. Many of us think that love and faith in God is a feeling, and I believe many live a life of distress when they don’t “feel” these things. The fact of the matter is love and faith is doing. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (emphasis is mine). That is, faith is express through love, and love is action:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

“Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:4)

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it” (2 John 1:6).

“‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:21-23).