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.

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A Brief Note on Romans 8:28-30

Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The foreknowledge of God in Romans 8:29 simply means that God knew something before the beginning of time. This particular text shows that he knew before time those who would love him, which are those who keep his commandments (John 14:15-21; 2 John 1:6). He predestined those who love him to be conformed to the image of Christ. “Predestined” means that he has a destiny for all men to be like Christ, that is, to be Christians. This idea of predestination differs from that of Calvinistic thought in which the passage is interpreted as if there were a specific group of people elected to be saved and another group to be lost. The Bible clearly teaches that ALL men have been predestined. John 3:16 says, “[f]or God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The term “world” refers to the inhabitants of the earth, and not just some, but all. We know that God gave his only son for all of us because 2 Peter 3:9 says that he does not wish that any man should perish but that ALL come to repentance. God did not send his son to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through his son (John 3:17).

However, although he destined us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless like Christ (Eph. 1:4), only a few decide to go along with God’s plan. Many are called, but because of their unrighteousness, few are chosen (Matthew 20:16, 22:14). That is why it is important that we work out our soul salvation (Philippians 2:12). We are called to obey, and in that obedience, we are saved (2 Thess. 1:8). Think about it this way – the Israelites were God’s chosen people (Exodus 6:7; Deut. 4:20, 7:6, 14:2); however, they chose to live according to their own desires, not following the law that God had given them (Jeremiah 9:13ff):

13 And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, 14 but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. 16 I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”

God gave them the freedom to choose between him and other gods. Unfortunately, in many instances, they desired to worship other gods in spite of the fact that they were God’s chosen people. The same happens today in Christianity. God has chosen all of us, not just some of us, and he predestined a plan, which is the gospel. This plan of salvation was in the mind of God before the world began (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9); it is the great mystery that has been revealed to us (1 Tim. 3:16). He manifested himself in the flesh as Jesus Christ and died for the sins of all mankind so that we could have the opportunity to be reconciled with him (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 5:10-11; Eph. 2:11-18). Now he has left it up to us to choose to obey him (Rom. 16:26). Unfortunately, many will turn away from God and decide to not.