Copyright © September 13, 2017
There are many variations of Calvinism. The problem with historic “Calvinists” is that they take verses out of context thus instituting a pretext. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign and that He gave man freedom to choose the world or God. Man chooses, God judges. “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1.32; see the Endnote for Romans 1.18-32 with comments).
The best way to understand a Bible issue is by starting in Genesis and going through Revelation. Let us consider Calvinism in that light. Adam and Eve had free will – they chose whether to obey God’s one rule. They failed. After the fall, everyone was born with a sin nature:
- Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
- Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
But man still had freedom of choice:
- Genesis 4:7-15 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” [Notice that God is forbidding man to rule over other men. Men are to be controlled only by their conscience, their knowledge of good and evil. God changed this at the flood. See The Biblical Doctrine of Government.]
- Joshua 24:15 “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
A study of the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation, looking at all the verses in the immediate and overall context, makes clear the Sovereignty of God and the freedom of man to choose or to reject God.
Let me skip forward to the NT for just a couple of examples:
- Luke 16:10-13 “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
- Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
- 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
The idea that the sovereignty of God means God controls everything that a man does is a philosophy with a few Bible verses thrown in, here and there, as a pretext to support the philosophy. Calvinists state that God is Sovereign; that is true. Many Calvinists then assert that only those chosen by God are His elect and will be saved while all other are destined to hell. The Bible truth is that the Sovereign God gave man freedom to choose God or the world. Yes, as Calvinists assert, man has a sin nature. However, every man has a choice to make. He can choose to turn to God or not to turn to God. As will be shown below, the choice he makes is not a work.
Calvinism teaches that since man is totally depraved, He can do nothing to save himself. The latter is true, but what about the former? Is man totally depraved? Sometimes concepts are found in the Bible and labels are attributed to them. Is the total depravity of man a concept found in the Bible? True, man can do nothing to earn his salvation. God does it all when a man chooses to turn to God and put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to save him from his sin. All men are sinners. “Sin” and “sinners” are words found in the Bible. However, I don’t find the word depraved (which means “morally corrupt, wicked” or, according to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary “Corrupt; wicked; destitute of holiness or good principles.”) in the Bible. I do not find the concept of total depravity in the Bible. I do find the word “wicked” in the Bible, but it is not referring to all men. Some lost people are virtuous to one extent or another, more so than some “Christians” and even some “Calvinists” that I have met. So how can one say that every man is “totally” depraved? One can say that there is none good, in God’s eyes and according to God’s standards, but can one say that some men do not have a degree of virtue – I think not.
I have known men who had some virtue, so much virtue that they felt they were good. Yes, they would admit to me that they had sinned, but only in a minor sense. Their greatest sin, which they did not realize, was their self-esteem, their self-righteousness, their pride. I can’t say that they were wicked or totally depraved. Yet, they were sinners in need of a Savior, as are all men.
The word “pride” is in the Bible; God hates pride – do a word study in the Bible, the King James Bible. The man who refuses to turn to God is proud. According to the Bible, turning to God, true repentance, is accompanied by contrition, humility, and a broken heart brought by the realization that one is a hopeless sinner, bound for hell, and that only God – not his good works, not his idols, not his religion – can save him.
- Psalms 34:18 “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”
- Psalms 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
- 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
- See also, Isaiah 57.15, 66.2: Jeremiah 44.10, 2 Chronicles 7.14;
- for many other relevant Scriptures do word searches of “humble,” “contrite,” “pride,” “proud,” etc.
Calvinists in New England, like their forefathers in Geneva, expected virtue from every man, but they acknowledged that only the elect were saved (and therefore “pious”); Calvinist pastors taught that God would make known, at some time in one’s life, whether he was one of the elect; they further taught that every man was to live a “virtuous” life. Obviously, to them total depravity did not mean total inability to live a virtuous life. By legislating all the commandments and much of the Levitical law, they believed the civil government could enforce virtue. Their covenant theology which arbitrarily applied selected rules for the theocracy of Israel to a Gentile nation was much flawed.
A caveat must be added here. Some “Calvinists” are not Classic Calvinists. For example, Isaac Backus, in Massachusetts colony, came out of Calvinism after being saved during the famous Whitefield revival. Thereafter, he began intense Biblical examination of his Calvinist beliefs, instilled in him by many years of faithful church attendance. He ended up rejecting infant Baptism, Covenant Theology, and Separation of Church and State, three bedrocks of Classic Calvinism. He became a Separatist and finally a Baptist, even though he still claimed to be a Calvinist. To understand what a “Calvinist” really believes, one must know what he believes. There are many variations of belief of those who claim to be “Calvinist.” Classic Calvinism is dead wrong about most Bible issues.
What about the elect? The Bible does not teach that the elect were chosen by God from they beginning. Rather, the Bible teaches that the elect were foreknown by God, something entirely different. The elect are those who choose to repent toward God and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to save them.
The Bible never uses “predestinate” or “predestinated” in reference to the lost; in context, both terms are referring to the saved. For example, God predenstined those who are saved “to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
Most of our founding fathers thought that virtue, not piety, was enough to preserve the country. How wrong they were. They saw a lot of “virtuous” men in their society. Even lost people respected the Word of God, generally speaking. One can be so good or “virtuous,” in his eyes and even in the eyes of others, that he thinks he does not need a Savior. Or, if he is a Calvinist, he waits on evidence of His salvation, rather than choosing to repent and put his faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that some Calvinists actually turn to God and put their faith in Jesus Christ even though it is not a well thought out matter. If they do that, they are saved. Some Calvinists trusted Christ as Savior and later, not being well-grounded in the Word of God and proper Bible interpretation, are deceived:
- “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8)
God has given every person a God consciousness, a knowledge of who God is (Romans 1.18-32). That consciousness includes the understanding that God is a God of wrath and judgment (Id. 1.18, 32). In progressive stages, God continues to deal with a man. At any point before God gives him up to a reprobate mine (verse 28 et. seq.), a man may choose to seek God. Once given up to a reprobate mind, the man can no longer turn to God. Should a man turn to God, God will then deal with him through his conscience, his knowledge of who he is–a hopeless lost sinner who cannot do enough good works to be saved (Romans 2).
At the fall, the Sovereign God gave to every person a conscience (the knowledge of good and evil). Later, He gave the Law to the theocracy of Israel, but the law is written in everyone’s heart. Both Jew and Gentile are responsible to God:
- Romans 2:12-16 “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
The conscience and the law condemn a man. If a man accepts the fact that he is a hopeless lost sinner, God reveals to him, through God’s Word, the way to be found not guilty even though he is guilty, how to be justified before God (Romans 3). If a man acts on that light, God saves him.
God saves the man who chooses to turn to Him and to put his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a man realizes that he is condemned by his sin and that he can do absolutely nothing worthy of salvation, that only repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ can save him from his trespasses and sins. Repentance means turning and is not a work. When one turns toward God, he has to turn away from the world – his sin, his idolatry, his religion. He turns to God as a helpless lost sinner and trusts the One who can save him.
Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ are not works; they are the opposite of works:
- Romans 4:1-8 “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
- John 3:16-21 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
Again, a multitude of other verses prove these matters.
- Romans 10:9-13 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.“
The first step toward salvation is acknowledging God. God put a God-consciousness in everyone. The next step is acknowledging oneself – who he is (Romans 2-3). The third and final step is realized when one turns to God as a hopeless, lost sinner who can do nothing to earn his salvation, and and trusts Jesus Christ to save him from his sin.
As to the first step, Romans 1.18-32 is very clear:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
See also, God’s Plan of Salvation.