The Heart of Calvinism

I don’t consider myself to be an overly-emotional person. However, three things consistently make me cry. First, watching Sam carry Frodo up the face of Mount Doom. Yes, I’ll tear-up *spoiler alert* when Gandalf dies – but it’s not the same, because he obviously comes back. Second, singing “Before the Throne of God Above” with my local congregation. Quite possibly my favorite hymn (after “There is a Fountain”).

The third culprit is Desiring God’s video “The Calvinist.” It is a five minute poem spoken by several leading Reformed theologians (but I believe Piper wrote the poem). Though well done, it is not the most creative or eloquent video. My love and emotion for the poem comes from its ability to communicate my deepest affections. Every time I listen to or watch it, I think, “Yes. That is who I am.”

I suggest that this poem is a unique glimpse into the heart of Calvinism. Despite the cold, studious manner Calvinists are often depicted in, I believe my brethren would agree that our souls burst with the affections articulated in this video. Take five minutes to watch The Calvinist.


A Brief Confession of the Doctrines of Grace

There are several distinctive truths of Calvinism. These principles in sum separate the Doctrines of Grace from other systems of theology. A person who believes these doctrines is typically described as Reformed in their soteriology. This article is a confession of the Doctrines of Grace. It is not a defense. I simply want to bear witness to these convictions that are very dear to me.

The Wickedness of Every Man

I believe that every human is born with a heart naturally inclined to sin. “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom 3:11). It is not that man literally cannot come to God, but rather that he will not come to God. Yet because his hostility for God is so strong, it is true to say that he will never seek for God nor submit to God in love. Thus, it is in that sense that every man is unable to come to God due to the depravity of his evil will (Mk 10:24-27). His will is bound to his own wicked affections (Rom 8:6-8).

The Father’s Merciful Choice

I believe that God chose specific sinners to redeem from sin and bring into an eternal enjoyment of His glory. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). Salvation does not depend on the will of man, but rather on God’s will to have mercy (Rom 9:16). God’s will to save an individual is the dependent factor in that individual’s salvation. There was no condition that any person had to meet prior to God’s decision to save that person. God’s salvific love is thus unconditional.

The Son’s Redeeming Sacrifice

I believe that Christ’s work on the cross definitively secured salvation for all those whom God chose to save (Eph 1:4). The atonement is unlimited in power yet limited in the scope of individuals to whom it is applied. No one for whom Christ bore sin will fall into eternal damnation (Rom 8:32-33). The intention of God at the cross was not to simply make salvation possible but rather to secure redemption through His blood for the saints (Eph 1:7). Christ literally was substituted for the saints as a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).

The Spirit’s Resurrecting Power

I believe that all those whom God chose and redeemed, He powerfully seals by His Spirit. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13). He resurrects their dead natures and gives them a heart that loves Him (Ezek 36; Jn 3:5; Rom 8:30). Only the Spirit gives such life (Jn 6:63; Eph 2:8-9). The most basic fruit of this regeneration is an affection for Jesus Christ (Jn 1:9-13; 1 Jn 5:1). The saint’s heart now has “taste buds” for God in such a way that he is removed from the bondage of wicked desires and effectually drawn to God (Eph 2:4-5).

The Hope of Every Saint

I believe that all those whom God chose, redeemed and sealed will be raised with Christ and glorified. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44). All of Christ’s sheep have eternal life and cannot be snatched out of God’s hand (Jn 10:27-29). No individual whom God sets His salvific love upon is left unglorified (Rom 8:29-30). A saint’s salvation is as secure as God’s will is sovereign: his peace rests on God’s immutable and effectual will to save (Rom 8:31-39).

These five pillars articulate one defining conviction: if it were not for God’s mercy, I would in every sense be lost. The difference made between the “wickedness” of the first and the “hope” of the last, is the Trinitarian work of God. I must confess with Jonah: “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon 2:9).

I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone. I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share in His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. (Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism”)

Five Reflections on Ephesians: Verses That Most Deeply Developed My Theology

The past six months, my Sunday School class has walked through Ephesians. I would like to share the five portions that have influenced me the most during this study. I pray that they likewise stir your affections for Christ.

My whole salvation experience is in reference to Christ (1:3).

Ephesians opens with a wonderful articulation of how God has blessed the saints. He elected (v.4), predestined (v.5), redeemed (v.7), awakens (v.9), and seals (v.13) every saint. Yet the most striking characteristic of vv.3-14 is that eleven times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (or an equivalent construction, ex. “in Him”). In fact, not one blessing a saint enjoys is outside the context of Christ. Everything God does for His people is in reference to His Son. I have seen here that my whole salvation experience (not just justification) is in reference to Christ.

Routine reflection on pre-conversion depravity is appropriate (2:12).

In light of God’s eternal purpose of salvation (1:1-23) and its application to us in time (2:1-10), there is a contrast in every believer’s life: pre-conversion and post-conversion. Every saint can sing with Newton, “I once was lost but now I’m found,” (emphasis mine). We may be inclined to think that after experiencing God’s grace it is sinful to ponder our lives before such grace, but Paul suggests just the opposite. We are to bear in mind our days of hopelessness apart from Christ, in order that the gospel be made precious to us and self-righteousness be driven out. I have seen here that a regular reflection on my pre-conversion depravity is appropriate and healthy.

History serves the gospel (3:6).

It is common opinion that the good news of Christ has been God’s response to the Fall of Adam. In this construction, the gospel serves history in that Christ crucified was a redirection God made in light of previous events. However, Ephesians asserts in nearly every chapter that Christ crucified was actually God’s purpose all along: that pre-creation He chose to save certain individuals in Christ (1:4), and that as history has progressed nothing has changed (3:6). The gospel is not God’s reaction to the Fall. Rather, God’s intention in history has always been Christ crucified, such that every event of earth has been sovereignly fitted to contribute to His glorious end. I have seen here that history serves God’s glory in the gospel.

The church is organic but not self-sustaining (4:16).

Communion in a local congregation is usually considered optional or “for fellowship sake” at best. Ephesians does not allow us to reasonably believe such things. Christ’s bride-to-be is invisibly united by His work (4:4-6) and must manifest this visibly (4:1-3). The body of Christ grows just as a body (4:16). As individual members exercise their spiritual gifts in sanctification, the corporate body is then further sanctified: corporate sanctification follows from individual sanctification. While this ‘organic’ growth of the corporate body is truly remarkable, Paul does not allow us to believe that the church is self-sufficient. The energy by which the body grows is clearly given by Christ: “Christ, from whom the whole body…causes the growth of the body,” (v.16). I have seen here that the church is organic but by no means self-sustaining.

Perseverance requires prayerfully lifting all things to God (6:18).

The believer’s earthly life is spent in the context of a world drenched in sin and depravity. How might one stand firm against those forces that oppose God so violently? Clearly, by depending upon the arm of God. The first six portions of armor are commonly reflected upon (6:10-17), but we must not neglect the seventh: prayer (v.18). Prayer is from a human perspective effective: a means ordained by God to accomplish His purposes in history. Prayer is also a grand sanctifier of our hearts, as it keeps our will in proper reference to God’s sovereign, perfect will (ex. Christ in the garden, Matt. 26). I have seen here that I should not expect to stand firm in any struggle that I do not lift to God in prayer.

A Testimony to the Value of Reading: Five Books That Have Shaped My Life

Outside of the Bible, five books have shaped my life in an un-ordinary way. These are books that so impacted me that my life trajectory was literally and significantly re-directed. I would like to present them to you as a testimony to the value of reading and engaging our mind in the teachings and stories of those who have come before us in the faith.

Justification and Regeneration (Charles Leiter)

Length: 176 pgs.
Leiter, Charles. Justification and Regeneration. Hannibal: Granted Ministries Press, 2009.

I discovered this gem by accident. I ordered it practically on a whim after it was recommended by a pastor I enjoy listening to. Before I had time to regret my decision, I rejoiced in it. This book, as the title suggests, outlines the two primary works of God in the conversion of a Christian. It centers primarily on regeneration, but the few chapters dealing with justification are worth every page. I walked into this short volume having practically no understanding of what it means to be re-born – I walked out able to teach it. Leiter’s discourse on imputation is invaluable – I refer to it before Horton or Grudem’s systematic theologies. He is also helpful clarifying the problem of man, Biblical assurance, and the Biblical illustrations of regeneration. From this book I realized the sufficiency of Christ and God’s powerful work in my salvation. I have not been the same since.

Justification is a declaration by a Judge; regeneration is an act of creation by an omnipotent Creator. (pg. 47)

Everything about you cries out instead for your damnation. Apart from the blood and righteousness of Christ, you have no hope… A criminal’s remorse for his crimes does not satisfy the just demands of the law. neither does faith pay for sin! Only the blood of Jesus can pay for sin! Justification is based on the blood of Christ. (pg. 34)

No man can ‘start a church’; God must do the impossible and make something out of nothing for a church to exist. (pg. 53)

The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges)

Length: 153 pgs.
Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006.

The number of pages betrays the amount of Biblical exposition and theological implication packed into this book. After Leiter clarified conversion, Bridges did the same for me with sanctification. I never understood my responsibility to pursue holiness until reading Bridges. This book makes plain the holiness of God and every believer’s commission to “be holy as God is holy.” The Pursuit of Holiness beautifully displays and illustrates mortification (putting sin to death) and vivification (delighting in Christ). Bridges is clear and straightforward, and he draws all of his points from Scripture. From this book I realized the capabilities for holiness within my new self (united to Christ) and my helplessness apart from His Word. I have not been the same since.

Our attitude toward Christ was expressed by the words of His enemies: “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Luke 19:14). But if we have been delivered from this realm, why do we still sin? Though God has delivered us from the reign of sin, our sinful natures still reside within us. Even though sin’s dominion and rule are broken, the remaining sin that dwells in believers exerts a tremendous power, constantly working toward evil….Our sinful natures resort to a sort of guerrilla warfare to lead us into sin. (pg. 55)

It is the Holy Spirit’s ministry to make us see that we are poverty-stricken because of our sins. He comes to us and says, “You are the man!”….When the Holy Spirit shows us our sinfulness, He does not do this to lead us to despair but to lead us to holiness. He does this by creating within us a hatred of our sins and a desire for holiness. (pg. 73)

The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. (pg. 80)

Whosoever Will (ed. Allen & Lemke)

Length: 298 pgs.
Allen, David L., Steve W. Lemke, et al. Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

This impacted me in a different way than the others. I read this at a time when I was just beginning to clarify where on the “reformed spectrum” of theology I would land. As the various SBC theologians in this book critiqued Calvinism, I saw – one after another – their dependence on traditional beliefs and ideas. Throughout the book, I was astonished to find such simple passages of Scripture misinterpreted, even in an honest attempt to know the truth. I walked into this book a shaky 3-point Calvinist. I put it down firmly convicted of all 5 tenants. From this book I realized the vast amount of assumed truths that we as evangelicals – and sadly, Southern Baptists – are convicted of. I have not been the same since.

(of particular interest, I point the reader to chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11, to illustrate my comments)

Shadow of the Almighty (Elisabeth Elliot)

Length: 347 pgs.
Elliot, Elisabeth. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

No single book outside of the Bible has influenced me to the extent that this one has. In Jim Elliot I quickly found a kindred spirit. Specifically, I related well to the manner of his comprehension of God, delight in God, devotion to God’s Word, abandon to God’s mission, and struggle with not wasting time on earth. One great impact that quickly took effect was seeing Elliot’s struggle to pass the “test of free time.” What do I do when I don’t have anything to do? Elisabeth’s commentary is wonderful as well. From this book I realized the fragility of life, the glory of life lived for God, and the joy in giving all to Him. I have not been the same since.

Yea, Lord, if it cost me my bride in this life, let me have Thy grace and power to bring to the Lamb the reward of His sufferings. (pg. 113)

Let nothing turn us from the truth that God has determined that we become strong under fire, after the pattern of the Son. Nothing else will do. Our silken selves must know denial. (pg. 125)

Christ needs some young fellows to sell out to Him and recklessly toss their lives into His work. (pg. 165)

Ah, for a place where Scriptures have not yet been twisted! Lord, send me to Ecuador! (pg. 193)

The Gospel’s Power and Message (Paul Washer)

Length: 274 pgs.
Washer, Paul. The Gospel’s Power and Message. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Paul Washer has given in this book an wonderful response to the cheap-gospel of today’s North American evangelicalism. Through Washer’s teaching on the gospel I was called into the gospel ministry. It would be near impossible to over-emphasize the brevity of value within his chapters on the divine dilemma of Exodus 34:6-7, the cross of Christ and He as propitiation, the vindication of God in Christ’s suffering, Christ’s ascension as the High Priest of His people, and the necessity for preaching to make much of sin in the pulpit. I have yet to hear a more accurate, clear presentation of the gospel than Washer’s. From this book I realized the heart of our faith in the cross of Christ and my own call to preach the gospel in vocational ministry. I have not been the same since.

Do we recognize that the power to save is found uniquely in the gospel? The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation. It is not just the core, or part of what is needed, but the whole. For it to have great effect upon men, it only needs to be proclaimed. It does not require a revision to make it relevant, an adaptation to make it understood, or a defense to validate it. If we stand up and proclaim it, it will do the work itself. (pg. 58)

Man is unable to love God because he hates God. He is unable to obey God because He disdains his commands. He is unable to please God because he does not hold the glory and good pleasure of God to be a worthy goal. Man is not a victim but a culprit. He cannot because he will not. His corruption and enmity toward God are so great that he would rather suffer eternal punishment than acknowledge God to be God and submit to His sovereignty. (pg. 119)

Imagine two giant millstones, one turning on top of the other. Imagine that caught between the two is a single grain of wheat pulled under the massive weight. First, the stones crush its hull beyond recognition, and then its inward parts pour out and are ground into dust. There is no hope of retrieval or reconstruction. All is lost and beyond repair. Thus, in a similar fashion, it pleased the Lord to crush His only Son and put Him to grief unspeakable. Thus, it pleased the Son to submit to such suffering that God might be glorified and His people might be redeemed. (pg. 191)

I have, in this blog, bore witness to five books which have changed the trajectory of my life. I encourage you, the reader, to find a solid author and dive into one of their books. Go read!