One of the most tragic teachings in Christianity is that God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and who will be lost. It matters little how we live, this teaching declares, for in the end God will save only those whom he chooses. If the doctrine of Calvinism seems skewed and unjust, that’s because it is. There are a multitude of ways to counter it, but one of the best ways is to remind ourselves that God has made us free moral agents, people with the power to choose. We can choose to serve God, or choose not to; God has given us that ability.
Toward the end of his distinguished career, Moses called on his people to choose: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Continue reading “Choose this day”
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…” (Matthew 5:29-30; see also: Mark 9:43-47).
Would you be surprised to learn that heaven will cost you an arm and a leg? And maybe even an eye?
I believe the above passage presents a great – indeed, an insurmountable – difficulty for those who believe that we incur no cost in our own salvation. Does our obedience to the gospel turn God’s grace into a payment for services rendered? Continue reading “Are you pulling my leg (off)?”
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5).
I had a conversation about Calvinism recently with a young person. We were speaking of a couple that had left the church for a community church that taught Calvinism. My young friend observed, insightfully I thought, that they like the teaching because they assume that they were among those destined to be saved. Continue reading “Once saved”
Calvinism is the teaching that God sovereignly chooses those whom he wanted to be saved, and those who were destined to die in a state of eternal punishment. If predestined to be saved, once saved, he was always saved. If destined to be lost, no matter how strongly he desired to serve God, he would inevitably die in a lost condition. Calvinism suggests that we have no choice, God sovereignly determines our fate.
“Raccoon” John Smith, one of the most colorful characters in the early Restoration Movement (how could anyone nicknamed “Raccoon” not be colorful?) was originally a denominational preacher who was expected to preach the major tenants of Calvinism, a doctrine known as predestination. It is a doctrine that suggests God sovereignly chooses, or does not choose, those who will be saved. Regardless of how a person believes or acts, he is predestined to be saved or lost.
Jesus in his night-time meeting with the Pharisee Nicodemus establishes one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. Nicodemus begins by noting that he understood the distinctiveness of Jesus’ teachings and actions.
“Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
Nicodemus could have been a witness of the sign manifest by Jesus during the Passover.
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing” (John 2:23).
Truly, Nicodemus could have been one of the individuals who “believed in His name” or at least observed what Jesus had done.
It is not recorded if Jesus ever acknowledged the compliment. What John records is Jesus’ teaching concerning the new birth that was to be established in the New Covenant.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
This statement was confusing to Nicodemus. He could not see how an individual could undergo a second physical birth.
“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’” (John 3:4).
Nicodemus was confused because he was thinking about an individual’s physical birth and Jesus was taking about spiritual birth.
“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:5-6).
Jesus’ teaching differentiates between physical and the spiritual birth. He also teaches that this new spiritual birth was to be constituted in water. Jesus established the foundation of water baptism as the gateway to the Kingdom.
His command at the conclusion of John’s gospel also notes baptism is the point of salvation (salvation being a prerequisite to entering the Kingdom),
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned’” (Mark 16:15-16).
Peter in the first Gospel sermon teaches by inspiration:
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
This foundational command is taught as an absolute throughout the New Testament.
History also dictates the significance of water baptism in this context. For centuries following the establishment of the Church/Kingdom writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian Cyprian, etc. understood that Jesus was talking about water baptism. It was not until the teachings of John Calvin (1509 – 1564) that baptism was excluded as the element of the new birth.
The followers of John Calvin and his misunderstanding have influenced much of the incorrect teachings concerning this context today. It is a sad reality that many who believe themselves to be born again have never studied or understood this simple foundational teaching.
But instead, they have blindly followed the teachings of men to their detriment. We pray they will come to the truth.
Bad news travels fast–especially in religious circles. The latest fatality is Dr. Jack Schaaps, “pastor” of the 15,000 member First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. Schaaps is 54, married with two children, and has served with the congregation for about eleven years.
He’s also been involved in an illicit relationship with a 16-year-old female church member.
According to news reports, a deacon noticed a text message on Schaap’s cell phone. The image showed preacher and girl engaged in a kiss. When confronted by his church board, Schaaps admitted to having an affair with the youth.
From a legal standpoint, the preacher is not in trouble because the legal age of consent for sexual activity in Indiana is 16. But from a professional, marital, and moral standpoint, Schaaps is in all kinds of hot water.
But here’s the kicker. Jack Schaaps is a Calvinist. Let that marinade around your brain stem for just a moment.
One of the petals of Calvinism (e.g., TULIP) is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints–what is popularly known as “once-saved, always-saved.” The idea is that once God has saved you, there is absolutely nothing you can do to be lost. Period. Dot. End of sentence.
However popular the doctrine may be within the religious world today, it is simply not in harmony with the teaching of Scripture. In reality, there are over 2,500 places in the Bible that teach a child of God can sin and be lost. Here’s a brief sampling from the New Testament:
In the Parable of the Talents, the servant who buried his one talent was cast into outer darkness (Matthew 25:14-30).
In the Parable of the Soils, some who become children of God have their faith choked by thorns (Mark 4:14-20).
Some believe for a time, but, fall away because they succumb to temptation (Luke 8:13).
Jesus is the vine and Christians are the branches. A branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and burned.
Judas fell (Acts 1:25).
Ananias and Sapphira were Christians who died in their sins (Acts 5:1-11).
Simon was in danger of losing his soul (Acts 8:20-22).
If a child of God lives according to the flesh, he will die spiritually (Romans 8:12-13).
The brother in the church at Corinth who had his father’s wife was in a lost condition until he repented (1 Corinthians 5:1-3, 5; 2 Corinthians 2:3-11; Revelation 21:27).
A weak brother can perish (1 Corinthians 8:11).
Even Paul could have been castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).
The Israelites fell and were lost (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).
Some Christians in Galatia had already fallen because they had turned back to elements of the old law (Galatians 5:2-4).
See also 1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Ezekiel 3:20; 18:21-25.
The episode in Dr. Schaap’s life is heart-breaking. He has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind. His influence has been destroyed, his marriage has been damaged, and our society continues its downward spiral into the moral abyss.
But perhaps what wrenches my heart most of all is that many, like Dr. Schaaps, do not choose to see in the Word what is clearly illustrated in his life.
How can a person claim to be saved in Christ when his life and teaching are obviously not Christ-like?
Even a brief survey of the New Testament illustrates the fact that the first petal of Calvin’s TULIP is in error./1 Total hereditary depravity is a false doctrine.
Yes, a person outside of Christ is, in fact, dead (Ephesians 2:1). However, this doesn’t mean he is totally depraved.
The word “dead” does not refer to an unsaved person’s inability to engage in any positive behavior; it refers to his spiritual status before a holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:5). He is dead and therefore separated from God, because he chooses to commit sin (Luke 15:24, 13).
“A sinner in his pre-Christian state is ‘dead in sin;’ but that deadness is not something he inherits, but comes about through the guilt of the sins he commits.”/2
Consider the following passages:
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh and mind…” (Ephesians 2:1-3a)
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear you.” (Isaiah 59:1-2)
Watch it carefully.
An individual is dead “in trespasses and sins” and therefore separated from God. But how so, Paul?
He is dead because (a) he walks according to the course of this world, and (b) he conducts himself in the lusts of the flesh and mind (cf. 1 John 3:4). In essence, he lives his life in conformity to the thoughts and pursuits of this present evil age (cf. Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:7).
He is born pure and sinless (cf. Ezekiel 18:20; Matthew 19:14), as are all infants, but when he sins, he dies spiritually. Later, if and when he comes in contact with the life-giving blood (cf. Ephesians 1:7) of Christ at baptism (Revelation 1:5; Acts 22:16), he is–notice Paul’s words–“made alive” and therefore no longer separated from God.
In fact, quite the opposite-he is “brought near” to God via the blood of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:13).
Is a man dead prior to his conversion? Yes, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of any of any admirable conduct; it means he’s separated from God.
Make these notes in the margin of your Bible at Ephesians 2:1:
Dead = separated from God by personal sin.
Alive = brought near to God by Christ’s blood.
1/ T=total hereditary depravity, U=unconditional election, L=limited atonement, I=irresistible grace, P=perseverance of the saints.
2/ James Burton Coffman, “Commentary on Ephesians,” Commentary on Galatians, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, 152.
Paul said we are dead. Specifically, he said we are dead “in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1a).
The typical Calvinist interpretation of that passage suggests that prior to our conversion, we are completely devoid of any good or godly inclinations, or to say it another way, we are totally depraved.
As one author asserts:
[We] “are totally corrupt, in every part, in all [our] faculties, and all the principles of [our] nature, [our] understandings, and wills; and in all [our] dispositions and affections. [Our] heads, [our] hearts, are totally depraved; all the members of [our] bodies are only instruments of sin; and all [our] senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. are only inlets and outlets of sin, channels of corruption. There is nothing but sin, no good at all.” /1
John Calvin parroted these thoughts when he wrote:
“The whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin.” /2
Now think about it. Is an individual outside of Christ, prior to conversion, incapable of any good whatsoever as these men suggest? If not, then how can we account for many of the people we read about in the New Testament?
Devout men in Jerusalem for Pentecost: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). If man is totally depraved and thus incapable of any good, then how could these individuals be described as “devout” in verse 5, when their conversion didn’t take place until verse 41? The Greek word translated devout is eulabeis and means pious. How is it possible to be totally depraved and pious at the same time?
The Ethiopian eunuch: “And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, as returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 8:27-28). If a man prior to conversion incapable of any good, then how can we account for the fact that the eunuch had travelled a great distance to worship and was engaged in studying the Old Testament Scriptures? According to Calvinists, an individual who is totally depraved is an inlet and outlet of sin, a channel of corruption, and there is no good in him at all. He therefore isn’t capable of homage to the Father much less in learning his word.
Cornelius: Luke describes him as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). It is difficult to find anyone who is more highly spoken of in Scripture than this Roman soldier (v. 1). Cornelius was devout, believed in Jehovah and embraced the moral and ethical standards of the Law, was generous to those in need, was prayerful, held in high regard by the Jews, and described later in the chapter as a “just” man (v. 22). Proponents of Calvinist theology insist that a person outside of Christ is totally depraved and therefore incapable of even the slightest aptitude for goodness until the Holy Spirit acts upon him. If this doctrine is true, how can we account for Cornelius’ behavior?
1/ Jonathan Edwards, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, 8-9.
2/ John Calvin, Institutes of The Christian Religion, 302.