Calvinism: Putting God in a Box
By ignoring the fundamentals of Bible Interpretation, well meaning Christians often misunderstand & misrepresent basic Bible Doctrines. When we try and understand Bible teaching through the filter of our own Preconceived Ideas, take passages out of their intended context, or overlook the abundant evidence given in the "Whole Counsel" of God, we in effect are putting God in our own little box rather than openly trying to understand what exactly it is He is trying to convey to us. This dangerous practice is responsible for many teachings to be far over-emphasized and others completely neglected. We need the Biblical Balance that God intended for us in order to gain wisdom and understanding.
1. Election & Freewill
I suspect that the Doctrine of Election will never be fully understood by any mere mortal but was meant for us rather to believe and accept. Explaining Election without discussing Freewill is like separating Repentance & Faith from a clear Gospel message. The two are immutably joined together!
It is clear that Election is taught in the Bible. God picked us out before He created the earth and anyone in it. (We will discuss this in a little while.) To utterly refute Election is silly since it is so evident in these verses.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: Ephesians 1:3-11
Not only were we "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (vs.4)," but the "Lamb's Book of Life" was also pre-existent at that time.
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Revelation 17:8
If we scroll further down in Ephesians chapter one, we also see another doctrine that is vital to our accepting the idea of Election. The "Elect" person actually realizes this upon Believing of their own Freewill.
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:12-14
Being Elect does not in itself save us. However, Repenting & Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ not only saves us, but also reveals our Election.
2. Atonement: Limited or Unlimited?
Calvinists believe that some were ordained to eternal life and the rest to destruction. Limited Atonement is a cornerstone of that persuasion and simply means that Christ died only for the Elect. (Obviously it is only the Elect that made His sacrifice Effectual.) I believe that the Bible clearly teaches otherwise.
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. John 3:16
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Romans 3:22-26
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
I Timothy 2:4
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. 10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. I Timothy 4:9&10
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Hebrews 2:9
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. I John 2:2
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3:9
The most famous verse in the Bible conveys a Gospel message that extends God's free gift of eternal life to the whole world and to anyone (the whosoevers) that will believe. The New Testament offers ample proof that Atonement is Unlimited and that Christ died for all, every, and the whole world.
3. Foreknowledge: the Basis for Election.
But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. John 6:64
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. I Peter 1:2
The Balance of Election is Freewill. The Basis of election is God's Foreknowledge! God knew beforehand (even before He created the Earth.) who would believe and who would believe not. He Chose us based on this knowledge. Election is not the Cause of belief or unbelief, it is the Confirmation of that belief or lack thereof. The fact that God knew in advance does not relinquish us from our responsibility of responding to the Gospel willingly placing our faith in the shed blood of our Savior and repenting of our sins.
4. An Election Invitation
We are told in I John 4:19 that "We love him, because he first loved us." It is the ministry of the Comforter, according to John 16:8 to convict us of our sin and to guide us into all truth (vs. 13). So it is that when we think that we have found God, He has actually called us, exposed and revealed our sin by His Holy Ghost, and invited us to repent and trust His son Jesus for our eternal salvation. In Matthew 16:15-17, when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, Peter replied, "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus quickly acknowledged, "for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."
The point is that God is the one that does the inviting. It is our responsibility to be accountable for our sin by repenting and receiving Christ by faith into our heart as personal Savior.
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. John 6:65
5. Irresistible Grace
Jesus made it evident that we do not get saved any time we wish but are in fact drawn by God and given the opportunity to be saved. This leads us to another problematic tenant of Calvinism, Irresistible Grace. The premise that at that point in time a person is not capable of rejecting the Gospel does not seem Biblical or real to me. The rich young ruler went away from Jesus quite sorrowful after his initial conviction to trust Christ. King Agrippa, also under great conviction told Paul that he was "almost persuaded." The parable of the sower in Matthew 13, tells the storey of the the person represented by "stoney ground" who actually makes a false profession but has no root of faith. I have personally dealt with many sinners under great conviction who were powerfully drawn to Christ but rejected Him at the last moment for various reasons.
Calvinism is a popular belief system, and has been from the time of the Reformation to Colonial Puritanism to our present day. Instead of manipulating the Bible to agree with Calvin, I prefer to try and understand the teachings of God as they were intended. My Bible says that Jesus died for the sins of the Whole World not just the Elect. My Bible teaches that God is no respecter of persons and demonstrated his love for each of us when Christ shed his blood on the cross. Bible doctrine should not be refuted by human wisdom and logic. Faith is taking God at His Word. Election & Freewill are based on God's Foreknowledge and not on John Calvin and the reformed church.