I’m a five point Calvinist. This means that I hold to the 5 points of Calvinism:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints
I may do a series on these five points, explaining my positions and justifications for holding these views. It’s fascinating that, while I’m a strong five pointer, I’ve been cast out of the Calvinist camp. Instead, I tend to run with non-Calvinists (which would be considered 3 pointers or less). I guess my fellow Calvinists don’t like to be challenged and find it easier to excommunicate someone than rationally engaging in debate. Oh well! Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post…
When it comes to Calvinism, it’s a very polarizing theology. People on both sides of the debate will point fighters at the other, claiming that they are preaching a false Gospel. Even organizations like The Gospel Coalition was founded under the premise that Calvinism is what they are referring to when they use the word “Gospel” in their name… although we all know now they are nothing more than a progressive, socialist Marxist coalition of anything BUT Gospel proclaimers. I digress…
The thing that I’ve come to realize, is that no matter your view of Calvinism, properly defined, you aren’t compromising the Gospel. Think about it… the Gospel is simply put: we are sinners who deserve eternal punishment in hell for breaking God’s commands (well, there goes John Piper’s “gospel”), but because God loves us, He sent His only Son, Jesus, to live a sinless, perfect life to then pay the penalty for our sins, raising from the dead three days later, conquering death and proving that He is, in fact, God incarnate. We can then place our faith in Christ and receive eternal life.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is “by grace through faith, not of works.” This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions… we are saved in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves! We don’t earn our salvation. Our works have absolutely no bearing on our justification/salvation. Only the work of Christ on the cross does.
Whether you believe in Calvinism has no bearing on the Gospel you believe in. Here’s why: Calvinism is the belief about how God works through our salvation behind the scenes, for lack of a better phrase. For example, whether you believe in limited or unlimited atonement has no bearing on the Gospel you believe in and doesn’t change how God actually works it all out. Our belief in how God works out our salvation is not the Gospel. It doesn’t invalidate saving faith. It’s important to understand and discuss. But it’s not the Gospel. We can be wrong about what God does, and it literally changes nothing about the Gospel, practically speaking. The vitally important issue is the Gospel itself… what we have to understand to be saved. Calvinism does not have to be believed to be saved. It also does not have to be rejected (coming at it from the other side).
A good example of this is gravity. We can have any number of explanations for it. But there’s only one right answer. Our belief in how gravity works has no bearing on whether it actually works or how it works. Same thing with the doctrines of Grace. Whether we believe in election or not has no bearing on whether it’s true or not. It’s simply how God works. It’s out of our control.
Where we start to get into dangerous territory is when we redefine terms. We see this happening with the final point in Calvinism: the perseverance of the saints. This is getting redefined as Lordship Salvation by many prominent Calvinist leaders. This is extremely dangerous.
The proper understanding of the perseverance of the saints is actually the preservation of the saints by God. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) In other words, it’s the belief in “once saved always saved.” You can’t lose your salvation. Once you place your faith in Christ, that cannot be undone. God will protect and preserve your salvation for all eternity. It has no bearing on your behavior. It’s all reliant on Christ’s work on the cross.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
What we’ve seen happening is turning the perseverance of the saints into an extreme Lordship Salvation. The way it’s promoted is that if you are truly persevering (or are actually saved) you won’t sin continually. The problem with that is that we are all sinners, both before and after salvation. So the question becomes, “How much sin is too much sin?” It then becomes a subjective standard that has not root in objectivity. The other angle that is often pushed is that “no Christian would ever commit THAT sin!” Here’s the problem: there’s no scriptural support for that. Many true believers have egregious sins. Those sins do not invalidate their justified state. Why? Because their works aren’t what saved them in the first place! To say that their sins invalidate their salvation is saying that Christ’s work on the cross was not enough… which is pure heresy!
So what ends up happening is everyone becomes “fruit inspectors”, taking a look at your life and judging your salvation based on these arbitrary standards. John Piper explains it this way:
“We are not justified through sanctification. Let me say it again: we are not justified through sanctification. But we are finally saved through sanctification…”
This flies in the face of Ephesians 2:8-9. Romans 3:28 also explicitly makes this claim:
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
Once you are justified, you are declared righteous because God attributes to us the righteousness of Christ, thus eternally securing your salvation. We cannot separate justification from salvation as guys like John Piper do.
Sanctification is the process in which the Holy Spirit gradually makes us more Christ-like over the course of our life. It’s a response to salvation, not a requirement for salvation. Plus, everyone is sanctified at a different rate. For some it’s more immediate. For others it’s way more gradual. Who are we to judge the timing and speed of God?
Additionally, we cannot state who is or is not saved simply by their behavior. So when guys like Justin Peters place these kinds of conditions on baby Christians, it can warp their view of the Gospel. Why in the world would you tell a baby Christian that you better act right or your salvation isn’t real? Come on! This happens way too much in the church!
We must remember the simplicity of the Gospel. We are saved by faith, not by works. We are saved because of Christ’s sacrifice, not because of anything we do. We are saved in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves.
We need to have a proper understanding of our theology. The preservation of the saints is the simple fact that once we place our faith in Christ, our salvation is eternally secure. Rest easy in that. You can have assurance of your salvation! Don’t let Pharisees inspect your fruit from afar. Don’t let them change that doctrine into something that God never intended… a works based “gospel”! Grow in your faith in Christ and rest in His promise that your salvation is secure, not because of yourself, but because of God. That should be reassuring.
The Gospel is simple. Don’t let these evangelical elite complicate things like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time.
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