The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Importance of Calvinism in Christianity (Pt. 2)

            I suppose there are many ways and places to start unraveling and explaining the teachings of Calvinism. Many may go through the acrostic TULIP which may be what Calvinism is most known for to those who are unfamiliar with what it teaches. And I’ve done that before, going through things point by point, but I am not going to do that this time. Instead, I am going to try and write in a more conversational tone, and address some of the common questions and objections that usually arise.

            So I have decided to start with what it means to be a sinner. We have to start with ourselves, after all, before we can move on and understand anything else rightly.

To put it succinctly- to be a sinner is to love self and sin, to live for self and sin, and to despise God and His law/commandments by our very nature. For many Christians, including myself before I really studied the Bible, I put little thought into what it meant to be a sinner. In fact, I thought that was a rather simplistic question. After all, a sinner simply commits sins, right?
            Well, no, it is not that simple. To speak of the sinner as one who sins is to define the sinner by the fruit that he bears (the sin) rather than the root, or the actual substance, of what the sinner is (his nature). Sin is what the sinner produces, it is not, however, an answer for the nature of the sinner. And it is crucial that we recognize this equivocation- neither the fruit that the sinner produces (committing sin) nor the seed and roots of the sinner (such as lusts, bitter, envy, strife, etc.) are a proper definition for what it means to be a sinner.

            What it means to be a sinner is to possess a nature that has a  love for self and sin, and hatred for God and His righteousness. In one sense, it is the opposite of being loving. Paul says in Romans 12:9  Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”

        God is love, according to 1 John. Since this is true, we can safely say that God hates evil and loves what is good, for that is His very nature, what He is like. If this is what love is (being disgusted and angry at/with evil and gravitating towards/ clinging to and desiring what is good), then hate is just the opposite, to desire what is evil and despise what is good.

            So it is clear, then, that to be a sinner is to be an unloving, hateful, being. We have no true love in us, no good and righteous desires, all we have is hate, desires for that which is evil. Notice, to be a sinner does not mean we are not able to desire anything, but it does mean that we are unable to desire what is good. To be a sinner means to desire only that which is evil by the very nature of being.

            So we have shed some light on what it means to be a sinner. A sinner is one who loves evil, hates good, by his or her very nature. One who is not a Calvinist would accept that a sinner is one who loves evil and hates good, however they would deny that it is by necessity of their nature. In other words, a non-Calvinist says that, while a sinner can love sin, he can also love God and what is good. In short, a non-Calvinist, in some degree, denies that man is sinful at the core, at our very being. We may have sinful desires and inclinations a non-Calvinist would say, but we also have the ability to incline ourselves to what is good, what is godly, God’s law (according to most non-Calvinists).  

            Is this true though? Not at all. There are many verses, such as Gen. 6:5 which tells us that every thought and intention of the sinner is only evil continually, or Romans 6-7 or Jesus in John 8 where we learn that one who commits sin is a slave to sin that can only be set free by Christ saving them from their slavery to sin.

            In other words, once man fell into sin (after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit), something happened to man so that we all were all sold under sin. What does it mean to be sold under sin? Romans 3 tells us.

            9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written:

      “ There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
      There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
      They have together become unprofitable;
      There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “ Their throat is an open tomb;
       With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

      “ The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
15 “ Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”[f]
18 “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[g]

            So to be “under sin” means that we cannot do that which is good. No one does good, no one is righteous, no one even seeks out God. This is what it means to be sold under sin. This raises serious questions, such as, what about when we see a person who is not a Christian do what we would consider a good deed, or a good work, such as loving their spouse, working at a soup kitchen to feed homeless people, working as a firefighter, a soldier, or perhaps even dying for someone, taking the bullet for them? Surely, we think, God finds these deeds as good, even heroic, right?

            Wrong. God is very clear about right and wrong, good and evil. We need to define what good is, and what evil is, because if we do not, then we will be left clueless as to how God can actually say that nobody does anything, ever, that is good.

            Romans 14:23 says “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” In other words, if what we do is not flowing out of a faith, and thus a love, for God, and a trust in His Son Jesus Christ, then it is disobedience to God, and sin. We may see this as harsh, but that is because our view of goodness and morality is inadequate and misplaced, not God’s. We tend to define good as helping others out of some sort of predicament, or suffering, or simply being kind to others, smiling at them, being gentle, cordial, etc. But God’s law was not created when man was created- God’s law is eternal, and it reflects Himself, His attributes.
            Which brings us back to the first religious question we can ask, the ultimate one. “Why are we here, what is our purpose, why did God make us?” The answer to all of those questions is one in the same- we are here, the purpose of our existence, the reason God made us, is to glorify Him and His attributes, and to enjoy Him by glorifying Him. In other words, God made us in such a way that we were to get joy from glorifying God, from living for Him, reflecting what He is like. Thus, living for God was also our greatest desire, and only desire, before the fall of man. But, once Adam and Eve rebelled and fell into sin, our desires were reversed, switched. As sinners, our greatest joy isn’t glorifying God, but glorifying self. It isn’t living for God and reflecting His image, but rather, living for self by reflecting the opposite of what God is like.
            This further clarifies what it means to be a sinner, or, to put it properly, this further clarifies and shows us some of the fruits of our sinful nature, our sinful being- now we see that, because we are sinners with sinful natures, we live for self instead of God, and live for the opposite of what God is like (sin/evil), instead of what God is like (His law/attributes).

            So please note, God’s law is a reflection of what God is like. And we were made to reflect what God is like, for His glory, and our joy, and this is why we are commanded to keep the law perfectly.  But the only way we can reflect what God is like is if we know God’s law. And by knowing God’s law I mean not merely to know what God says is right and wrong, but why right is right and wrong is wrong. In other words, what is it about, for instance, fornication that makes it sinful, or lust? And conversely, what is it that makes sex within marriage good and right and beautiful and not merely neutral? In order to truly reflect God and His glory, we must know why His attributes, His law, is glorious, is good, and why sin is not just something God disapproves of, but truly evil.

            Again, remember, God’s law is eternal, it is not created because God is not created. God’s law reflects God’s nature. So if we do not know why the law of God is good and right, and why disobedience to the law (sin), is actually evil and wrong, then we do not know God Himself. The less we understand God’s law, the less we understand what God is like, because the law is simply our tutor and reveals to us God Himself and His likeness. The law is our guideline, to show us how we are to live and reflect God’s image. The law teaches us how to bear the image of God because the law of God is the instructions of who God is and what He is like.

            But let’s go back to what it means to be a sinner. So far we have learned that a sinner sins, but that isn’t what it means to be a sinner. Rather, what it means to be a sinner explains and shows us why we sin. So why do we sin? Because we are sinners. In other words, because by our very nature we love sin and hate God and His law, we live for ourselves by our very fallen, sinful natures and break God’s law. And since we were created to do everything for God’s glory, even when sinners do outwardly what God’s law requires, if the motivation is not from faith and done with the purpose to bring God glory out of a love and devotion for Him, then it is sin. This only seems like a high and absurd standard because of our very sinful natures. Adam and Eve, before they had fallen into sin and had a sin nature, did not find it difficult to obey God and His law and live for Him. Not only did they not find it difficult, but they loved obeying God. They had fellowship with Him. The reason we think God's law is ridiculous is because we have a sin nature that makes obeying His law ridiculous. If we had no sin nature and were like Adam and Eve before the fall, with the disposition to love and obey Him, we would have no problem with God's standard. But now, because we are so sinful, so unholy, we have a problem with the holiness of God and His zero tolerance of sin.

            Therefore, in order to reflect God’s image and thus do what we were created to do, we must not merely reflect the image of God as revealed to us in His law, but also get joy from it, and do it out of a love for God, our Creator. Otherwise, God gets no glory out of our actions. Let me repeat, if we do not do everything we do unto the Lord, for His glory, we do not glorify God, and He gets no glory from our actions. And if we do something that we consider outwardly righteous, if we do not do it to glorify God, even if it is feeding the poor or giving our bodies to be burned for someone else, it is sin. This is because obedience to God is not legalism, simply following certain regiments or rules, but rather taking delight in reflecting what God is like armed with the knowledge of why God’s attributes and law is good and beautiful, and reveling in the beauty and truth of the goodness of His law. So we must do what we do to God’s glory, and out of love and devotion to Him. And seeing the truth and beauty and goodness of God's law, and thusly seeing the truth and beauty and goodness of who God is, is how we glorify God. When we see God in all His splendor, and beauty, and goodness, when we have that understanding, and if we are saved from our sin and have the Holy Spirit, then we have the desire to keep God's law and reflect His nature because of its goodness and beauty. So glorifying God is simply reflecting God's nature/keeping His law because it is good and true and beautiful, and we understand and see logically why it is good and right and true and beautiful. This is essentially what 1 Cor. 13 tells us in a very blunt way:

 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

        This is incredible. What God is saying here is that love is the fulfillment of the law. Is this not precisely what Jesus said in Matthew 22? “37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’[d] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[e] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

        So basically, we were created to love God with all that we are, and to love others with all that we are. The law and the prophets are simply expounding on this principle of loving God and loving others with all that we are. When put like that, it sounds simple enough, but as we know, the Bible is a pretty thick book. But that should, at the very least, help blow some of the mist away from what it means to love. What is love? Love is reflecting God’s character, his attributes, in its totality, in a certain way. It is a certain spirit, or disposition with which we glorify God. It is glorifying God with a desire to glorify God, a passion, a delight in glorifying God. It is taking satisfaction in, joy from, glorifying God. 1 Corinthians further goes on to explain that love is patient, love is kind, is selfless, is not puffed up, etc. So love is a sort of way in which we obey God’s law for His glory. And according to 1 Corinthians 13, it profits us nothing and is still sin even if we attempt to obey God’s law for His glory without love.

            So next time, we will uncover more fully what love is, and then have a better understanding of how far short we fall of being loving, even as Christians, and how much God loved us in sending Jesus to die for us, and how much Jesus loved us in being willing to die for us.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Importance of Calvinism in Christianity (Part 1)

            There are really only two questions that matter in life: are you a Christian, and are you a Calvinist? The first, being a Christian, determines who you live for- yourself, or the God of the Bible. The second, being a Calvinist, describes how you actually know God, think of God, and ultimately live for God, as a Christian. Being a Christian means you live for Christ, and being a Calvinist is the correct way to live for Christ, at least for the purpose of this writing.
                 I say that without hesitation. I have come to learn, in the nearly three years of embracing and growing in the doctrines of grace (the doctrines of grace being another name for Calvinism), that you can’t fully know God, love God, and live God apart from Calvinism. To be a Christian and yet to not be a Calvinist is like being married and barely knowing your spouse. A Christian who thinks he or she knows God, loves God, and lives for God, yet denies or is ignorant of the truths of Calvinism as revealed in the Bible, does not know God, love God, or live for God as he or she needs to and should at a very fundamental level.

                This may sound harsh. I may sound cruel, as if I am sitting on top of the world with my heights of knowledge and certainty of my belief and interpretation of Scripture, and that anyone who disagrees with my interpretation and understanding does not know God aright and will not be able to grow as a Christian like I am able to grow. To that, I would first like to say, that one can hold to Calvinism and yet not live it out. These are the most miserable Christians of all, because they have, in my estimation, the highest knowledge of God, yet they live the least like Christ. They cannot use misunderstanding, or misinformation, as an excuse not to be obedient. And so, as the Bible says, to him who has been given much, much more is expected.

                So I hold myself to a higher standard than non-Calvinists, not because I am arrogant or think I am better than non-Calvinists, but because I know God has graciously put me in circumstances and softened my heart sufficiently to receive these great truths of Scripture, and has filled me with the Holy Spirit, armed with these truths, for a purpose. And that purpose is to tell the world the good news of the gospel- the Calvinistic, biblical gospel, the one true gospel. And from there, once we have the Calvinistic one true gospel established as our foundation, to build upon that foundation all the outworkings and implications of Calvinism. In short, I am called to teach and preach and proclaim, and most of all, live out, in everything I do, the Calvinistic/true Christian life.

                But to live the Calvinistic lifestyle, you must have Calvinism’s theology. Right thinking about God, right knowledge of God, is the only way we can have right loving and right living for God. In short, if our theology and doctrine is wrong, our understanding of God and Jesus and even ourselves is wrong, and the result is that our love for and devotion to God and Jesus will, by necessity, be faulty, shallow, stagnant, lax, apathetic, or worst of all, highly passionate and zealous, but not according to the Truth.
               And to have a love for Jesus apart from Truth, apart from who Jesus really is, is a most dangerous and sad position to be in. To have an insatiable zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, is a great sin that will not be rewarded. This is precisely what Paul says in Romans 10:2 regarding Israel: “For I bear witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”

                So the reason I am writing on this subject is because I am convinced that many Christians out there today have a zeal for God, some greater than others, but a zeal nonetheless- yet not according to knowledge. Many know God as Lord and Savior, but only in a very shallow way, at the surface. They have not plummeted beneath the top waves of God, and realized that He is like an iceberg. When a person first gets converted, he or she will know very little about God, yet they have eternal life. The question then, is, what is eternal life? Besides the fact that eternal life is, indeed, eternal, there is a specific purpose in eternal life, a certain way it is to be lived out. We will be doing something forever with this gift of eternal life, and Jesus tells us what it is that we will be doing.

                “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). There it is, right from the lips of Jesus. Eternal life is, in short, a quest to know God as He truly is, and to know Jesus Christ as He truly is. And in knowing Him more and more, to love Him more and more in light of who He is and what He has done, and then to live for Him more and more in light of who He truly is and what He has done. That is the life of the Christian. Eternal life.

                But you cannot do that to the utmost, you cannot be fully obedient to God, and love Him and His Son fully and as you ought to, if you are not a Calvinist. Why? Because Calvinism pertains to who God is, who Christ is, who man is, and what God has done, and had to do, in order to save man through Jesus Christ. Today, many reject Calvinism, whether they realize it or not. If you do not know what you think about Calvinism, and if you do not know if you are a Calvinist, here is a litmus test.  
·         Do you believe Jesus Christ paid for everyone’s sins, including those who are in hell? If you do, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God has no power, or has chosen to not exercise His power in bringing people to faith and repentance, and instead leaves the decision up to the power and will of man to choose Him on their own? If yes, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God is not sovereign over the choices of man, that man has total, libertarian free will outside of God’s sovereignty? If so, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that Jesus Christ died to make salvation a possibility for everyone instead of a guarantee and reality for a select number, His elect? If so, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that man is the determining factor in his own salvation by choosing to trust in Christ, instead of God being the determining factor in man’s salvation by choosing whom He will bring to faith and repentance by His irresistible grace? If so, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God looked down the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, and that His elect are based off future, foreseen faith by God rather than by God choosing before the foundation of the world whose hearts He would soften and make willing to repent and believe the gospel? If this is the case, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that man is capable of loving God by his own free will, and capable of inclining his own heart to repentance and trusting in Christ as Savior and Lord? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God gives spiritual life/the new birth/regeneration only to those who first have faith, rather than God gives spiritual life/the new birth/regeneration so that man can and will have faith? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God wants every person who has ever lived and ever will lived to be saved from their sins, and that He is saddened or heartbroken when one sinner chooses not to repent and defeats His will? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God did not predestine the fall of man, but rather planted the tree with the forbidden fruit in the garden without knowing if Adam and Eve would obey? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God does only some things for His own glory, and other things, such as saving man, out of pity and apart from selfish, self-glorifying reasons? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God would not be good and loving if He didn’t offer a Savior? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that the difference between an unbeliever and a believer is that an unbeliever was more wicked/sinful than the believer, and the believer had faith because he rightly used his free will to choose God, rather than the difference between an unbeliever and a believer being the sovereign grace and will of God and work of regeneration? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God calls man to do good works by the power of their own will, instead of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit alone? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God loves everyone equally, both believers and unbelievers? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God has no wrath or hatred for unbelievers? If so, then you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, enduring God’s wrath for every sinner ever, actually does not count, actually does not save, unless man chooses to create saving faith out of his or her own heart and choose to be obedient to God by his own strength? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that Christ’s work on the cross plus your faith is what accomplishes your salvation? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe that God cannot or chooses to not save everyone, and instead leaves it up to man to determine his or her own fate and course of human history? If so, you are not a Calvinist.
·         Do you believe God loves every person, both believer and unbeliever, unconditionally? If so, you are not a Calvinist.

                I could pose even more questions, but I think that will suffice. There are many people who would reject most if not all of the points I have listed above, and prove to thoroughly be a non-Calvinist. And as I hope you can see, what Calvinism deals with is very important- it involves the purpose of the entire creation, how God saves man, the role of man in his own salvation, the role of God in man’s salvation, and how we are to live in light of our salvation. These are no small matters, and by the end of this writing I hope that everyone who is skeptical of Calvinism will see the truth of Calvinism, that Scripture indeed teaches it. But not only that, even more so I hope that you will see not only that Calvinism is biblical truth, but why the biblical truth of Calvinism is the best thing, and makes God and Jesus far more good, gracious, beautiful, and true, then whatever you thought possible before.