Copyright 2004 by Ephesians 3:9 and ourchurch.com
Used by permission
“Why was I made to hear his voice
And enter while there’s room,While others make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew me in;Else I had still refused to taste
And perish in my sin.”
— a Calvinistic hymn
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There is a website on which a Calvinist gave answers to five hard questions posed by a non-Calvinist. The first of those five questions follows, with the Calvinist’s response, followed by this writer’s comments. Only the first question of the five is addressed here because I believe an analysis of this one question reveals the grave errors at the core of Calvinism.
QUESTION FOR CALVINISTS:
Why preach “repent or perish” when the non-elect cannot repent and the elect cannot perish?
A CALVINIST ANSWERS:
“We preach ‘repent or perish’ because God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). It falls to us as His witnesses to convey that command. The moral inability of the non-elect does not put them outside the pale of responsibility. The unsaved elect are perishing and will perish unless they repent (Luke 13:3). Thankfully, the goodness of God leads them to repent (Romans 2:4). The question is a good one as why we urge something upon people to do that they cannot naturally do. Why do we preach the 10 Commandments and exhort men to refrain from murder and adultery, etc., when we know that they are unable to keep the Law perfectly and offending in one point are guilty of all? Answer: We all do it because man’s sinful inability does not remove him from the sphere of responsibility before God. The same holds for the requirement of faith and repentance.”
EPH 3:9’s COMMENTS:
The Calvinist wrote,
“We preach ‘repent or perish’ because God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). It falls to us as His witnesses to convey that command. The moral inability of the non-elect does not put them outside the pale of responsibility.”
First, everyone should agree that the Bible commands all men everywhere to repent (i.e., believe the Gospel). No one can deny this, as it is plainly taught. Nor can one argue that ALL men are responsible to God and ALL men will ultimately answer to Him. But these facts are simply not relevant to the question at hand.
Another way to phrase the above question is, “Why preach if God has already elected [chosen] the eternal fate of every man, woman and child on earth?” What the question is getting at is the alleged “moral inability to repent” Calvinism attributes to the majority of mankind. This has lead to a big problem which thoughtful Calvinists have acknowledged:
“The problem which we [Calvinists] face here is, How can a person be a free and responsible agent if his actions have been foreordained from eternity?” (Lorraine Boettner, Predestination, p. 208).
And that is exactly correct! Calvinism’s doctrines weave a confusing web of contradictions which (in my experience) most Calvinists simply ignore and which no Calvinist has ever been able to reconcile.
On the one hand, Calvinists rightly preach that God is just (Deut 32:4), righteous (Ps 145:17) and compassionate (John 3:16). This is all perfectly Scriptural.
Yet, on the other hand, Calvinism says God commands faith from all mankind, when the majority of people aren’t merely unwilling to believe, but cannot believe because they are unable to believe.
Which brings us to the main point of this article: WHY are they unable to believe, according to Calvinism?
The answer is not found in the Calvinist’s appeal to some vague, ill-defined “moral inability to believe.” The answer is far more simple: Unbelievers are unable to believe because God made them that way. In Calvinistic terms, He REPROBATED them; that is, He did not want them to be able to believe to Gospel, and so they can’t. As one author points out,
“[According to Calvinism] God’s sovereignty decides, yet man is accountable. God is love, yet a multitude is unconditionally rejected. God ordained irresistible grace, but inspired His prophets to proclaim ‘repent or perish.'”
Lest this be dismissed as a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of Calvinism, John Calvin himself taught that God refused to extend saving grace to the majority of mankind while condemning them for the very unbelief that results from His decision! They’re like robots, doing only that which their Creator programmed them to do (or not do). He condemns them for choices that only appear to be theirs; in reality those choices are His and His alone.
An illustration may help here…
Imagine yourself in the room of a bed-bound quadraplegic, the paralyzed victim of a severed spinal cord. You hold in your hand an amazing medicine that quickly heals even the worst nerve damage. You tell the patient what the medicine is and what it can do for them. Then you add: “Now keep in mind that this is yours to have absolutely free. I won’t charge you one cent for it. All you need to do is reach out your hand and take it. That’s all I ask. But if you don’t, you can’t have it.”
Can the medicine do all you say it can do? YES!
Can the cripple meet your one condition? NO!
Did you know he cannot do what you ask when you made the offer? YES!
But that’s not all.
Imagine that when the patient doesn’t do what you ask, you become indignant and insulted, condemning him for CHOOSING not to accept it. You tell him that you were his only chance to be well…you went out of your way to offer this miraculous medicine to him free of charge…you didn’t HAVE to do it but did it out of love for him…but because he REFUSES to accept it he will not receive it.
Now picture yourself turning on your heel and walking out of the room, never to return. He will NEVER see you or your medicine again. He will remain paralyzed for the rest of his life and will die in that bed.
Admittedly the analogy is perverse, disgusting and monstrous. But it is an accurate picture of the behavior Calvinism attributes to almighty God.
ONLY THE CRUELEST, MOST DESPICABLE HYPOCRITE – OR ONE WHO IS INSANE – COULD DO WHAT CALVINISM SAYS GOD DOES AND SERIOUSLY EXPECT OTHERS TO CALL HIM “FAIR,” “JUST,” “RIGHTEOUS” and “LOVING.”
Finding no rational refuge at this point, Calvinists often resort to pointing out that “God’s ways are not our ways”…that there are things about God we do not know and cannot understand…that all of creation is God’s to do with as He pleases. And to all that, any Bible believer should say “amen!”
Yet the Calvinists I’ve met will insist on asking me why I reject the possibility of a sovereign God electing certain ones to save and damning the rest, if that’s what He wants to do?
The answer is, I don’t reject that possibility at all. God could do exactly that if He chose to do so. But to even raise the question is just a smokescreen, an attempt to dodge the real issue. You see, the point isn’t, “Can’t God do whatever He wants with His creation?” Of course He could, He’s God. It’s not even worth arguing.
The REAL issue is, “What has the God who cannot lie PROMISED to do, according to the Bible?”
I’m being reverent when I say this: I believe God is a straight-talker and a square dealer. That’s the God who reveals Himself to us in the Bible. This is the God who, incarnate in Jesus Christ, presents Himself not only as our Savior but as the embodiment of PERFECT HOLINESS, TRUTHFULNESS and UPRIGHTNESS.
But in order for Calvin’s view of election to be true, God MUST BE a cheat, a liar and a hypocrite. It is unavoidable!
God would have to be a CHEAT because He appears to extend saving grace to ALL when He really hasn’t.
God would have to be a LIAR because His clearly and repeatedly offers salvation to ALL, even though He has no intention of saving all who hear His offer.
God would have to be a HYPOCRITE because He has sworn to damn corrupt human judges for doing essentially the same thing He does with those He has not enabled to do what He commands them to do (i.e., believe).
That is the God of Calvinism. It is NOT the God of the Bible.
The God of the Bible does not cheat or lie. He truly is “righteous in ALL His ways, gracious in ALL His works” (Ps 145:17). He acts in accordance with that in all His dealings with man, even when He pours out wrath. Calvinism’s concept of election is false for that reason alone.
The Calvinist quoted above then wrote,
“The unsaved elect are perishing and will perish unless they repent (Luke 13:3). Thankfully, the goodness of God leads them to repent (Romans 2:4) through the preaching of the Gospel.”
This portion of the reply hints at the possibility of eternal danger for those God has elected to be saved but aren’t saved yet. According to Calvinism, however, SUCH DANGER CANNOT EXIST.
Calvinism teaches that the outcome of God’s elective will for those He’s chosen to save SHALL be realized. The will of the as-yet-unsaved elect cannot thwart it. They SHALL be saved eventually because they have no real choice in the matter. The fourth point of Calvinism states (caps added for emphasis):
“The result of God’s Irresistible Grace is the CERTAIN [assured, inevitable] RESPONSE by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, Himself, teaches that ALL whom God has elected WILL come to a knowledge of Him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that [if we're elect] the Gospel of Christ WILL penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!”
Likewise, the fifth point states:
“Perseverence of the Saints is a doctrine which states that the saints (those whom God has saved) WILL REMAIN IN GOD’S HAND UNTIL THEY ARE GLORIFIED AND BROUGHT TO ABIDE WITH HIM IN HEAVEN. Romans 8:28-39 makes it clear that when a person is truly regenerated by God, HE WILL REMAIN IN GOD’S STEAD. The work of sanctification which God has brought about in His elect WILL CONTINUE until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures us that HE WILL NOT LOSE THEM and that they WILL BE GLORIFIED at the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that He will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving ALL THE ELECT.”
So it is impossible for the unsaved elect to perish after all! Whether they’re saved yet or not doesn’t matter – sooner or later God WILL carry out His elective decree. When He does call them to saving faith, He MAKES the elect ones persevere unto death and unto Heaven. If they’re elect, they CAN’T be lost, not at any point. That IS the whole point of election, after all! So the Calvinist’s implication that the unsaved elect “are perishing and will perish unless they repent” is, at the very least, at odds with the five points, which (it bears repeating) clearly state the elect never were, are not now, and never will be in any genuine eternal danger. The point: just as surely as Calvin’s elect will be saved, it is just as certain that those whom God did not elect will be DAMNED. The non-elect have absolutely NO HOPE…yet God still holds them responsible for rejecting the Good News only He can enable them to believe! Sadly, that’s Calvinism.
A related side issue that bears mention: Calvinism’s elect can’t truly know in this life that they ARE elect. Why? Because no one can know if he really is one of God’s elect.
According to Calvinism, it is inevitable that the preaching of the Gospel will lead to ‘tares among the wheat': non-elect persons who hear the Good News, repent and believe it, with the Calvinistic qualification that, since true faith comes only as a result of God’s election, any ‘faith’ professed by the non-elect is, logically, a false, ungodly faith that cannot persevere and so cannot save them. That means there is no way to know this side of death whether your election – and so your faith – is real or not.
In other words: despite having heard, having understood, and having believed the Gospel of the grace of God (which WILL immediately and eternally save anybody!) a Calvinist who is consistent in his Calvinism cannot say he is 100% confident of his salvation. He must always have in the back of his mind the fact that the non-elect, too, can ‘believe’ and appear to the human eye to be very much saved, and that he might be one of them.
Thus the consistent Calvinist may HOPE to be one of the elect…he may even convince himself that he IS one of the elect. But can he truly, fully REST in Christ and His perfect, finished work as a FACT that is eternally true for himself? No; the consistent Calvinist cannot do this. As a young Christian this writer was brought up under some degree of Calvinistic influence, so I know what I’m talking about.
Because of that unbearable uncertainty, the thoughtful Calvinist must constantly keep his own faithfulness and fruitfulness under scrutiny. He must always be wondering if those besetting sins and doubts are simply the old nature acting up, or a sign he never received the new nature. Will he someday ‘fall away,’ as untold thousands of professing Christians – professing Calvinists included! – have done throughout the centuries? Or will the Holy Spirit abide with him, eventually bearing within him that final, crucial, proof-positive fruit: the P of the Calvinism’s TULIP, a life lived unto its end in Perserverence in the faith? Which will it be? No way to know. Until then, there is no certainty. There CANNOT be.
That’s why overly-introspective, navel-gazing legalism is a fruit of the five points (though not only Calvinists are guilty of it), and can be seen in the writings of many of Calvin’s adherents.
This also explains why, if asked “Do you believe in the Christian’s eternal security in Christ?” many Calvinists will reply, “I believe in the Perseverence of the Saints.” These are not synonymous terms, but two drastically different doctrines that reveal much about the persons holding them.
It is also worth pointing out that while Calvinists are often the most vocal opponents of Rome, in a sense they are not too far removed from Roman Catholics. Both believe (if for different reasons) that they have to wait until death to see if they “made it.” Dr. John Murray, a Covenant theologian, wrote:
“Let us not take refuge in our sloth or encouragement in our lust from the abused doctrine of the security of the believer. But let us appreciate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and recognize that we may entertain the faith of our security in Christ only as we persevere in faith and holiness to the end.”
Salvation for both Catholic and Calvinist is seen as something of a process – the Catholic is told he must work to be saved, thus he can never know in this life if he’s worked enough. The Calvinist, never knowing if he’s truly elect, must wait to see if he had salvation all along. But neither one KNOWS that he KNOWS that he KNOWS that he is saved and safe in Christ. Is that the fruit of the Gospel of grace? No, but it is the fruit of a life lived under the burden of Calvinism.
The above assumes the Calvinist is well-read and thoughtful in his Calvinism and tries to live in a manner consistent with the the five points, which are themselves inconsistent with the Bible. But many Calvinists, I have found, are neither well-read nor thoughtful. Hence they see no such inconsistency, even when it is glaringly obvious and repeatedly pointed out to them.
The Calvinist continues:
“The question is a good one as why we urge something upon people to do that they cannot naturally do. Why do we preach the 10 Commandments and exhort men to refrain from murder and adultery, etc., when we know that they are unable to keep the Law perfectly and offending in one point are guilty of all?”
This carefully worded response dodges the point of the question. The main problem with this portion is that the focus was taken away from the question – which the Calvinist even rephrased! – and put somewhere else (the Law). So this portion of the response is quite irrelevant to the question.
Also notice how the Law is subtly equated with the Gospel. God’s Word plainly says the Law was given to show men their sinfulness, not to save them from it. Yet many believers (Calvinists included) wrongly see the Law as the means of sanctification. Calvinist John Stott wrote:
“We are set free from the law as a way of acceptance (justification). It is as a ground of justification that the law no longer binds. But as a standard of conduct (sanctification) the law is still binding.”
Stott is grossly incorrect here, as God expects no one today to keep any aspect of the Law as a means of justification. Nor does He expect anyone today – not even Christians – to keep the Law as a means of sanctification. Neither was ever its purpose. According to the apostle Paul, the believer is now dead to the Law because He is “in Christ.”
God DOES, however, expect ALL who are convicted by the Law written in their hearts, and who hear and understand His Gospel, to believe it and be saved…the very thing Calvinism says they can’t do if they weren’t elected to do so. Still, the Law, when properly used, will show them this need; that’s its purpose, according to Paul (Romans 2:14-15).
“Answer: We all do it because man’s sinful inability does not remove him from the sphere of responsibility before God. The same holds for the requirement of faith and repentance.”
Once again the point of the question is dodged: WHY does God hold men responsible to believe if God decreed for them to be unable to do so? Moreover, HOW can God do so and remain just? Why did God even send the Gospel unto all men AND demand we believe it if He has already sealed the eternal fate of all? The Calvinist we’re quoting from does not really address this. Another Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, tried to tackle this problem head-on and, in so doing, echoes Calvin:
“That God in some sense foreordains whatever comes to pass is a necessary result of His sovereignty….If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign” (Sproul, Chosen by God, 26).
I, for one, do not question God’s complete sovereign control over all aspects of His creation. What I question is Calvinism’s concept and definition of God’s sovereign control – which is essentially indistinguishable from a puppeteer’s absolute control over a puppet – and the conclusions which logically follow from them.
Calvinists believe they exalt an almighty, all-powerful God when in reality they preach a God who is not big enough to allow His human creations true freedom to exercise the power of choice which He built into them. But the God of the Bible does exactly that! All men ARE free to choose as they will, and ARE responsible to God for the choices they make under whatever light they had. Yet above it all God remains ever and always securely on the throne!
Despite Calvinist’s claims to the contrary, allowing man the free will to choose his own fate (as God presents him his options) in no way reduces God to anything less than completely sovereign. No amount of rationalization and theorizing can help Calvinism at this point: If both election and reprobation are the direct, already-settled results of God’s elective decree – and Calvin himself said this is so – then God’s urgent, pleading Gospel offer (2 Cor 5:14-21) is not only inexplicable…it is a sham, a fraud, and a lie.
Calvinists will here respond, “Believing the Gospel is God’s ordained means to save His elect.” True, but this still does not address the fact that NOTHING – NOT EVEN THE BELIEF IN OR REJECTION OF THE GOSPEL – CAN AFFECT ONE’S ELECTION STATUS AND THE ASSURED RESULT OF IT.
It only follows, then, as some consistent Calvinists have learned, that the Gospel ministry is a waste of time IF Calvinism is true. Why bother? What real choice can a human puppet have if his eternal fate was unchangeably foreordained by God way back in eternity past? What real difference can it make? Elect or not, how can a lost man be truly responsible for making a choice God forced him to make?
THIS is the consistent logic of Calvinism. It is WRONG because the premise is wrong, but it is nevertheless the most internally consistent form of Calvinism in existence today.
On the other hand, there are those Calvinists who DO (thankfully!) preach and witness to the finished work of Christ. When asked WHY they do so, these often respond, “I do it because God commands it.” I believe they, too, know in their hearts it is an inexplicable situation, if Calvinism is true.
According to John Calvin, the same divine election process that chose the elect rejected the non-elect. He taught that saving faith comes from God, or not at all. If true (and these are indispensable pillars of the five points) then the God of Calvinism not only makes salvation choices for ALL men, but condemns some (most!) on the basis of choice that was never really theirs. THIS IS NOT THE GOD OF THE BIBLE.
Calvinists cannot have this both ways. If man truly has neither free will nor choice regarding Heaven and Hell, then he cannot be held justly responsible for going to Hell BECAUSE THE CHOICE WASN’T HIS. Dogmatic nonsense like “man’s sinful inability does not remove him from the sphere of responsibility before God” reveals a person who hasn’t thought through his Calvinism very well.
But what is the truth? The truth is that unbelievers will be condemned, but justly. Many will be cast into the Lake, not merely for sin, but SPECIFICALLY for rejecting the Gospel that MIGHT have…COULD have…WOULD have saved them had they chosen to believe it (again, see 2 Thessalonians 1 and 2).
The more I study this complex theological superstructure, the more convinced I become that Calvinism is a masterpiece of vain philosophy that contains, at its core, an extremely subtle false gospel. In my opinion:
*Calvinism’s forced interpretations create inconsistencies and outright lies in the Bible (especially regarding the character of God and the promises of Christ) which no amount of rationalization can explain away.
*It exalts a minority of mankind with its false view of election, and can foster the sin of pride. Even though Calvinism’s elect can’t know who they are, many who THINK they’re elect often display a subtle arrogance peculiar to Calvinists (an arrogance which, oddly, resembles the elitism and ‘snootiness’ of many Charismatics).
*It can be inherently legalistic because it leads many of its followers to dispensationally misapply Scripture (the beatitudes, etc) to their own lives, as the Calvinist watches for growth/lack of fruit in himself (and in others!) as evidence of salvation.
*As has been seen, it negates the need for the Gospel ministry. If our eternal fate was sealed before we were born, and if faith can’t change it, then the elect can’t be lost, and the non-elect can’t be saved. That makes the Gospel offer a hoax.
*It cannot truly weep for the perishing. Since it is God’s foreordained, sovereign will that the non-elect should perish, nothing can be done to change it.
*It denies God’s grace (or, at the very least, weakens it) by denying – if only in theory – the fact that God’s offer of salvation is genuinely open to all. At least the false teachers of 2 Peter 2:1 denied “the Lord who bought them.” Calvinism’s elect deny He bought everyone else. Which is worse?
*It teaches Christ loved mankind only enough to save SOME when, if He could save some, He obviously might have saved ALL.
*Finally, Calvinism slanders and blasphemes God. I sometimes have to wonder if Calvinists have not unknowingly abolished the holy, just, righteous, loving, gracious God of the Bible, and replaced Him with a false deity called “God” but whose character and behavior more closely resemble a capricious, hypocritical idol-god like Zeus.
I do not for one moment question the salvation of any Calvinist, or of anyone influenced by Calvinism. If any person has heard, understood and believed the Gospel of the grace of God, he or she is saved! What I question is the system itself, as well as the fruit its doctrines have long borne within the Body of Christ and the motivation of anyone who seeks to defend it while fully cognizant of Calvinism’s bottom line. As an elder brother in Christ summed it up, “Calvinism smells like smoke.”
Remember the hymn at the beginning of this article? It would be more consistent with Calvinism – not to mention more honest – for this hymn to read:
“I cannot perish – God hath decreed it –
so for me He did make room,
while to others He gave no real choice,
born pre-damned to eternal doom.
Did this same God, who did elect
and irresistibly draw me in,
take pleasure in telling them ‘Go to Hell,’
refusing them Christ’s payment for their sin?”
Yes He did, if Calvinism is true.
* * *
One last thought: A study of Calvinism can seem daunting at first. But once one learns to see through the many philosophical decoys, rabbit trails, tapdances, smoke-and-mirror arguments and misapplied Scripture references (some of which you’ve seen here) in order to finally get to the root of Calvinism’s theological tree, the entire structure is found to be without a sound foundation. It cannot prove from Scripture or sound reason its most fundamental thesis, which it MUST prove in order to be true. For that reason it should be rejected.