Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
If you pop over to my church's website right here then you'll find three great sermons to listen to.
The first is on Satanic Oppression and the reality of the unseen powers we fight against but how God limits them and Christ is victorious over them!
The next is on God's Fatherly discipline of his people for their holiness and how we should not grow weary under the difficulties of life. Based on Hebrews 12.
And the third is on Repentance - it's a two part-er on Psalm 51 and David's repentance over his adultery and murder.
These sermons, in my biased opinion, perfectly illustrate the reason why Reformed theology is so needed and that the evangelical church misses so much by straying from its doctrines.
The reason I say this is because these sermons deal with the hard reality of Christian living. Behind each sermon is a recognition that we are, even as those saved, still extremely sinful! More, that Satan is a very real and present danger and that God's love for us compels him to take action against the sin in our lives.
_ One of the ideas I come across fairly regularly is the one that when it comes to salvation God purposely limits himself and gives human beings free reign to choose as they will on the matter. That is to say, God, who is sovereign in all things, limits his sovereignty so that it does not include salvation. He still works to save people, he presents people with a choice and they are free to accept or decline as they see fit. The advantages of this thought are clear: it makes the whole issue of divine sovereignty and human free will very easy to understand. God has his bit he’s in charge of and we have our bit and so we sidestep a lot of the complicated issues predestination brings up.
But its ease of understanding is not a measure of its truthfulness. The question we have to ask is simply whether this idea is biblical or not?
As you may have noticed I bang on a lot about Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace and if you don’t know what I’m talking about click here and prepare to have the way you think of God overturned. But why do I think it matters? What’s so vitally important about it? Why do I care? It’s not because I think reformed Christians are better than others for I’ve met too many people who aren’t and yet walk so closely with Christ. One of the biggest benefits of the Christian Union is meeting a lot of people who I disagree with theologically speaking yet put me to shame for my lacklustre walk with God. It’s not because I think that you’re a bad Christian if you’re not reformed. And it’s not because I want everyone to agree with the Ben Mildred Way of Looking at Things. No, it’s something greater than all these.
A few months ago Rob Bell released a book called ‘Love Wins’. It was widely regarded as being somewhat heretical. He goes wrong for me in the title; not that it’s not a wonderful statement of truth for love does indeed win but because it emphasises the wrong thing. Personally, and I don’t want to press this too much, I prefer to say that is not just love that wins it is Christ who wins.
Christ wins. Because, well, he does, all the time. Jesus Christ has never failed. This is an amazing truth and one that is hard to grasp at the same time. After all, he was executed as a criminal of a cross, surely this was Christ losing? Except we know that in dying on the cross and his resurrection from the dead Christ won victory over sin and death. As Paul writes:
The simple truth about mankind is that left to our devices we are naturally rebels against God. Left on our own we are depraved beings. Left to our own devices we make very poor company indeed. Left to our own devices everything we do is a sin. Left to our own devices we run our Hell bound race indifferent to the cost.
Don’t believe me? As Paul writes:
“and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Romans 8 v 23
Paul relates our moral standing not to how we treat our fellow man but to our relationship with God. If we have no faith in God then nothing we do is morally good. For if we have no faith in God we have no faith in truth, no faith in righteousness, no faith in good for all these things are God.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Romans 1 v 21
What's this? A modern song with truely Reformed lyrics? I love!
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose.
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You.
Let's see, it covers total depravity (we cannot come to God, he comes to us), unconditional election (God has chosen in advance who to save), irresistible grace (we can't resist God's powerful work to save), limited atonement (Jesus' death on the cross was for the elect only) and perseverance of the Saints (once Christian always Christian).
So all the five points of Calvinism found in one beautiful song of praise to God. Who can help but love it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, if you’re not a Calvinist then reading this the title hasn’t made you predisposed to agree with me. To be fair to myself there are people who would say that unless your Calvinist you’re not a Christian. But that is quite hard to square with the Bible which says that ‘all’ people need to do is believe with theirs hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord and repent and be baptised. Not much about the doctrines of grace in there.
Calvinism 2.0 is a theological revival sweeping across the USA returning the American church to sound doctrine and reformed teaching. It’s so prevalent that mainstream newspapers are even picking up on it. I’ve found it immensely encouraging reading about how God is brining his church back to biblical thinking. I’ve posted this before and will do so again I’m sure. But how is it different to the Calvinism of history? What’s changed?