I Was Going to React, but I Changed My Mind

I stumbled upon a couple of articles today that were awful. Every evil under the sun can be justified by what masquerades as reason. Nearly every murder can be explained; detectives call it motive. Almost every act of adultery, every theft, every lie will be judged reasonable, even good.

At times that which is good, the words of God himself for instance, will be misused to add to the defense. I was going to write a response to these two specific articles, but then one word came to mind -- depravity, and with that the realization that everyone, everyone, does this. And we do it all the time.

The word depravity always leads me to the same place. It has been some time since I've taken the time to think about the fundamental truths that are the Five Points of Calvinism, and I'm glad the Lord brought it to mind. In English the full, biblical framework that is Calvinism is summarized in five points which have, thankfully, been fit with the memorable acronym TULIP.

I feel the need to insert a disclaimer here as there is a moaning about this pressing lightly at the base of my head. With Jonathan Edwards, and his most-notable student John Piper, I must also assert that

I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught.1

The Five Points of Calvinism, using the acrostic TULIP, are

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

For a full discussion of Calvinism and Reformed theology, you'll have to look elsewhere, but I certainly will take the pleasure of briefly explaining each point.

Total Depravity
We, all of humankind, are fully wicked, and without God rescuing us, we are utterly without hope.

I remember reading this to myself as a child and feeling a dip pit form in my stomach. From before the start of the great flood:

the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.2

And after the flood:

the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.3

I was thinking about the great flood a few months ago as Charlotte and I studied it in Bible. Veritas Press Bible and History programs use memory cards to aid in learning the highlighted events. For the flood the picture on the front of the card was remarkable to me. It wasn't cartoonish at all but had bodies, of men, women, animals all strewn about on the ground. It occurred to me how horrible the time of the global flood must have been. It must have been terrifying for man and beast. And so much suffering. Drowning is an awful way to die.

People are often put-off by the story of the flood of Noah because it seems undeserved, but it was deserved. And after the flood, the same evil remained in the hearts of humankind; this means after the flood, even us, now, we all deserve death and torment.

Unconditional Election

This one is more difficult than the last to wrap your head around.

Since we are so broken that we cannot and will not seek out the only one who can help us, God must take initiative with us if we are to have any hope at all. For his own pleasure, he does. We call this unrequested and undeserved relational initiative election.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.4

Limited Atonement
I often have to look this one up as it's not as obvious as the others. I usually get it though if I think about it for a minute.

The problem is it sounds like something that can't be biblically true, that the atonement afforded us by the blood of Christ is somehow partial. At first glance L seems to be suggesting that God has not covered every sin, even for those in Christ. Part way through trying to convince myself of this foolishness, I realize that it's utterly counter to the plain message of the Gospel. So our atonement in the Lord Christ is by no means limited.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”5

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.6

Yes, every person who has ever lived has lived in need of atonement, but God's atonement is not universal. The word limit is used to highlight the fact that not all are saved but only those who are called according to his purpose. This is God's prerogative as perfect, holy, Creator.

Irresistible Grace

The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”7

Those who the Lord calls will respond. If you believe the truth of the Gospel, it is because God has given you this faith.

Perseverance of the Saints

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.8

All of the called will endure to the end, faithful. The Lord will do this himself.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.9

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life...We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.10

This is the heart of God -- his own centrality. It's scary and wonderful and confusing and everything we ever hoped for.

I have to say, it's not extraordinary to know the basics of the faith, and it should not be left to members of the cloth alone. Study, learn, know him. I'm not just saying that to you; I'm saying it to me too.

  1. Freedom of the Will quoted from Desiring God accessed May 2016.

  2. Genesis 6:5-6

  3. Genesis 8:21

  4. Romans 8:28-29

  5. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)

  6. John 10:27-28

  7. 1 John 5:13,18