Making Calvinists of All Nations - Part One
Definition of Terms
2. Regeneration and Quickening
3. Dead in Sin
5. Free will
7. Called and Chosen
The word “predestination” is traditionally defined as “the divine foreordaining of all that will happen, especially with regard to the salvation of some and not others. It has been particularly associated with the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of Calvin”. It is also defined as “the doctrine that all events have been willed by God” (based on the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy). This latter definition is also known as “determinism”.
Now let’s look at the word itself. Predestination, literally, means a location or destination that is prepared beforehand (pre – before, destination – place). When we intend to visit a place we’ve never been to before, we put the address into our GPS and it tells us where to go. It literally “predestinates” our trip. We choose where we want to go, and it tells us how to get there.
Biblical predestination is similar. Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3 emphasis mine).
Those who are familiar with the Jewish wedding tradition know that after a betrothal is made, the groom leaves to build a house for him and his bride-to-be where his father is. The bride has never been to her future home, but she knows that on the day that he finishes it, he will come back for her and take her there, a great 7-day feast will be held, and he will receive her to himself: “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 5:17b).
The act, therefore, of “predestinating”, according to the Bible, means simply that Jesus, the groom, is gone to prepare a place for the church, the bride. This place will be our final “destination”, which we will inherit in the “last time”. Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pt. 1: 3-5).
Notice the reference to the inheritance that is “reserved in heaven” for us, which will be “revealed in the last time”. Our final destination, planned, prepared, and kept for us by God, is awaiting our arrival. The Scriptures add nothing further to this definition. Simply stated, our faithful Father has promised that He will reserve a home in heaven for all those who believe on His Name for salvation. Romans 8:29 says, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son…” This part of the verse simply teaches that God knows who are His, that He is reserving a home for us in heaven, and that when we are taken there, our earthly bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:1-3).
The Calvinists call predestination the “doctrine of election”. This doctrine states that before any of us were born or had an opportunity to be either saved or condemned by our choices, God chose for us. He “elected” some of us to go to heaven and “reprobated” the rest to go to hell. Keep in mind that according to Calvinism, God’s choice was made regardless of what people chose for themselves or wanted for themselves. To the Calvinist, it matters not that people seek God or repent of their sins because what we do is irrelevant to what God wills. Our salvation is an arbitrary choice on God’s part – whether we like it or not. In other words, no one seeks God without Him first forcing us to seek Him. No matter what language Calvinists use to describe this act of “enforcement”, such as “God turns on the lights”, or hits us with a spiritual Mac truck of spontaneous-revelation, it always boils down to the same thing – a forced salvation or damnation that negates human free will.
The logical conclusion of this doctrine is that God didn’t die for everyone – He died only for a very limited group of specially-selected individuals. What does the Bible say about this? “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), and “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). The Bible says that “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). The Lord does not want to keep salvation from anyone. Ezekiel 33:11 says, “Say to them, Thus saith the Lord; As I live, I desire not the death of the ungodly, as that the ungodly should turn from his way and live: turn ye heartily from your way; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” God commanded us all to repent because His plan of salvation is an offer to everyone – to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Lk. 24:47, Rom. 1:16).
2. Regeneration and Quickening
The word “regeneration” literally means, “the rebirth”, and refers to the state of being born again. We often associate this term with Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:7, “Ye must be born again” (see also 1 Pt. 1:23). However, the terms “born again/anew,” “begotten again”, or “quickened” are verbs, not nouns, and are derived from different Greek words. “Regeneration” comes from the Greek word paligenesias. It is found only twice in the King James Bible, and both times it is translated as the noun “regeneration”. Let’s find out why.
The first is in Matthew 19:28: “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28). This is a reference to the time when Christ shall reign on earth for a thousand years following the tribulation, as told in Revelation 20:4-6. Revelation 20:5 calls this “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5), which explains the use of the term “regeneration”. This regeneration commences a period of renewal. Let’s see how the word is used in Titus 3:5.
Titus 3 explains that after we lived in sin (vs. 3 lists some of these sins, see also 1 Cor. 6:9-11), “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Tit. 3:4-6). Notice the term “washing of regeneration” in that “regeneration” is a noun that refers to the state of being cleansed. Conversely, the term “renewing” which follows it is a present tense verb, referring to the process of being renewed. In this way, the use of the word is similar to the way it was used in Matthew 19. Again, regeneration refers to the state of being born again, and it commences a period of renewal.
The idea of being renewed or becoming a new person after salvation is described by Paul: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). On a daily basis, we are being renewed. “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:9-10). Peter tells the saved, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour” (2 Pt. 3:18). He tells us, “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pt. 2:2). When Christians talk about “spiritual maturity”, therefore, we are referring to this process of spiritual growth and renewal, which conforms us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
While regeneration refers to the period of renewal experienced by the believer, “quickening” refers to the action of having been “passed from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24), or made “alive unto God through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 6:11, see also 1 Cor. 15:22). In a manner of speaking, quickening is the catalyst to spiritual renewal (Rom. 8:10-11).
It is important to understand when “quickening” occurs. John 5:24 tells us: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life”. Being passed from death unto life can only take place in an individual who has heard the Word and believed it (Rom. 10:14). Only when this belief occurs are the believers granted everlasting life. Their sins are washed away, and they are quickened, or “passed from death unto life”. Ephesians 1:13 says, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise”. Please note what this verse is saying. The gospel of salvation was first heard, then it was trusted and believed. Then, only after believing, are Christians sealed with the Holy Spirit.
There is not a single verse in the Bible that teaches that unbelievers must be spiritually quickened before they can either hear the gospel or believe it. Even so, Calvinists teach that unbelievers are “spiritually dead”, which they define as being incapable of hearing, seeing, understanding, or believing in anything spiritual, or of God, unless He “quickens” them first. According to Calvinist theory, the hearts of the spiritually dead are hardened by God, their ears are closed, and they are blind because He has not chosen them to be saved. However, who steals the truth from people’s hearts, but the devil (Lk. 8:12)? Who blinds the minds of the unbelievers, but the devil (2 Cor. 4:4)? So, not only does this particular aspect of Calvinist theory accuse God of doing what the devil does, but it also reflects a limited understanding of what stubbornness and hard-heartedness actually mean.
Biblically, an uncircumcised heart, a hard heart, uncircumcised ears, and closed eyes refer not to the spiritually dead, but to the disobedient, proud, and stubborn (Jer. 6:10, 17:23, Ps. 10:4, 2 Chron. 36:13, Prov. 29:19 LXX). Furthermore, since the Bible describes both saved and unsaved as at times being unable to hear, see, or understand, it is clear that we are talking about a chosen behaviour, not an incapacity. Pharaoh’s heart was “hardened” by God; he couldn’t have been rendered spiritually dead at that point because he was already spiritually dead. A “hard heart” simply means stubborn – in no way does it pronounce sudden and eternal spiritual death upon someone.
Here are a few examples. In Mark 8, Jesus chastised his disciples because of their unbelief, in that they forgot that Jesus was able to feed thousands. When He warned them about the unleavened bread of the Pharisees, they thought He was scolding them for forgetting to bring bread. So He said to them, “perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?” (Mk. 8:17b-18). They forgot Jesus’ previous miracle of having fed the 5,000 (Mk. 8:19). Were the disciples “spiritually dead”, or were they stubbornly unaware?
In 2 Peter 1: 9, Peter describes the saved individuals who lack good works as those who are “blind, and cannot see afar off”. If they were saved, and therefore indwelt with the Holy Spirit, how can they be blind to the things of Christ?
The opposite is also true. Isaiah 1 says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Is. 1:18-20). The Israelites at this time were a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters” (vs. 4). Nevertheless, God told them to use their reason to determine whether or not they should “refuse and rebel” or be “willing and obedient”. The former would earn them punishment, and the latter would garner God’s blessings. Where does this say that God spoke disobedience upon them and then punished them for it? It says that He spoke the consequences of disobedience upon them. To obey or not to obey was their choice. Also keep in mind that the punishment God promised them was not hell. It was war, carried out while they were yet alive on this earth and able to repent of their sins.
A final example is from the book of Acts. Paul and Silas travelled to Berea to speak in the synagogue of the Jews and said of them, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonnica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:11-12a). How did these Jews believe without the Holy Spirit first opening their spiritual eyes? They were able to believe because they had a ready mind, which is the opposite of stubborn.
The Bible teaches that the “spiritually dead” are subject to the wages of sin (Rom. 8:6, 6:23). They have heard but not believed, and are therefore condemned by their unbelief (2 Thess. 2:12). Jesus said, “they that hear shall live” (Jn. 5:25). Those who have a “ready mind” (Acts. 17:11) are able to hear and understand “the wisdom and the spirit” (Acts 6:10). Paul tells us that when evangelists speak the truth, they commend themselves to people’s consciences (2 Cor. 4:2). They do so by appealing not only to our God-given reason, but also to our knowledge of good and evil, which is in all of us. Being able to receive the truth is very different from being willing to receive it. God has offered the love of the truth as a free gift to all, but only those who choose to receive it will be granted everlasting life (2 Thess. 2:10).
Since the Calvinist definition of spiritual death is in error, what does spiritual death actually mean? If quickening means “made alive”, or “enlivened”, then it must have been preceded by a period of spiritual death. This is called being “dead in sin”. Let’s see what the Bible says about this.
3. Dead in Sin
Paul says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13, see also Eph. 2:1-5).
Let’s place this verse in context. Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by commending the “faithful brethren in Christ” (Col. 1:2), so we know that Paul is talking to those who are saved. Paul recognizes that their hope is secured by the truth of the gospel, “Which is come unto you, and bringeth forth fruit… since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:6). Please notice that Paul is speaking to believers who heard the gospel and received it. The gospel brought forth fruit in them because of their willingness to accept it and live it.
In Chapter Two, Paul expresses his joy over their “order, and the stedfastness” of their faith (Col. 1:6, 2:5). The following verses talk about Christ, in whom “dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (vs. 9). Verses 11-13 say, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses”. These verses say that through faith in the operation of God, we are quickened with Jesus. God’s will is for us to place our faith in His Son. If we willingly receive the gospel in faith, grace follows – grace through faith.
Ephesians 2 and Romans 6 speak of the same thing. Romans 6 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4, see also Col. 2:12).
Just as believers are baptized into Jesus’ death, so are they baptized into His resurrection and life (Rom. 6:8). These verses do not say that the unbelieving are quickened. They say that believers are baptized into Jesus’ death, which symbolically put to death their sin, at which point, they are symbolically risen with Christ, and quickened. This is substantiated further.
1 Corinthians 15:26 says, “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die”. Paul presents here an analogy about seeds. Unless a seed falls off the tree and dies, it cannot bring forth a new tree in the spring. What does this say about us? Romans 6:10-11 say, “For in that [Christ] died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
The Bible clearly teaches that believers are baptized into Jesus’ death. This baptism symbolically puts to death, crucifies, or mortifies (Gal. 5:24, Rom. 8:11) our fallen flesh, so that we can be “quickened” (made alive) together with Christ. Before we believed in Christ for the washing away of our sins, we were subject to the law which states that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). In other words, we were headed towards eternal death. For this reason, Paul reminds the Colossians just as he does the Ephesians of the doom they have escaped by choosing to believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation: “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). He reminds them that they had once “walked according to the course of this world…”, but were saved when they chose to believe. When did the Ephesians walk around dead in their sins? Paul says, “in time past”. This was before they believed and before they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13).
Eternal life is not imputed by quickening. It is imputed by faith in Jesus Christ, which precedes quickening. Calvinists who infer that quickening empowers salvation are substituting the free will offering of belief and the efficacy of Christ’s crucifixion with a forced grace wherein repentance is as redundant as the blood of Jesus. This is another gospel (Gal. 1:8).
Therefore, when the Bible talks about those who are “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:5), it’s talking about those who have not (yet) been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection through belief in Christ. They will be judged for their sin independently of the mediation of Christ. In other words, they are solely and fully responsible for their sin, according to the law, having refused to believe in Christ for the remission of sins. Their punishment is death (Rom. 6:23). All Christians can be assured that this is just because although unbelievers are able to believe, they choose not to.
Conversely, as believers, we are “led of the Spirit” and are therefore “not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). Those who are not under the law cannot be sentenced to death for breaking it. Our well-deserved death-sentence has already been paid for by Jesus Christ. Please understand that although we are freed from the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), and we no longer serve sin (Rom. 6:6), this does not mean that we can no longer commit sin (1 Jn. 1:8). Paul teaches that we sin because we are encumbered by “the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24), which wrestles against our spirit and keeps us from doing the things we know we ought to do. Hence, the forgiveness of God grants us a blessed deliverance from self-recrimination and shame. It is the mark of a true believer to recognize their sin and to despise it, with a genuine attempt to put it away from us.
To summarize, the Bible teaches that believers are “born again” into “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), at which point they enter into the process of being renewed by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). They are no longer the “old man”, subject to the wages of sin, which is death; they are the “new man”, freed from the wages of sin, and risen with Christ by virtue of His imputed righteousness (Rom. 8:2-4).
One important reason why Calvinist doctrine is averse to this Biblical truth is because it invalidates their teaching about total depravity. Calvinist doctrine states that all humans are totally depraved, that is, incapable of believing without the Holy Spirit’s direct, unsolicited, and coercive intervention. Let’s look at this in the Light of the Word.
The Calvinist concept of total depravity is based on the following verses. Romans 2:10-12 says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one”. This is a reference to Psalm 14 wherein David laments the sins of both his people and his enemies – the Jews and the Gentiles, who “are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9b).
Please notice what the quoted Psalm says, “They are all gone out of the way”; therefore, they used to be in the way. It then says, “they are together become unprofitable”; therefore, at one time, they were profitable. Since these individuals were clearly on the right track to begin with, but later got diverted, a transformation or change has clearly taken place from good to evil, or better to worse. Calvinists cannot therefore claim that these people were condemned to hell from birth, which is what total depravity entails.
But the issue here is sin – not depravity. What the Bible does teach is that we all sin, that the law reveals our sin, and that we all deserve to die because of our sin. Sin is the human condition; whereas depravity is the result of a cognizant refusal to believe in Jesus Christ for the remission of sin. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines depraved as, “without holiness”, “wicked”, “made worse”, or “tainted”. The Bible teaches that the knowledge of sin was imbued upon all people through the sin of Adam. In other words, we have all inherited the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve. Therefore, those who are depraved have been able to perceive the right way, but have chosen to reject it. As we know, those who consistently choose the evil way sear their consciences, and are subsequently lost because they have been blinded by Satan (1 Tim. 12:2, 2 Cor. 4:3-4). The Bible is consistent with this definition of depraved.
Calvinists state that God justly condemns people before they are born, and that all people are born depraved and destined for hell until the Holy Spirit miraculously enlightens some, but not others. But what does the Bible teach about this? In John 7:51, Nicodemus reminds the Pharisees: “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” Romans 5:13 says, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law”. In direct contradiction to this, Calvinism holds as a truth that God judges before hearing, and He condemns outside of the law. This also means that if a child dies in infancy, God sends that child to hell for not being “regenerated”, and calls Himself both justified and glorified for so doing. This doctrine is repugnant to the character of God.
Sin is an act performed with knowledge by a volitional adult. This volition, cognizance, and accountability must be proven before prosecution can commence. Our criminal justice system functions on this premise. Calvinism does not, and offends the intuitive sense of justice that is held by our God-given human conscience.
Romans 1:18 says that the ungodly “hold the truth in unrighteousness”. If all humans start out unrighteous, unregenerate, depraved, “dead in sin”, without the Spirit, and incapable of either seeking God or believing in God, how can they “hold” the truth? Paul said, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom. 1:19b). This does not say that God showed Himself only to the saved. It says that the existence of God, the truth of God, and the knowledge of good and evil is perceived by all people. Therefore, God can justly hold all people accountable when they, in their free will and against their consciences, choose to remain in sin. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Even His eternal power and Godhead are known by everyone, which is why those who deny God by choice are without excuse – they have sinned knowingly, not unwillingly.
If God made it impossible for someone to choose to do what is good, wouldn’t that be a valid excuse for their sin? Let me put it this way. If I tell my child to stay out of the mud, and then I pick him up and place him smack in the middle of a mud puddle, am I justified to then tell my child, “How dare you disobey me?” Of course not! And if I dispensed punishment under those circumstances, anyone with any sense would call me cruel, horrible, abusive, and even evil: “is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid” (Gal. 2:17). Since God does not serve sin, and cannot sin, our God-given reason tells us that God does not fit this sinister character sketch. What is good, holy, just, and pure cannot also be abominable (see Job 36:23, Mic. 6:3, Zeph. 3:5, Ps. 7:11, Jer. 19:5, Pr. 6:16-17, Is. 61:8). Jesus said, “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit” (Mt. 7:18a). God is good (Mk. 10:18).
5. Free Will
The second definition of “predestination” given previously was from Wikipedia: “the doctrine that all events have been willed by God”. Please notice the “all” in “all events”. “All” includes good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, hatred, sin, genocide, rape, corruption, torture, exploitation, and the destination of hell for people, not just the devil and His angels (Mt. 25:41). This is the blasphemous and logical conclusion of reformed theology – that God not only causes all evil, but also demands that we glorify Him for it.
Do not all Christians pray for God’s will to be done as it says in the Lord’s Prayer? According to the above definition of predestination, this therefore means that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re praying for sin to occur and for people to go to hell. Is this really what God wants? Of course not! Furthermore, why did Jesus teach us to pray that God’s will be done if God’s will is determinate? Many Calvinists would call it a figment of the humanist imagination to think that our prayers would have any impact on what God has already predetermined. No Christian of any denomination that I know of denies that God is sovereign, but this is where the rubber meets the road for reformed theologians.
Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Augustine of Hippo added to this that because God is sovereign, man has no free will. This explains for them how God knows everything. They reason that if God knows about it, He determined it. If God allows it, it must be His will. Therefore, the intellectually-honest Calvinist believes that all events and actions, wicked or good, are “God’s sovereign will”.
We recently spoke to a Calvinist who told us that he does not blame God for sin, but he acknowledges that God is in direct control of all things. He does not realize what he’s saying. If he doesn’t blame God for sin, is he therefore giving God credit for sin? Either way, he is making God out to be the ultimate sinner. According to this logic, if the Calvinist therefore commits sin, God meant for it to happen. Not only does this render God the author of all sin, but it is also a clever and indirect way of alleviating personal accountability for it. God said to Ezekiel: “Yet the children of thy people will say, The way of the Lord is not straight: whereas this their way is not straight” (Ez. 33:11). Whose way is not straight when sin abounds? The sinner’s. If what Calvinist doctrine purports is true – that all sin is God’s will – then God is a worse sort than Satan, because He would have willed Satan’s sin as well as the fall of man. So why is Satan the bad guy if God forced sin upon him?
The Word of God is rife with examples of Him being sovereign yet honouring that quality that He put in both angel and man alike – free will. Jeremiah said to Israel, “Will God's anger continue for ever, or be preserved to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done these bad things, and hadst power to do them” (Jer. 3:5). The King James says, “as thou couldest [do them]”. This verse clearly indicates both human ability and will-power. We therefore, obviously, have the power of our own will. Never does scripture presuppose that man has no free will. “But my people hearkened not to my voice; and Israel gave no heed to me. So I let them go after the ways of their own hearts: they will go on in their own ways” (Ps. 81:11-12). In whose ways did God’s people go? In their own.
The story of Jonah illustrates so well not only free will, but the righteous character of God. It was God’s will for Jonah to travel to Nineveh, so He commanded Jonah to go, but Jonah resisted and fled. He stated his reason for fleeing afterwards: “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jon. 4:2). Repentance is the free will decision to change our minds about something, to turn away from sin or evil. This is so important to understand because the Bible is clearly revealing that when God says He’s going to destroy a nation or a people, He only does so if that nation refuses to repent (see Jer. 18:1-10 and Ez. 33:13-20). Jonah calls God gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. Jonah is correct. But Calvinist theory makes God the perpetrator of sin.
I want to make clear that there can be a difference in what the Bible calls evil and what it calls sin. In Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 45, and Jonah 4, we are told that God creates, brings upon, or causes “evil”, but what is this evil? It is trouble, calamity, or a terrible thing used by God to punish or chasten the disobedient or rebellious. In Jeremiah 21:10, it is defined in context: “For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good: it shall be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he shall consume it with fire”. This “evil” is not the design of a vindictive overlord which unjustly relegates hellfire to random citizens; it is the act of a loving Father who has warned His children over and over of their sin, told them specifically what their punishment will be if they refuse to repent, and is then forced to carry out that punishment as a matter of justice when His children continue to disobey.
Proverbs 6:17-18 say, “The eye of the haughty, a tongue unjust, hands shedding the blood of the just; and a heart devising evil thoughts, and feet hastening to do evil, are hateful to God”. Calvinist doctrine ultimately makes God hate himself – which is preposterous. Zephaniah 3:5 says that the Lord “will never do an unjust thing”. Never. Punishment is just. To force someone to sin, then to punish him for it is tyrannical. Exactly what kind of God is the doctrine of Calvinism calling people to serve?
In Jeremiah 18:8, God tells Jeremiah that if a “nation turn from all their sins, then will I repent of the evils which I purposed to do to them”. In Isaiah 45:7, God is juxtaposing light and darkness, then “peace” with “evil”. Is evil the opposite of peace? No – God is talking about trouble or calamity which He brings upon the disobedient. Similarly, in Jonah 4, God repents of the evil, or the calamity He was intending to bring upon Nineveh. In Psalm 7:12, we read, “If ye will not repent, [God] will furbish his sword; he has bent his bow, and made it ready.” The amazing thing is that Jonah knew that if the Ninevites repented of their sin, God would repent of bringing evil upon them. Jonah begrudged the people their God-given mercy.
What we see here is Jonah’s sense of justice, which led him to believe that because the Ninevites deserved to be destroyed, he did not want to warn them. After God gave him a lesson in obedience, he obeyed God, the Ninevites heeded God’s warning through Jonah, and their entire city was preserved. What a story of will, choice, and three different acts of repentance – by Jonah, by the Ninevites, and by God – which were all the result of free-will actions. Also, Jonah judged God’s character accurately; God is longsuffering, merciful, and just (Ps. 106:1, Deut. 32:4). He said to Ezekiel, “I will not act according to the fury of my wrath… for I am God and not man” (Ez. 11:9). He said, “I desire not the death of the ungodly, as that the ungodly should turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33:11). This is the will of a loving Father-God, not a tyrannical dictator.
Those who hold God responsible for sin, wrapping an entire doctrine around this premise, are in grave danger: “Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; who make darkness light, and light darkness; who make bitter sweet, and sweet bitter. Woe to them that are wise in their own conceit, and knowing in their own sight” (Is. 5:20-21). John wrote, “This then is the message that we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5).
The Bible clearly teaches that we have free will, unto salvation no less: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (Jn. 7:37); “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: choose thou life…” (Deut. 30:19).
Although the Bible makes it clear that we choose to follow God, to believe in Him, and to obey Him, the Bible is also clear that God chooses us: He “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Many people remain confused over the ramifications of this statement. We’ll talk more about this later, but the simple answer is that both the “book of life” which records the names of the saved and God’s “mystery” – His plan of salvation for all the world – were known “before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8, 17:8, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 3:9, Rom. 11:25, 16:25). The point is that knowing something is not the same as determining it. If I know my cat is going to die because she is ill, did I therefore cause her death? Of course not! Neither does God cause people to go to hell. He knows who is going there, and He is reserving a place for them there just as He is reserving a place in heaven for us, but He does not force choices upon anyone. To force a choice is a contradiction in terms.
Here are a few examples. First, recall Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees (the Jewish institutionalized church and seminary leaders of the day): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mt. 23:37). God’s will was to succour His people, but they “would” not (were unwilling to) allow Him.
Stephen’s address to the Jewish Council before they stoned him to death was similar: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). In order to be resisted, the Holy Spirit needs to make an effort on His part towards people, and there is no evidence that God does things half-heartedly. The efforts of the Holy Spirit are always sincere, honest, and holy. So, if the Holy Ghost is making such an effort and is resisted, then we must have a free will.
“Say to them, Thus saith the Lord; As I live, I desire not the death of the ungodly, as that the ungodly should turn from his way and live: turn ye heartily from your way; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ez. 33:11). God does not want to destroy anyone. He does not force destruction upon anyone arbitrarily, and the destruction of the unwitting cannot possibly give Him glory. His plan, from the foundation of the world, was to provide a way of salvation for all people, so that all people would be able to come to Him. This provision and ability are by definition indeterminate; they entail the freedom of the part of mankind to reject His gift of grace. If God gives us something, are we forced to take it? No; and if we do take it, do we thank ourselves, or do we thank God? We thank God. In this way, the free will choice to believe in God is proof of His glory, not our own.
In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes in objection to being worshipped as gods by the Lacaonians. Paul and Barnabas said, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways”. In this passage, we see several things: first, the saved have “like passions” just as do the unsaved. Second, the revelation of God’s existence is clearly seen in nature; third, all people have the freedom to choose whom they will believe in; fourth, people can change their minds; fifth, people’s choices are “suffered” (permitted or tolerated) by God.
If all of us have “like passions”, then all of us can be persuaded to choose one way or another. By these willful choices, all of us can therefore be held accountable – and justly so. No single course is set toward destruction by God. Those who have embarked upon the wrong path are able to turn from it and embark instead upon the path that leads to everlasting life. This is the essence of Biblical repentance – something that is neither necessary nor encouraged by Calvinists who believe that God justifies His “chosen” regardless of whether or not they repent. If this is true – that God’s justification is given arbitrarily by His choice alone – what is the purpose of Jesus’ shed blood? What is the purpose of evangelism? What is the purpose of walking in the Spirit? For what purpose were we created since our love is coerced, our obedience unwilling, and our free will an illusion?
It seems to many of us that we have some freedom, but not all, since God places events and people in our lives to get our attention, or to persuade us of something as with Jonah, but does He force us to believe in Him and love Him? Let’s consider this: does God “woo” us to Him with the desire that we believe on Him and be saved, or does He “draw” us to Him regardless of what we want and save only those whom He chooses? The words “woo” and “draw” are synonymous, so how can the former connote a good-will invitation and the latter an irresistible coercion?
Calvinists use John 6:44 to “prove” that we have no free will to come to the Father because God “draws” us to Him at His will, not ours: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day”. But this verse is explained clearly in John 12:32 when Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32).
God draws all men to Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross and those who believe in Him come to be with Him forever. John 3 corroborates, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:14-15). It is the blood of Christ – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins – that draws all people to the Father. This is a good-will invitation, not a coercion. John 6:65 corroborates again: “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father”. What is given unto us? God gives us saving grace, in the person of His Son, but only after we believe (have faith) in Jesus as the propitiation for our sins is that grace received (Rom. 3:25, 1 Jn. 2:2, 1 Jn. 4:10).
The next question that arises is, what about the verse that talks about God’s “determinate counsel”? Doesn’t this phrase alone prove that we have no free will? No – again, we just need to take a look at what these words mean coupled with the context in which they appear.
Acts 2:22 tells us that Jesus was “delivered” to us “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”. God’s counsel (formal advice) and foreknowledge (prescience) determined (established) that Jesus’ blood sacrifice would secure salvation to all those who believe. This is what gets us into heaven. In no way does this indicate that we are without a choice. What it does indicate is that God loved us so much that before the world was, He provided a way for us to live with Him forever.
To be “ordained” means to be “appointed”, “established”, or “commanded” to a position or a particular task. It indicates a commencement or beginning of something. For example, in the Old Testament, feasts, offerings, and instruments were “ordained” by priests or kings according to God’s command (KJV: Num. 26:6, 1 Kings 12:32, 2 Kings 23:5, 2 Chron. 11:15, 23:18, 29:27, Est. 9:27). The feasts and offerings were “begun” or “set in motion” in the same way that the heavens, the moon, and the stars were “ordained” by God and set in motion as told in Psalm 8. For this reason, we are assured that the sun will rise and set each day, the planets and moons will remain in orbit, and the earth will revolve around the sun, giving us times, seasons, days, and nights. Does God have to command the sun to rise each day? No – God set it in motion when He created it and then He rested.
Created, insensate objects are set in motion and they remain in motion. However, people, created in God’s image with cognizance and a free will, are appointed for, or commanded to a task but may choose not to do it (see Mt. 21:28-31).
Revelation 13:8 tells us that Jesus, the Lamb, was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8b). In Matthew 25:34, Jesus tells of the day that He will say to the saints, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. John 1:1-4 tell us that the Word, Jesus, was God and was with God from the beginning and created all things, including eternal life: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:4). These verses teach that from the foundation of the world, God set His plan of salvation in motion. He ordained the Way of salvation for all people in the person of Christ. Then He rested. The pattern was established and will remain in motion until all of those who choose life will be saved.
What God has ordained – His plan of salvation – is revealed to us in scripture. The feasts, offerings, and instruments that were ordained by God symbolized Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The law revealed sin, determined its consequences, and exposed our need for the Saviour. This is why we have Jesus stating clearly that He came to fulfill the law (Mt. 5:17), and why God told Moses to make “all things according to the pattern” (Heb. 8:5b). The law was a “shadow of good things to come” (Heb. 10:1), and a “shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). Just as God set in motion the heavens and the earth, so He set in motion His plan of salvation for all the world to come to Him through Jesus Christ the Son. After Jesus fulfilled His purpose on earth, He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father. They are resting.
Only if God’s plan of salvation was flawed would He feel the need to interfere directly into people’s lives to force their salvation. Was God’s plan faulty? Of course not! While certainly we see that God has intervened in the affairs of mankind, it is never unto either salvation or damnation. Not a single Biblical example exists wherein God eliminates a person’s free will in this way. We’ll talk more about this later, but for now remember that a heart that is already stubborn can be made more stubborn, eyes that refuse to see can be blinded further, but God does not choose anyone’s eternal destiny for them.
Calvinists assume that because the names in the book of life were “written from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 17:8b), individuals were preselected for salvation before they were born and therefore had no choice in the matter. However, what’s interesting about the book of life is that there is no Biblical record of any names being added to it, but the Bible makes it very clear that names can be omitted from it, or “blotted out” (Rev. 3:5, 22:19). If names were in, but later removed, God has clearly not predetermined their salvation. Their free-will choices have nullified their status in the book. Revelation 22:19 says, “if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…”
For this reason, some theorize that because Jesus died for everyone, taking away the sins of the whole world, and is not willing that any should perish, everyone’s name was originally recorded in the book of life. The logic follows that this is because everyone once belonged to God; we were created by Him, we bear His image, and we have His breath of life. However, from the age of accountability, it is the free-will refusal to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, a denial of the Creator, or apostasy that justifiably gives God cause to blot out names from of the book of life.
As stated above, the Old Testament law commanded that certain instruments or vessels be set aside for a particular use, or “ordained” by God. Incidentally, the Bible also refers to people as vessels, and sets people apart, or “ordains” them for a particular purpose. The Lord said of Paul, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15b). Similarly, Jesus “ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mk. 3:14). In each case, God ordains someone to perform a specific, stated task. This task is always made clear. The word “ordain” by definition does not include salvation even though it does entail the special status of being set apart like the nation of Israel was. If “ordained” meant saved, Judas would not have been one of the twelve and every Jew would go to heaven whether they believed in God or not. But we know this is not so.
If the Lord, as a Master ship-builder, equipped a ship for a certain voyage and set that ship in motion, is it possible for the hired captain of that ship to steer off course? Yes. Consider King Saul, the first Israelite man to be anointed by God as king over Israel. When Saul disobeyed Samuel’s orders (God’s command to Saul) pertaining to the sacrifice that was to be made, “Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly; for thou hast not kept my command, which the Lord commanded thee, as now the Lord would have confirmed thy kingdom over Israel for ever” (1 Sam. 13:13). Notice that the Lord would have confirmed Saul’s kingdom for ever IF he had obeyed. In other words, had Saul remained on the right course, the Messiah would have been born through his line. Because Saul disobeyed, and veered off-course, God chose, ordained, and anointed another man to take his place. That man was David, through whose line Christ came.
Therefore, being ordained from a Biblical standpoint simply means that our course has been set, planned, or plotted by God. God gives us the coordinates, advises us on the best route, warns us of impending storms and obstacles, fully equips our vessel, and then lets us set sail. If we remain on-course, as the captains of our vessels, we will fulfill His plan and be rewarded. However, if we veer to the left or to the right and fail to fulfill His plan, we will be punished.
Acts 13:48 speaks of Gentiles being “ordained to eternal life”. Does this mean that they were predetermined by God to be saved before time no matter what they chose for themselves in time? Let’s take a look at the context. Paul and Barnabas had reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, attracting “the whole city together to hear the word of God”, and motivating the Gentiles to beseech them “that these words might be preached to them” also (vs. 42). The Jews, seeing “the multitudes, [were] filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming” (vs. 45). As a result, Paul and Barnabas boldly stated, “seeing ye put [the word of God] from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (vs. 47).
These verses confirm what we learned previously from the Scriptures, that God’s plan of salvation was set in motion from the foundation of the world, and was intended for all men, both Jews and Gentiles, so that everyone, even all those “unto the ends of the earth”, should be saved. Because God “ordained” the Way of salvation from the beginning, this section of Acts is revealing the fulfillment of God’s plan. Who, then, is “ordained to eternal life”? All of us are. God’s provision is effective for all men; it is neither flawed nor insufficient. But only a free will decision to believe can give Him glory, and that free will decision is ours to make. Not every captain maintains his course.
When we, as God’s people, head in the wrong direction, He corrects us. He urges us to get back on course, to receive His instruction, and to hearken to His voice. He warns us as He did the Israelites, that if we continue to turn our backs on His law and refuse to hear His Word, our end will be destruction (see Jer. 18:1-10). However, as long as we live to captain our ship, we can alter our course. Some of us heed the warnings about inclement weather and protect our ships from damage. Others are distracted at the wheel, and correct themselves when they see that they are veering to the side. The point I am trying to make is this: for as long as we are alive, we can choose to believe in the Lord and be saved; but once we die, it is too late. Judgment is upon us.
When judgment ensues after our death, there is only one of two places we can go. Heaven and hell are prepared, reserved, and established places that were created by God. While we are alive on this earth to change our course, we can decide which one of these two places we will end up in by choosing to either follow or disregard the navigator’s directions which are plotted with our eternal safety in mind. There are no do-overs. After we die, there is no going back to sail our ships differently. Therefore, when the Bible speaks of “vessels” which are fit for destruction, wrath, honour, or glory, it is referring to the course we are on while alive on earth. If a vessel is “prepared” for glory, is it glorified? No – it is on the course toward glorification. Similarly, a vessel that is embarking upon the wrong path is “fitted” to destruction, but is not yet destroyed. Therefore, when such language is used in the Bible, we are either being warned that we’re on the wrong course, or we’re being encouraged to stay the course we’re on.
Romans 9 will be discussed in the next section, but other verses from Habakkuk 1:12 and Jude 4, for example, beg the question about whether or not people are predetermined for hell. Jude 4 says, “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation…” “Before of old” refers to those whose sins were committed in Old Testament times, since both the examples that follow and Jude’s cross reference in 2 Peter 2 refer to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrha, those who surrounded Noah at the time of the Flood, Balaam, and the fallen angels. Peter also uses the phrase “in the old time” to refer to the Old Testament “holy women” like Sara (1 Pt. 3:5), which shows consistent use of this terminology. The more specific phrase, “before the foundation of the world”, is used Biblically in reference to the plan of salvation and the book of life which were established by God before time as we know it began.
So what is Jude saying in verse 4? Like Peter, he is warning the brethren that “there were false prophets also among the people even as there shall be false teachers among you…” (2 Pt. 2:1). The people of Peter’s day (present tense for him) who “bring in damnable heresies” are following after the same “pernicious ways” (vs. 2) that men like Balaam did, and will therefore receive the same judgment and damnation (vs. 3). Such men are not only sinful like the rest of us, but willfully evil and deceptive – depraved. Therefore, they are ordained to condemnation.
So if the people Jude refers to are “ordained” for condemnation, are they already condemned? No – they are headed toward condemnation. Peter says that they “have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray” (2 Pt. 2:15a). Unlike like the wicked men of the past, whose “judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Pt. 2:3b), these new false prophets were being reserved for punishment (2 Pt. 2:9), but were not yet punished. This is further proof of the fact that while we are yet alive on this earth, we can change our ways. But once we die, there’s no going back.
Many Christians ask why God tolerates the existence of the evil and the unrepentant who walk among us. It is because God is “longsuffering… not willing that any should perish” (2 Pt. 3:9). From the death and resurrection of Jesus, mercy and peace abound toward everyone, so that everyone has an opportunity to repent and be saved. If God returned today, indeed would “the damnation of the wicked” commence immediately (2 Pt. 2:3), but no more people could be saved. Remember, God said that His mercy endures forever. He will patiently tolerate the wicked, storing up His wrath, until all of His beloved, (those that ultimately believe and trust in him) “come home”.
Ultimately, each one of us is on a path. We are either headed for heaven and glory, or for hell and wrath. If you’re on the wrong path, adjust your course while you still can.
7. Called and Chosen
Calvinists take the notion of being “called” (by invitation or to a vocation) or “chosen” (to fulfill a specific purpose) to surmise that a) the call and the choice are to salvation, and b) the call and the choice are irresistible. Calvinists claim that we do not “choose”, but that we are “chosen”. This is based on verses like John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”, and Matthew 22:14, “Many are called, but few are chosen”. Let’s take a look at what these verses mean in context.
John 15:16 is quoted without the object. In other words, since the words “called” and “chosen” are transitive verbs, an object is required in the sentence to complete the idea. We are always called or chosen to do something specific. John 15:16 tells us exactly what the disciples are being chosen for: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (Jn. 15:16). The disciples were chosen to bring forth fruit. Where does this verse say that the disciples were chosen – independently of their own free will – to be saved? And where does it say that because they were chosen to bring forth fruit, they therefore had no other choice but to be fruitful?
This language is the same as that being used in the previous section about being “ordained”. Paul’s story offers an example. In Acts 9:14, the Lord tells Ananias to heal Paul’s blindness and let him go, because “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). This verse states clearly that “chosen” does not mean saved – Paul was already saved; he was “chosen” for the purpose of bearing Jesus’ Name before the Gentiles. Context always explains the words “called” and “chosen” by providing an object that receives the action. In this way, we are told exactly what someone is called or chosen to or for.
Jesus called the disciples to follow Him. Was this an irresistible call to salvation? No – Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19). The 12 disciples were called by Jesus to make them “fishers of men”; “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Mt. 4:20). Did they have no choice but to follow Jesus, because He compelled them by His determinate will? No. Consider the young man from Matthew 19 who kept the law from his “youth up”’; he was ultimately told by Jesus to “come and follow me” (Mt. 19:20-21), but he chose not to. The young man “went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Mt. 19:22b). And please notice it doesn’t say the young man ‘couldn’t follow’, or ‘he wasn’t chosen’, nor that ‘he was depraved and couldn’t choose otherwise’. What turned him away from the best choice was his affection for his great possessions. This proves, by the Scriptures, that the disciples exercised choice. Jesus’ “call” was resistible.
Another verse Calvinists use to claim that we have no choice is Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen”. Again, let’s look at the context of this verse, which is the tail end of a parable. Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to “a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Mt. 22:2-3). The people who were invited (called) to this wedding feast chose not to come. In other words, God’s invitation to sup with Him is resistible. In the parable, those who choose not to come to the feast represent the nation of Israel. Those who were called from the highways, “as many as [the servants] found, both bad and good” did come to the wedding feast. These people represent the Gentiles. As many as were found of the latter group were all called, and they all came, but there was a problem. A man was not wearing a “wedding garment”, and was therefore cast into “outer darkness” (Mt. 22:11-13).
Remember, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” The “garment” which all sinners are to wear in the presence of God if they are to gain admittance into heaven is the blood of Jesus – the covering for our sins – that which makes us holy and blameless in His sight. God has given us the garment, and has made it available to everyone, but instead of forcing us into wearing it, He leaves it up to us to decide whether or not we will put it on. Who gets the credit if we put it on? The One who gave it to us.
The call – the invitation to the wedding feast, which is the gospel of salvation – goes out to “many”; it “was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Col 1:23). But only those who choose to believe in Jesus Christ for the covering of sins are wearing the wedding garment. “What must I do to be saved?” the jailer asked. Paul and Silas answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).
Today’s Calvinist/determinist cannot respond this way to this question being posed to them if what they believe is true. An intellectually honest Calvinist consistent with his theology would have to say to that jailer, “Pray for the gift of faith”, or “Pray that you are chosen”. This is an indirect way of asking a God who has long before predetermined all things, good and evil, to spontaneously regenerate someone so that they can be able to believe. Sadly, not only is it impossible, since according to Calvinist doctrine, God’s will is determinate and no human prayers can change it, but it is also the wrong answer. What is the correct answer? “Believe…”
Take a look at this deceptive tactic that a high-profile Calvinist[i] uses to support this theory: 2 Thessalonians 2:13 is quoted without its final phrase. Read, “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation”. That seems to support the Calvinistic definition of predestination at first glance. Now read it in context with the last phrase, “because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel…” (2 Thes. 2:13b-14a emphasis mine). God has chosen all of us for salvation by making the way available to all. However, not all who hear the gospel respond to it with the free-will offering of belief. Again, the young rich man comes to mind.
In the book of John, the word “believe” or “believed” is written 85 times. Not one of those times are we told that in order to believe, we have to be regenerated first. In fact, we are told otherwise over and over again. We are told, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”. After we believe, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, which guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). God has indeed chosen – even willed – that all men should be saved. Because He is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9), He sent His Son to “take away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). God chose to draw all men unto Him through Jesus’ crucifixion. All of us can be saved, but again, the simple fact is that not all of us will choose to be.
The word “foreknowledge” comes from the Greek word prognostin (prognosticate), which means “to know beforehand”, or “prophesy”. It is the Word of God, which foretells future events: “For the testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10a, see also vs. 13).
Revelation 17:8 says, “…and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world…” Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…” 2 Timothy 2:9, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his”. In Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the prophet, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee; I appointed thee a prophet to the nations.” Romans 8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…”
If the testimony of the Lord was written before the foundation of the earth, and this testimony declares who are His, then the coming to salvation of all those whose names are written in the book of life is nothing less than the fulfillment of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 1:6, Paul says, “the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you”. In other words, the salvation of these believers was proof that God’s foreknowledge is sound, His plan effective. John 3:33 says, “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true”; and in John 5:34, Jesus says, “But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved”. Salvation is the bottom line. God planned it, Jesus carried it out, and the Holy Spirit reveals it.
Does God know who will choose to believe in Him unto salvation? Of course. From the beginning, and according to His foreknowledge, God knew who would choose to receive this gift of grace. Those people, He refers to as being “in Him” (Eph. 1:4); He “knoweth” them (2 Tim. 2:9). Therefore, the Bible contains His revelation, not His determination.
Archangel Michael said to Daniel, “But I will tell thee that which is ordained in the scripture of truth…” (Dan. 10:21). Michael then proceeded to inform Daniel of God’s plan for the future, which included the rise and fall of nations and the coming of the Messiah. This prophecy culminated in the destruction of the wicked and the deliverance of the godly. All of these events centre around one theme – the plan of salvation that is an offer to the whole world. This, the Bible refers to as the mystery that is hidden in God: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7, see also Mt. 13:35).
Often, the term “mystery” is used by Calvinists to explain away the contradictions, which they call paradoxes, found in their theory. When confronted with Bible verses that are incongruent with their doctrine, they respond with, “His ways are above our ways”. Indeed. But do these “ways” refer to inconsistencies in God’s character, in His gospel, His prophecy, or His Truth, or to supposed Biblical paradoxes that arise in the face of Calvinism? Of course not! Indeed God’s ways are above ours because no human wisdom can match His. But He has seen fit to reveal His wisdom to us in His Word.
God hid His plan of salvation in the passages of Scripture, unfolding this mystery over time for all those who would hear and learn (Jn. 6:45). Ephesians 3:9-12 say, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Look at what these verses say! All men can see what the fellowship of the mystery is and “now”, since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the heavenly beings – the “principalities and powers” – can know as well because the church (the coming to salvation of the saints) shows it to them.
God’s “eternal purpose” is salvation for all those who will hear and believe. Ephesians 1:9 tells us that God “made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself”. What is God’s “good pleasure”? “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). The scriptures tell us that God wants all of us to inherit the kingdom of heaven, and they tell us that this is accomplished through the work of His Son. All we need to do is believe. Those who have placed their faith in Him have complete confidence in their salvation.
Because the Bible teaches that God planned a way for all people to be saved while also clearly teaching that not all people choose to believe unto salvation, free will and foreknowledge can and do coexist.
Thanks for reading.
Peter and Paige
[i] Calvinist John MacArthur does this on his website. See http://www.gtycanada.org/resources/articles/A331/what-is-the-doctrine-of-election