Engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Does it really matter?

I was recently in a discussion concerning Calvinism and one of the parties stated “I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and the focus should be on pleasing Him, doing His will, and spreading the gospel to others (and I think that’s all that really matters vs. if I’m a Calvinist or not)” So I ask the question – “Does it really matter?” I contend that it does.

The young lady is mistaken in that she thinks one can divorce doctrine from practice. But this is impossible. Scripture is clear that one’s actions are the result of one’s belief (Jesus tells us the root of the tree determines the fruit of the tree.). So does it matter if one is a Calvinist or not? Lets look at what she said matters as a case study (however brief).

A follower of Jesus Christ:

What is it to follow Jesus? Is it just going around and doing good deeds for others? Isn’t that what Jesus did? Surely not every one who does a good deed for another is following Jesus – for we don’t believe Mormon’s are Christians, or doctors who refuse to abort unborn children are Christian by default. To follow Jesus is more than just loving people. It’s being His disciple. His teachings are studied and devoured; then lived out. For one to say they follow Jesus, and then deny the truths He taught is a contradiction.

Now I am not saying that only Calvinists are truly following Jesus. There are many who are “Arminian” just because we all are by nature. But one cannot honestly say he is following Jesus and then flat out deny, or refuse to understand, John 3:1-8, John 6, John 10, (to name a few). To only accept piece-meal the teachings of Jesus that we like and ignore the others or claim finite understanding to avoid being challenged, is not following Jesus, but rather a paper Jesus.

Pleasing Him:

What is pleasing Him? As a Calvinist would say total reliance upon God. Seeing that all things come from Him, He controls all things. Recognizing and worshiping Him as Who He is – the Only Wise Sovereign. Whether that be evangelism, suffering, or playing baseball with one’s son; all these things are results of the cross and we do them out of love. I am even made pleasing to God through the cross of Christ. It is His death and resurrection that justifies me and why I am no longer under the law, but keep it joyfully. Pleasing Him is not something I do for Him of my own libertarian free-will, but something He does through me by grace. It is living with God in His rightful place as Sovereign Lord and man in his as creature.

Spreading the gospel:

This is vital. For the non-Calvinist the gospel is a chair without legs. They offer the lost a cross that is not sufficient to save, a Savior that couldn’t complete the job, and a God Who is hoping to get them to heaven but can’t apart from the sinner’s letting God save them. It is not the biblical gospel, and the only thing it has in common with the true gospel is the same commonality that a cult has with truth – lingo. The non-Calvinist uses the same terminology but redefines it. Atonement doesn’t mean atonement, ransom doesn’t mean ransom, redeem doesn’t mean redeem, desperately wicked doesn’t mean such, grace alone really isn’t alone, etc. The main thing is for them to keep man understanding that his eternal destiny rests in his hands and that what he chooses to do will be the final determining factor in his salvation. The crown of salvation is laid at the feet of the sinner instead of the feet of the Savior. The very purpose of the gospel to the non-Calvinist is the betterment of man. It’s even used to convince man that they are extremely valuable, thus diminishing their heinous sin.

I know it is brief, but I’m on lunch and wanted to jot a few thoughts down. So in review…. If I must jettison, or twist, some of the teachings of Jesus in order to deny Calvinism then I can’t be a follower of Jesus. If I think that my pleasing God is done in my strength instead of depending on God’s sustaining and empowering grace to live my life for Him – even realizing this desire to do so is a gift from God – if I’m not believing that He is really God as He presents Himself in Scripture, then I’m not pleasing Him. If I must distort the gospel in order to give it in a way that, although massively misaligned to the biblical gospel, does fit nicely with how I think God should operate -if I offer people good news that teaches Jesus almost saved you, but you’ve got to meet Him partway – then I’m not really giving the gospel.

So does it really matter?

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7 responses

  1. The other thing that is askew here is that she (just like many who identify themselves as Calvinists) wrongly believe that what is commonly-called the “5 points of Calvinism” are an accurate summation of Calvinism or even give insight into Calvinism’s primary points. What is properly called Calvinism is first and foremost concerned with the praise, worship, and glory of God the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and this being expressed through the Gospel.

    Anyone who finds this statement shocking or of interest, would do well to read J. I. Packer’s introduction to John Owen’s book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. (While Packer has become more ecumenical and questionable in his doctrine over the years, this document is among his best works and should be read by every Christian who can make the time for it.)

    May 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

  2. Daniel, I don’t mind your praise of God and claiming all things are from him including your election to be saved. It’s all well and good. What I often find offensive is the attitude you portray. I don’t know why it’s so wonderful to focus on “Hey, look y’all, I’m elected!” It comes across as Joseph did to his brothers. Yes, God gave Joseph a special role, but He also had to humble Joseph and put him through false accusations, prison and life in another country before He used him to save Israel and all the surrounding nations from starving. Joseph’s brothers nor his father appreciated Joseph’s haughty attitude. And maybe you don’t mean to come across this way, but I know of people who have been told they are not one of the elect. So why go around bragging about it if you/we/whosoever is? There are billions more who apparently aren’t. So be thankful you are elected and praise God for it, but don’t think we all are happy to see the Redeemed happy when the rest of us/them/whoever are purposefully made to burn forever and suffer.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t like that view of God. It may be Biblical, but I don’t have to like it. I’d never create people with feelings to burn forever. Think of your precious Cai in that position. What hope did he EVER have? This is a cruel God, in my opinion. Maybe I’m one of the non-elect for saying it, but God knows I mean it. Only a cruel Being would create people only to damn them for eternity.

    May 13, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    • danielpulliam

      Susanne, I don’t think I’ve said anything to the degree of “I’m elected and you’re not!” nor have I ever told another that they are not elect.
      Your illustration with Joseph is interesting as the things you mention God put Joseph through to humble him were actually the means of using him in the first place. All the false accusations, betrayals, etc. were ways that Joseph was a type of Jesus Christ. Your interpretation of the narrative doesn’t fit the One Joseph pointed to.
      I’m also sorry that you feel that although unconditional election “may be Biblical, but I don’t have to like it.” Susanne, please think about what you just said. My posts and such are not geared and inciting anger in people who do not agree with me, but to cause them to examine their positions in light of Scripture. I understand your pleading me to consider my son in this situation. I have. I don’t know of any father who hasn’t considered the ramifications of this doctrine for his children. Even after doing so – I embrace it joyfully! Jesus is my son’s only hope! I know that if my son’s salvation depended upon his deciding to believe in Jesus that Cai NEVER would. It is because of God’s Sovereign saving grace that I trust Him to save my son. I know that if my son is not among the elect then he will willingly reject God. No matter how many opportunities Cai has to believe the gospel, unless God does a work, Cai will ALWAYS respond in unbelief. I do believe that God has placed my children in a home where they will hear the gospel and be taught to love God. I ask God to grant them repentance and faith for I know He is the only One Who can change them. You seem to find it more comforting to have a god that can be thwarted by mere men as long as that god loves these creatures more than anything else – including himself. This is not the God of Scripture though; and it is to this Scriptural God to Whom we must bow the knee. We are sinners and deserve hell and damnation, but even if God did wish to create men just to send them to hell then He has that right – He is God. The potter can do what He wishes with the clay. God made man upright and man chose to disobey God. Now we are all born in that fallen state and all sin against God. He welcomes any sinner who wishes to come to Him. But not one of them will come. He has chosen some out of this fallen humanity to refuse to let perish. This isn’t cruel, it’s love.

      May 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    • danielpulliam

      ps… please read the article Charles suggested. I think it will help you.

      May 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm

  3. “We are sinners and deserve hell and damnation, but even if God did wish to create men just to send them to hell then He has that right – He is God.”

    I agree. He has that right. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    “The potter can do what He wishes with the clay.”

    Sure can. But I’d MUCH rather be a piece of clay than a human burning in hell for eternity. Clay cannot feel. I can feel when I get a paper cut. Or worse.

    “God made man upright and man chose to disobey God.”

    Adam and Eve weren’t elected? They had a choice? Interesting.

    “He has chosen some out of this fallen humanity to refuse to let perish. This isn’t cruel, it’s love.”

    Yes, for the chosen. Not for the unchosen.

    I’m not saying you aren’t right. Just that I don’t like this God/god. It seems even Jesus didn’t. Why would he look on a city with compassion and wish to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks? They *couldn’t* come to him! He made them that way! So WHY cry over it? It’s YOUR fault, Jesus. You chose not to redeem them! You chose to let them burn forever! So don’t cry. You could have chosen them or at least given them a choice. But no. You damned them. Don’t cry over what YOU did.

    God sends people to hell. You’ll say their sin sent them to hell, but if they were born in sin and left spiritually blind and dead HOW did they ever have any other choice but suffer forever? THIS is why I wish I never had been born. Why I wish so many in the world never had been born! What kind of cruel deity would create people with so many nerve endings only to allow them to suffer FOREVER?

    Anyway…I’m not mad. Just really sad that this is the way God is.

    May 13, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    • danielpulliam

      Susanne,
      Thank you for your perspective, but I would like to point out/ ask a few things.

      You said “Adam and Eve weren’t elected? They had a choice? Interesting.” when I said man chose to sin. You seem to be mistaken on what unconditional election is. I have stated countless times over that election does not exclude the ability of human choice. Scripture tells us that nothing happens outside the will of God. That he controls the hearts of even kings, and turns them as He wills. I do not claim to know how sin came into God’s created order. But to interject a libertarian free-will in attempts to solve it only complicates matters and denies Scripture.

      Your logic in saying election can’t be true and Jesus weep over lost souls is also not completely warranted. How you believe right now is really no better. You believe God, Who knows how everything will happen, still chose to create man and give them these senses knowing many of them would use them to experience hell. He put a tree in the garden knowing they would eat it, and even let Satan in to boot. Talk about sabotage! Then God knowingly creates people who He knows will not choose Him. Why not keep them from being born? Is God obligated to create these people? If so, who’s making God create? You still have a God who knew He would send some of His creation to hell and yet created them anyway. The only people who do away with this God are universalists – yet that is heresy.

      You mention “if they were born in sin and left spiritually blind and dead HOW did they ever have any other choice but suffer forever? “. Have you considered that you’re not viewing sin in as biblical a light as you should? We, as a race, have sinned against God. He has every right to leave us in our fallen state! But He doesn’t! He has given us the law to show us our sinfulness, yet we hate it! We continue to break it or we twist it and try to use against God. He has given us the Israelite nation, worked wonders for them and recorded it.. yet we hate His record of His works in history. Some say it’s not real, other hate the God who would kill so many “innocent” women and children just because they weren’t Jews. Then we have Jesus, He worked miracles, and spoke truth. Freeing people from demon possession and healing them of physical illness. Yet men hated Him because He didn’t fit their agenda. They accused Him of being empowered by the devil. Jesus taught us that no man believes on Him unless God steps in. This is backed up by the evidence. If God didn’t elect men, and only left them to their own “free-will” then no one would come to Jesus.
      Now, dealing with God treating people differently. Is it right for God to take creatures with nerves and pain receptors and have them born retarded, or with deformed limbs. Some of them feel excruciating pain from birth. Some deaf from birth, some can’t speak, others can’t see. But who made the deaf, dumb, and blind? Is it not The LORD? If it is thought that this is only fair since we are sinners, but not eternal pain, then sin is not seen properly. If one thinks this makes God cruel then that individual sees the creature to be more than it is in comparison to The Creator – clay.

      We tend to think of God in man-like terms. But we must let Scripture tell us Who God is and what He is like.
      What Scripture tells us is that God created all He did for Himself, not for us. all things were created by Him and for Him. Now I don’t claim to know what God is thinking and His exact purpose in all things, but I do trust that He is all wise and does nothing but what will glorify Him. This is my purpose, to glorify Him. This was Pharaoh’s purpose. This is satan’s purpose. (yes, even the devil is God’s devil.)

      If this is how God is then why be sad? You, as well as everyone else, have a promise that if you repent of your sins and believe on the finished work of Jesus that you will find forgiveness and life. Only those who don’t want it don’t obey. I’m not insinuating you are lost. I’m saying that we have all been offered the same thing. We all have a promise held out to us. If we refuse it then why condemn God for it? And if He steps in for some undeserving ones, ensuring that they rest on His promise, while leaving other undeserving ones to their own natural wills; why condemn God for it?

      The problem isn’t God, it’s us, Susanne. We think too much of ourselves. Just like in another blog post I wrote. We have the people in the story getting mad at the author of the story for creating the villain. When the bad guy meets justice in the end, these people are upset that the author didn’t choose to make the bad guy do something else and try to say the author of the story is evil. That the author should have made everybody good all the way through and not had anything bad happen at all. How arrogant of the characters in the story, who were made, to think they know better than the author who made them.

      I was faced with a question years ago that God used to change my heart. It went something like this: “If you knew that you could serve God with all your might your entire life, forsaking everything for Him and doing anything and everything He asked of you; and in the end He would still send you to hell – would you serve Him?” If the answer is no then we are failing to see God as He really is – THE I AM. We think we are the center of His story. It’s not that way at all.

      I do pray God will give us all grace to bow the knee before Him.

      May 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

  4. 4calledbyhisgrace

    Wow. This is an intense post. From reading the comments here I am reminded of so many things the Lord has taught me in the last few years. One of the things He has shown me is that over the last few years I had begun to come to Scripture with pre-suppositions. I would study a passage w/ a particular viewpoint or slant in mind, instead of coming to Scripture & letting it speak for itself & studying it w/in it’s context. It is SO vitally important that we do this so we can understand the clear meaning of Scripture. I have found so many that hold a non- calvinist view to consistently and constantly pull verses out of context,re-define words, and don’t compare Scripture w/ Scripture, as well as not go back to the Greek & Hebrew. Some may do this out of ignorance b/c they’re going off of what they’ve been taught for so many years, or they just can’t fathom, that God is in complete control of all things, including our own desires. It was only when I began to come to Scripture w/out presuppositions that God, yes God, opened my eyes to the Doctrines of Grace, or the 5 points of Calvinism. After all, as Spurgeon said, “Calvinism is the Gospel.” I hope and pray that all who read this post and all the comments, will be driven to dive deeper into Scripture.

    Soli deo Gloria!
    Bryan

    May 14, 2010 at 7:56 am

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