Digression 6: Calvinism
A few hundred years ago, Calvin taught the idea that
there was predestination of our lives, so that our freewill decisions have no effect upon
our salvation; we are either predestinated to salvation or to rejection. This notion has
resurfaced in several modern ideas:
- That there is no point in making a great effort in Bible study or religion, because if
we are to be saved then we will be anyway.
- That there is a being called the devil who forces us to sin and brings problems into our
lives regardless of our own will. This false notion is discussed in Study 6.
- That there is no need to ask for God's care in the situations of life, e.g. for safe
keeping when travelling, because everything is predestinated anyway. The world has a
saying, often overheard in airport departure lounges, 'If your number's going to come up,
- Evangelical churches teach that it is impossible to believe or understand the Bible
without the Holy Spirit making us do so.
There are many sound Biblical reasons for rejecting this
kind of philosophy:
- It makes a nonsense of the whole concept of obedience to God. We are continually told in
the Bible that we must keep God's commands, and by doing so we can give Him pleasure or
displeasure. This concept of commandments is meaningless if God is forcing us to be
obedient. Christ offers salvation "unto all them that obey him" (Heb.5:9).
- Hebrews 11 shows that God's intervention in our lives and ultimate granting of salvation
is related to our faith. The many Biblical examples of praying to God for deliverance in
time of trouble are meaningless if everything is totally predestinated. Likewise the idea
of salvation being the result of our faith in Christ is also made meaningless.
- Baptism is a pre-requisite for salvation (Mark 16:16; John 3:3-5). This is denied by
Calvinists. However, salvation was made possible on account of the work of Christ (2
Tim.1:10), not through the abstract concept of predestination. We must consciously choose
to associate ourselves with Him, which we do through baptism. Romans 6:15-17 speaks of us
changing masters at baptism, from a life of sin to one of obedience. "To whom ye
yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are". This language of yielding
oneself clearly implies freewill as opposed to unconditional predestination. The yielding
is through obeying from the heart the doctrines of the Gospel (Rom.6:17).
- There is no point in God speaking forth His word, if we are ultimately predestinated
anyway. There is also no point in preaching; yet the Bible, both in command and by
recording examples of this, shows that it is through the preaching of the word that men
and women come to salvation. "The word of...salvation" (Acts 13:26) has to go
forth to men.
- We will be judged according to our works (Rev.22:12). Why, if our freewill actions are
unimportant in relation to salvation? Paul said that the Jews judged themselves to be
unworthy of eternal life by their rejection of the word of God (Acts 13:46). They were
judging themselves - God was not preventing them. If we say that God is predestinating
some people to salvation and others to condemnation, then God is effectively forcing
people to be sinners, in the same way as He supposedly forces people to be righteous.
Because of Adam's sin, "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned"
(Romans 5:12). This is why men die, as a punishment for sin (Rom.6:23), not because God
forced them to be sinners at some point in time before Adam's sin.
- 1 Cor.10 and many other passages hold up the example of those in the past who once had a
relationship with God, but then fell away, as being warnings to believers. The fact that
it is possible to 'fall from grace' (Gal.5:4) means that there cannot be a 'once saved
always saved' system of salvation as required by Calvinism. Only by continuing to hold
true doctrine can we be saved (1 Tim.4:16).
- Jesus clearly taught that understanding God's word is dependent to some degree upon our
freewill effort. "Whoso readeth, let him understand" (Matt.24:15). Thus we let
ourselves understand the word - we are not forced to. There is a parallel between this and
the oft repeated words of Jesus, "He that hath ears to hear...let him hear", or
understand. Having ears to hear therefore equates with reading God's word. Because God's
Spirit is so supremely manifested through His word to the extent that Jesus could say that
His inspired words "are Spirit" (Jn.6:63), it is impossible that God's Spirit
would work on a man, apart from His word, in order to force the man to be obedient to the
- "Whosoever will" can "take of the water of life freely" (Rev.22:17),
through responding to the word of life found in the Gospel. Here surely is freewill rather
than predestination irrespective of our personal desire for salvation. Likewise Acts 2:21
"Whosoever shall call on (himself) the name of the Lord shall be saved" through
being baptized into that name.