Let’s Feast

   My grandma is a really good cook. I love her roast beef meals…her chicken and dumplings… and of course turkey meals are loved all year long. I must admit, it is really hard to pick a favorite meal, but I know what my favorite side dish is…her mashed potatoes. They are so good!!! What does this have to do with anything? I am afraid when it comes to the Bible, we just go for the mashed potatoes, we avoid the meat. Maybe we are scared of misunderstanding the meaty truths? Maybe we truly need some more mashed potatoes to help us ingest the meat. Or maybe, you don’t have the time or don’t have an interest. I hope the last option is not the case. 

   Regardless, I want to go on a theological deep dive that gives your brain a workout. Recently, in one on one conversations, two of you have asked me great questions. One of them, I did not have time to answer thoroughly; the other, I gave my best attempt. These questions have stayed in my mind and I started thinking about how they are beneficial to everyone when thinking about the important truths of Scripture. So, we are skipping the mashed potatoes and going straight for the meat. Are you ready? Here we go.

Question #1=What are the five points of Calvinism? 

   Surely many of you have heard of the great theologian John Calvin who played an important role during the reformation. But, have you ever heard of Jacob Arminius? He was a theologian in the late 1500’s. After his death, some of his followers wrote five statements of faith in 1610 to summarize his teachings. His teachings were widely debated and eventually condemned in 1619 at the Synod of Dort. The five points of Calvinism emerged as a response against Jacob Arminius’ teachings.

   The five points of Calvinism are as follows: Total Depravity-Unconditional Election-Limited Atonement-Irresistible Grace-Preservation of the Saints.

  Let me briefly define those statements because I believe the five points paint a Biblical picture of salvation. 

Total depravity: Sin has affected us so completely that we cannot turn to God on our own. 

   We as human beings are soaked in sin. Sin penetrates everything we do. Ephesians 2 reminds us that we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins. Romans 3 reminds us that no one is righteous. In our sinful state, we don’t delight in God or His holiness. We are slaves to sin. We are unable to save ourselves. We are unable to reach out to God. We are dependent on Him for our rescue.

Unconditional Election: God unconditionally elects whom He will bring to salvation before the foundation of the world. 

   God chooses the people whom He will deliver from their bondage to sin. The important thing here is that election is modified by a very important adjective, without which the entire meaning changes. Unconditional. God elects people because of His grace. His choice is free. It is not based on what people do, but it is in spite of their rebellion and evil against God. It is not based on any foreseen faith…as in, God looking ahead down the corridors of time, sees that someone in their own power chooses to have faith in Jesus and then God says okay, I will elect you.  It is based on His grace alone because like I mentioned above we will never choose Christ in our sin.

Limited Atonement: Jesus specifically died and atoned for the sin for the elect. 

   This is probably the most debated and misunderstood of all the five points. It raises the age old question…did Jesus die to save His elect or did Jesus die with the potential of saving everyone? For whom did Jesus die? Jesus could not die for all people in the same way. If He died for everyone then no one would be in Hell. If the death of Jesus did not decisively save anyone and only made it possible for people to be saved that presents a problem; that makes people their own saviors and not God, because then the person would be the decisive factor of their salvation. So, Jesus did not die for everyone. His death accomplished an actual purpose, not a mere possibility.  I like how John Piper says “the love of God is sufficient to save the world, but efficient to save those who believe.  Efficient means His love actually saves believers. It is effective in saving them from perishing.”

Irresistible Grace: God overcomes our resistance and changes our hearts through regeneration so that we want and love Jesus. 

   God does not force anyone to be saved or make them do something for which they have no desire. Rather, God graciously changes the disposition of their nature. He removes the dead unresponsive heart and regenerates it by giving the heart new life. This act causes a person to want and love Christ; their natural response then is one of faith. 

Preservation of the Saints. Believers are secure in their salvation all because all who are justified and covered with the blood of Christ will be saved in the end. 

   Once saved, always saved. If a person is truly born again, then they can never lose their salvation. No sin can separate them from God. Jesus died for that sin and canceled its legal demands against them. He secures believers’ salvation by His blood. They are eternally secure in Christ. God will see to it that they reach their glorious destination in heaven. Believers are eternally secure.

   There is a lot more that could be said about each point, but I hope this general overview is helpful. Truth be told, the five points are actually a great segway into our next question. 

Question #2=Do we have free will?

   Personally, I am not a huge fan of the term free will, because I think it can be misleading. I like the term moral agency. Regardless, the underlying topic remains: human choices under a sovereign God. Are we able to make choices? Yes. And we will choose what we want most at the moment. But going back to the five points, there is something we must remember. Before faith in Christ, we are soaked in sin. Sin affects everything we do. So even our ability to make choices is saturated with sin. Outside of Christ, we will choose what we want. That choice is not God. We don’t want God. We won’t choose God. In the deadness of sin, we don’t have either the capacity or desire to love Him. Romans 3 reminds us that no one is righteous and no one seeks God. Ephesians 2 highlights that we are dead in sin and outside of Christ we carry out the passions of our sinful nature. That is why our will has to be changed

   God must remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. This is the miracle of regeneration. When this happens, our natural response is that we see the beauty of Christ. We want Him. We recognize what He has done on our behalf. We respond in faith. Again, we cannot make this response apart from God changing our wills. 

  Now that’s a discussion of “free will” in response to salvation. What about everyday choices? Yes, we make those. Our choices are real and God is sovereign. God cannot be God if He is not sovereign. Then something else would be more powerful than God. So God, by definition must be sovereign. 

 God determines and designs all things by orchestrating trillions upon trillions of factors so that everything, past, present, and future, happens according to His perfect goals. Nothing, past, present, or future is outside of God’s providence. That includes good things, bad things…it includes everything. The red lights you get stuck at in traffic, when one of your hairs fall out,  every breath you breathe. 

   So, God’s sovereignty permeates all life events and that does include all human decisions. There is a way in which God is the primary and first cause of everything while, at the same time, God nevers sins and does not tempt people. Humans are still morally responsible beings who make choices. God’s choosing and willing, does not negate real, human decisions. God governs human choices and preferences in a way that does not turn people into mindless robots. God made us beautifully with individual gifts and talents, with feelings and emotions. Right now on earth, those gifts are tainted with sin. In heaven, our emotions and personalities will be perfected into the person God designed us to be. Then we will truly be free and our wills, free from sin, will have the ability to enjoy and love God in fullest measure.

  Wow, I just fed you a lot. I believe I painted a Biblical perspective of a God centered salvation and of a human’s will. Regardless of whether or not you agree, go to the Bible. Look this up for yourself. Saturate your mind with the truth of Scripture. Let God’s Word sink into your heart.  Don’t just live on mashed potatoes truths. Enjoy your mashed potatoes with meat and let’s feast on the nourishment of God’s Word.