Surprisingly, my conversion from free-will theology to Calvinism came rather swiftly. It’s shocking really, if only you could understand the depths of hatred I once held toward those doctrines.
I resisted initially, desperately hopeful that some sensible compromise existed between these diametrically opposed belief systems. I figured the Semi-Pelagian flavor of Arminianism fell into one ditch while Calvinism veered clear over to the other side of the road. I searched in vain for the imaginary highway that ran through the middle of both views, but I never found any signs to point the way. After wrangling with Calvinism for about 4 months, I finally beheld its beauty with a clarity only the Holy Spirit could grant.
The ditch I had plowed into, turns out, is really an off-ramp exiting the pothole plagued ‘Free Will’ service road. It flows into a smoothly paved four-lane interstate winding a clear path to the Celestial City. The road first runs through the firmly established townships of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura and finally Soli Deo Gloria, which lies at the very gates of the streets of gold.
You may have already deduced the obvious. My diligent search through the scriptures utterly convinced me of the truth of the Doctrines of Grace.
So, the first and foremost reason I became a Calvinist is the overwhelming evidence contained in the scriptures declaring God’s unquestionable sovereignty over every person, place and event in all of history.
The scriptures seen through the lens of God’s sovereignty and man’s helplessness made clear to me salvation can only be a gift freely bestowed upon those the Father has loved.
A Calvinistic world view allowed me to engage scripture passages that in the past I had tended to avoid, because they made me uncomfortable. In retrospect, it is clearly obvious why I avoided them. They shook the very foundations of my belief systems. I passed over difficult passages (such as those found in Romans Ch 8-9) expounding the doctrines of election and reprobation. If ever confronted with them in study or conversation I would quickly throw out carefully articulated defenses I had memorized from teachers opposed to the Reformed Faith without giving the text much thought.
I won’t go into detail about how the scriptures convinced me of Calvinism, but will briefly explain how free will theology failed to answer one very nagging question satisfactorily and how the Doctrines of Grace did answer it.
The question formed in my mind partly due to the church growth principles embraced so fiercely by my former church. We changed our altar call by adopting a sinner’s prayer approach to salvation, which included a pulpit guarantee of eternal life for all who spoke the prayer aloud and ‘meant it in their heart.’ I questioned the validity of such a presumptuous statement. In these prayers sin was never confronted . The pastor never clearly defined it as a power of wickedness that dominates human nature. He didn’t strip people naked (figuratively, of course) and lay them bare before the holiness of God with the righteousness of the law. He didn’t send them to their knees, pleading for mercy; a poor sinner in desperate need of grace through the righteousness of Christ.
The question causing so much unrest in my soul was this:
Is salvation really as easy as reciting a canned prayer, and sincerely confessing belief in a certain set of biblical truths?
I didn’t remember it being that easy for me! More importantly, where did the Holy Spirit fit into this approach? I had always believed that the ministry of the Holy Spirit actively participated in the conversion of a soul, even if I did not really understand why. I mean, as a former ‘free-willie’ type, I strongly believed that every person had to make a choice unconstrained by outward influence to follow Christ. To be honest, I am obligated to believe this or my doctrine of free will would be crushed. Yet, at the same time I also believed the Holy Spirit initiated this process, too. I never took the time to examine the obvious dichotomy between these ideas – at least until I began to examine the theology of salvation.
My search began with man’s nature. I quickly discovered man by nature did not seek after God, understand or receive the things of God, nor does he do good. Great enmity exists between man and God. This, in turn, has created a gulf that no man can bridge. The fact of the matter is, no man has any desire to cross that gulf and be reconciled to his Creator – at least not naturally. God took it upon himself to bridge the gap with the cross of Christ. He has reconciled to himself people from every tribe, tongue and nation for His glory alone. The only way God gets all the glory is if salvation is His to bestow on whom He wishes. God’s glory shines most brilliantly when we see that our salvation is from His sovereign hand from first to last. The doctrine of man’s total depravity utterly convinced me that salvation through rote recitation of a canned prayer is about as effective in converting souls as was the Spanish Inquisition. You might get a lot of converts, but their motivations are often centered solely on the immediate temporal benefits of doing so.
The Holy Spirit is not only a necessary helper in man’s conversion but acts as the lone agent in the regeneration of our souls. This is called the doctrine of Monergism. The Holy Spirit sends us to our knees with deep-hearted conviction. We then crawl to the altar of repentance, sapped of even the strength to lift up our heads toward heaven. With profound regret we beat our breasts and cry out “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” The Holy Spirit grants us a measure of faith, bestowed as a gift flowing from the cross of Christ. Man cannot come to Jesus in his own power. God, willing to show his great kindness and mercy, plucks many poor condemned souls from the jaws of hell and clothes them in the white robes of righteousness. They shall shine like the sun for all eternity.
At that point I had allowed the truth of God’s word to transform my highly overrated opinion of human nature. I realized God must renew the heart in order for any soul to be rescued from eternal damnation. If all this be true then God must choose who lives and who dies. The bible is clear in showing that only few ever find the narrow gate that leads to life. I then had to redefine the doctrines of election, predestination and foreknowledge. In light of my new understanding of man’s inherit corruptness, I could no longer believe that election and predestination referred to only God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. A closer study revealed these verses taught the actual salvation of particular people through Jesus Christ. I had been taught Arminian doctrine as a toddler Christian. I held tenaciously to it without ever studying the passages thoroughly. If God indeed foreordained only the plan, He must believe in man’s natural ability to come to Him of his own free will. But this runs contradictory to the well established truth of man’s total depravity. Based on that fact alone, my errant election theology got tossed in the dumpster alongside my ‘man is not all bad’ belief.
So in wrapping up this post, the domino effect of theological truths beginning with man’s Total depravity unfolded very clearly the remaing ULIP in short order. Yes, it all makes sense logically, but that alone is not enough to believe it. The scriptures from Genesis to Revelation reveal these truths to be self-evident. I will go deeper in future articles concerning the exegesis of these holy doctrines. For now, know this: The only way I could fiercely embrace these doctrines, that are unquestionably repugnant to the carnal mind, is by the grace of God and submission to the authority of His eternal, inerrant word.