During my years as a Pentecostal/Arminian Christian I focused my theological studies on an array of supposedly sound biblical topics. I studied Dispensational Theology (though at the time I had no idea what it was called), learning the different epochs of time Earth’s history had been neatly packaged into. I dabbled with spiritual warfare, waging battle against all principalities and powers of darkness. I learned how to defend my family against the wiles of the devil. I read many kooky books that inspired me to take up the armor of God and stand firmly against the devil’s fiery darts in ways that now make me cringe with chagrin. I danced as King David did (except fully clothed) and anointed everything with olive oil (or Crisco if the former was not conveniently available). I claimed enough territories for Christ during those years that I could have established a whole other country. I scoured the scriptures, scrapping together verses in an effort to discern the times, and determine the signs of Christ’s Second Coming. I agreed with both Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt and the secret rapture of the church would whisk us away while the world would suffer beneath the iron heel of the Antichrist’s reign of terror. I spent hours pleading and wrestling with God at the altar, in the desperate hope that he would grant me an authentic, earth-shattering spiritual experience akin to the ones enjoyed by my brethren, who appeared to get a ‘dose of the Ghost’ on a weekly basis.
I worked hard to perfect my faith. I constantly exercised my spiritual muscles, speaking words of great faith, staving off sickness and disease, boasting in the power of my personal belief that God wanted me healthy and wealthy all the time. I voraciously rebuked the devil when a case of the sniffles assailed my sinuses. I cursed his name whenever I stubbed my toe, convinced that he was hard at work trying to bring me harm and weaken my faith – in my faith. I would walk around, point my finger at a piece of merchandise that I wanted and claimed it by faith. I then would daily thank God for granting everything that I asked for. I would patiently await for my stuff to miraculously arrive at the front door. Which, by the way, NEVER happened. I followed Scripture’s advice to lay hands on the sick and they would recover. I performed this ritual many times – on my broken down Nissan – and marveled at its miraculous resurrection from the dead. I believed in living a sinless life, by faith in my willpower to resist temptation. It became an obsession with me. I would often berate myself for failure to conform perfectly to God’s will. I cursed my lack of faith and promised to do better. After all, I had the Holy Spirit! I had no excuse for spots and blemishes any longer. This failure to be perfect eventually led to an unhealthy focus on backsliding and committing apostasy. I would often wonder if I had committed the ‘unpardonable sin’ by grieving the Holy Spirit with my mistakes. The combination of these toxic doctrines and my utter failure to measure up to God’s standards of righteousness caused great mental and emotional distress. It all came to a head in late 2005 when I cried out to the Lord in the dead of night, “Show me the truth!”
I had lived by faith, but in retrospect I now realize I’d grossly misplaced and misapplied my faith. Many Word-Faith heresies became my foundational doctrine, and at the time I had no inkling that I was in error. However, God revealed himself shortly after my desperate plea. The truth of God’s sovereignty shone like a heavenly beacon as I delved deep into the doctrines recovered by the Protestant Reformation. I quickly learned God the Father ordains all that comes to pass and always works according to his good pleasure. For the first time in my Christian life I marveled at the greatness of Christ. He lived a life of perfect obedience, thus fulfilling the righteousness of God. He willingly took up his cross and died, that my sins would be forgiven and his righteousness would clothe me. I stood amazed at the work of the Holy Spirit, who could take a heart, dead in wickedness, and infuse eternal life into it without even a prior hint of godly desire for that life on my part. I slowly came to realize what my Christianity was lacking – Christ himself!
My religion had been dominated by a plethora of secondary topics. I divulged in countless hours of end times prognostication. I exercised a self-centric philosophy of faith and obedience. I had an unhealthy obsession with spiritual performance and supernatural signs and wonders. All these distractions worked to remove my focus from the only thing that matters – the cross of Christ. I came from a church that viewed salvation by Christ’s blood on the cross as only the first step into a victorious and adventurous life of prosperity and personal fulfillment. They assumed the Gospel most of the time. As the leadership thought, so did I. In my personal reformation God re-prioritized my mindset. I began to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. I fixed my gaze upon the King of Kings and his glorious kingdom. I realized that the cross is not a first rung on a spiritual ladder to success, but instead the luminescent sun, burning brightly in the center of my renewed heart. All my doctrine, theology and devotion revolved around it, compelled by the irresistible gravity of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
I can honestly attest that for the first 10 years of my Christian life I never truly grasped the glory of Christ in the cross. I pause to wonder if I really was a Christian. I pursued signs and wonders, but failed to see the greatest sign and wonder of all. I turned up every stone, looking for clues to his second coming, while not beholding the majestic beauty of his first coming. I sought a spiritual buzz from the ‘Holy Ghost bartender’ and refused the cool refreshment of the the living waters of Jesus himself. I worried constantly about falling from grace instead of simply accepting Christ’s free grace. I worked to attain a state of sinless perfection, instead of clothing myself with the righteousness of Christ. Calvinism forced me to gulp down the milk of the elementary principles of Christ. By God’s grace he quickly moved me on to the strong meat of the word. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean that we ever move on from the cross of Christ. I will forever remain anchored to its profound truths, and I never will be able to distance myself from it. How I survived my early Christian life majoring in the minors I’ll never understand apart from God’s mercy.
When I became exposed to the doctrines of Grace – Calvinism – Reformed Theology – pick the moniker of your choice, a life of vibrant, lucid faith sharply came into focus for me. The simple revelation that Christianity is all about Christ profoundly changed me. I dare say that it’s almost as if I had been born-again – again! An overwhelming sense of awe floods my soul as God reveals that he is absolutely sovereign over all people, places and things for all time. I feel horror and revulsion as I begin to peel away the religious facade of feigned innate goodness in man as the scriptures speak to me of our great and awful depravity of mind and spirit. I marvel at the Father’s graciousness and mercy in the calling of a people as his very own. His reasons lie within himself and not according to our actions or desires. My heart exults when I attempt to fully comprehend the breadth and depth of God’s love for us, as demonstrated in the cross of Christ. I tremble at God’s power that ‘by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified’ (Heb 10:14). I’m forever grateful for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to overcome our obstinate, rebellious natures. I’m thankful that he effectually works the life of God in us so we would revile our sin, love God and flee to Christ. Finally, I’m at rest knowing God loves me so much that although he will not spare me from the trials and tribulations of life, he will preserve me through them, causing me to persevere in the faith. The doctrines of Grace are about the Lord God and his Christ, His glory and our enjoying him forever and ever.
In summary of this whole series, I first came to accept Reformed Theology due in no small part to the overwhelming support of scripture. Not just a verse here and a verse there, but the entire fabric of Calvinism is woven together so intricately into every book of the bible that to pick apart the threads of these profound truths is to unravel the whole tapestry of the holy scriptures. I am not overstating this in the least. Personal pride took a mortal blow when I confronted the awful, yet glorious truth of God’s marvelous grace fully bestowed upon me despite the cold, hard lifeless heart that contributed not one iota to my coming to Christ.
Which leads me to the second reason I converted to the doctrines of Grace. Since I was dead in my trespasses and sins, Christ had to make me alive, and so he did. God granted me a new heart. In response I turned away from my great sin and turned toward Christ in repentance and faith. I was born again by the spirit of God – before I repented and believed, not because I repented and believed. I am convinced from the scriptures and by personal testimony that regeneration precedes faith. Faith can only flow from a renewed heart. A renewed heart is a gift of God through Christ. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ (1Pe 1:3).
The third reason I embraced the Reformed faith is that I, by the grace granted unto me by the Father, have become keenly aware of the sinful inward workings of my heart, that never ceases to tempt me into once again living a life of debauchery and self indulgence. God’s grace constrains me, yet I shrink back in loathing at the unlawful desires that still stalk me day and night. The depravity of my fallen human nature leaves me in awe. How did I not destroy myself completely in the days of my youth? God’s hand was undoubtedly upon me even before his call came. Calvinism, which teach me about the total and complete depravity of my entire being, has been irrefutably confirmed by observing the inner workings of my own heart and the manifestation of those inner workings in the world around me.
Lastly, as I outlined above, I discovered that the teachings of Reformed Theology are God glorifying and Christ-centered. The scriptures all point to the person and work of Christ and the glory of God demonstrated by him and his deeds, which will remain for all eternity. We, the people of God, will stand also as an eternal reminder to the mercy and goodness of the entire Godhead. God the Father elected a people for himself in eternity past, before the foundations of the earth were laid, to glory in his majesty and enjoy his goodness forever. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on the likeness of sinful flesh to procure unto himself the elect God had sovereignly chosen, to fulfill his holy justice and righteous wrath against their sin. His crucifixion and shed blood forever sealed these believers as God’s own adopted children. The secret unseen work of the Holy Spirit regenerates stone cold hearts and calls men out of the world by a deep conviction of their trespasses. This leads to a loathing of sin and all its destructive power. In turn, the new heart of flesh cries out in faith to Christ, the only source of salvation. We plead for mercy instead of justice, repenting of all uncleanness of the flesh and mind. The renewed heart aches for communion with Christ everyday through fervent prayer, the reading of the scriptures, doctrinally sound preaching and teaching, the joyful singing of hymns and spiritual songs and the reverent administration of the sacraments. For all this I thank you O Lord our Lord. How majestic is your name in all the earth! You have done more for me than I could possibly repay in a thousand lifetimes. I’m grateful not only for doing all these things on my behalf, but also for revealing to my heart the scope and the breadth of your mighty deeds, that my gratitude and thankfulness may pour out to you for as long as we both remain.
Soli Deo Gloria.