Philip P. Eapen
John Calvin and his followers espouse a “Reformed” view of Christian salvation, aka Calvinism. They emphasize God’s sovereignty at the expense of God-given human free-will. The main points of their teaching is popularly known by the acronym ‘TULIP.’ You can either follow Calvinism or believe in John 3:16.
Calvinism is a form of Protestant Christianity which is also known as the Reformed tradition or Reformed Christianity. They follow a set of beliefs laid down by John Calvin and other theologians of the Reformed era. Their teachings are widely available in the form of books, multimedia, and on-line resources. More often than not, Christians of various Christian denominations are influenced by Calvinist teachings through their media. Of particular interest to me is the Calvinist doctrine of salvation.
The Calvinist doctrine of salvation is commonly referred to as TULIP, an acronym for:
T: Total depravity of man
U: Unconditional election of a few by God
L: Limited atonement (atonement was done for the elect only)
I: Irresistible Grace
P: Perseverance of the saints (‘Once saved, always saved’)
Before I explain and refute each of these teachings, I would like to mention a major pitfall in the methodology adopted by Calvinists.
Deductive Bible Study based on Proof-texts: Calvinism generally follows a deductive approach to Bible study. Based on a set of “accepted premises” they arrive at strong conclusions about any topic. If the premises are accurate, their conclusions will be accurate and strong. However, their premises are mostly proof-texts that are plucked out of their respective contexts.
Proof-texting is so rampant that new believers take extra effort to memorize a chain of references that “prove” their views. Worse still, learners, instead of examining difficult biblical texts for themselves, are tempted to first seek the views of preachers or authors. The views of ‘scholars,’ canned Bible-study notes, sermons, catch-lines and slogans become the foundation upon which these believers build their view of Christianity. If learners had been careful to critically examine their premises, they would have been able to set themselves free from the tyranny of those “widely accepted” notions.
Rev. Barry Gritters refers to Calvinism as “what our fathers said the Bible teaches.”1 His honesty is admirable. Calvinism is not what the Bible teaches. It is just what their father said the Bible teaches. We ought to honor our fathers not by continuing in their errors but by correcting our course.
Calvinists believe all humans are totally sinful and that man cannot “do” anything to save himself. They include “faith”, too, in this list of things to be “done” of which man is incapable! As a result of this belief they claim the following:
The Calvinist asks the question, “In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” The answer is, “He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.” Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will (John 1:12-13); God grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29); faith is the work of God (John 6:28-29); God appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48); and God predestines (Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 8:29; 9:9-23).”2
By citing several verses, as above, often out of context and misunderstood, they make a mess of their doctrine of salvation.
Firstly, Calvinists fail to understand that sin-induced human “depravity” did not affect his ability to will.
Secondly, Calvinists fail to understand the human element in regeneration. They say, “Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will (John 1:12-13)”3
True, John 1:13 says that those who are “born” of God are born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” What’s John saying here? He’s contrasting this spiritual birth against natural birth or procreation. In natural procreation, the whole process is initiated by human desire or will. But spiritual birth is granted by God! Before you celebrate at that, you should come out of your tunnel-vision that prevents you from noticing the first part of verse twelve: “But as many as received Him, to them he gave …” The wilful action of “receiving” Jesus precedes everything else. Besides, read John 1:12 carefully. Does it say, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave spiritual new birth?” No! To those who believed in Jesus, Jesus gave the “right to become children of God.” Yes, indeed those who received Jesus had to go on and “become children of God.” What do I mean by that?
Where in the whole Bible do you find an explanation or definition of this spiritual birth (or regeneration)? Does John 1:12 describe how people actually went about “receiving” Jesus? A proper description is found primarily in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus clearly highlights the human participation in the whole process. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (3:7) The command, “You must be born again” has to be obeyed by an unregenerate sinner! Jesus clarifies that this new birth is different from natural birth; this new birth is “of the Spirit” (3:6). Yet, there is something that a sinner has to do to receive this new birth. Otherwise, why would Jesus say, “You must be born again?” Jesus’ words imply that though the new birth is given by God, it was Nicodemus’ responsibility to bring himself to the point of this new birth—grammatically similar to a statement such as, “You must be vaccinated.” We don’t vaccinate ourselves but we bring ourselves to the point where we may be vaccinated. The responsibility lies on the person to whom such an instruction is given.
We need to understand what Jesus meant by the phrase “born anew.” He was talking to a Jewish rabbi and he expected the rabbi to understand what he said about being born-again. Jesus asked Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (3:10) What was the Jewish connection here?
The Jews practiced immersion (that is, baptism) for various reasons. The highest form of baptism was the one that they offered to converts to Judaism. They believed that a convert to Judaism would get a new birth through baptism.4 They referred to the waters of baptism as the “womb of the world.” Jesus was thus referring to baptism (of course, accompanied by faith and repentance) while he spoke to Nicodemus. However, as the Messiah, he brought in a new element – the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work – into the ritual of baptism. The regeneration or the new birth is accomplished by the Holy Spirit when a repentant believer gets baptized! The regeneration per se is God’s hidden activity but regeneration does not take place unless and until a believing, repentant sinner willfully gets himself into the baptismal waters!
The only biblical way to “accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior” is by obeying Christ in the waters of baptism. The Calvinists, however, still erroneously believe that a person can be regenerated without or prior to water baptism! Through baptism, the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the sinner’s own death and resurrection. The forgiven sinner gets “cleansed” of his sin. No wonder that Ananias said to Paul (Saul): “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Indeed, “getting up” and being “baptized” is something Paul had to do!
Later when Paul wrote to Titus, he clearly stated how God saved them: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing [baptism] of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit …” (Titus 3:5) Notice how the water and the Spirit work together. “He saved us … by the baptism of new birth and renewing by the Holy Spirit” is a variant reading. How clear! Notice also that Paul does not see baptism as a meritorious “deed” done by the sinner. Paul finds no contradiction here. Even as he denies salvation on the “basis of deeds” he affirms baptism as the valid response to the gospel that brings about regeneration under the working of the Spirit.
In the earliest times of the church, no apostle gave an altar call similar to the ones we see today. Their only altar call was a call to trust in Jesus and to get baptized. Therefore, you will not find any person in the Bible who claimed to be “born again” and was not yet baptized.
The word of God, too, has its role in regeneration. This is evident in Peter’s statement that the rebirth is effected by the “seed” of God’s Word (1 Peter 1:23) and Paul’s reference to the church being cleansed “by the washing of water with the word.” The word is not the water and the water is not the word! The Word accompanies the “washing of water.” The writer of Hebrews was referring to baptism when he urged believers to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:22). There are several such references to “washing” or baptism which many Evangelicals are yet to discover.
Calvinists say, “Man cannot do anything to save himself.” Yes, indeed. But Calvinists seem to say that a sinner is so impotent that he cannot even exercise faith in Christ! That is a grave error!
And to make matters worse, they use John 6:28-29 to “prove” their point that even the exercise of faith is God’s work in a sinner! Let’s see what this passage is about.
28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
The Jews asked Jesus what they should do to please God. The “works of God” (v. 28) are works that fall in line with God’s will or eternal law. And Jesus answered them citing the words they used. To paraphrase it: “This is the ‘work of God’ that you wish to do; believe in Him who He has sent.” In other words, “Don’t expect to please God by doing very many things without believing in the One whom God sent.”
The New Living Translation (not to be confused with the paraphrase called ‘Living Bible’) renders it perfectly: “Jesus told them, ‘This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent.’”
The Jerusalem Bible too renders it without any room for confusion: “Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is carrying out God’s work: you must believe in the one he has sent.’”
And this is what our Calvinist friends have done: they have twisted this verse to mean that even the act of believing is an action that God accomplishes within a sinner. This is nothing but turning humans into machines – machines that are “turned on” by God at His discretion! What a shame!
God holds every human being accountable to him—especially on account of their response to the gospel. Why should He hold the unbelieving responsible if the exercise of faith isn’t a human action? Why should He punish those who “disobey” the gospel – i.e., those who refuse to believe and get baptized - at the coming of Christ? (2 Thessalonians. 1:8)
Calvinists twist Philippians 1:29 too. Paul said, “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” The intention of this verse is not to explain the mechanism of how a person comes to believe in Christ but to state that suffering for Christ is as much a privilege as believing in Christ. Which Christian would ever deny that the opportunity that God has given him to believe in Christ is less than a privilege? Indeed, salvation is a gift from God. If God had not prepared a Way of salvation, there wouldn’t be an occasion to believe in Christ. To twist this verse to mean that God is the One who causes some to believe in Christ is to say that God has robbed us of our free will and has reduced us to the level of machines.
Even if Calvinists concede that a sinner can believe, they include the “action” of faith in the list of activities that may count as meritorious deeds before God! Believing, exercising faith, responding to the gospel, etc., are not meritorious actions. We were not saved because we believed. What if we had just “believed” supposing that God had not prepared a salvation for us? It would be similar to us extending our hands to receive a gift when there is no Giver or a gift! This is why Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; … not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Here too, Paul does not consider the exercising of faith as an act that leads to boasting. If believing itself is a meritorious act, then Paul would be contradicting himself in that one verse.
The exercise of faith is not considered a “work” that merits salvation! The object of our faith - the Son of God - is meritorious enough to get us saved. As long as Calvinists see the exercise of faith as a meritorious act, they will continue to teach that God saves a sinner on His own accord even before there is an exercise of faith on the part of the sinner!
God’s grace was never limited to New Testament times. God had chosen Abraham in his mercy. In his grace, He chose to save Israel from their slavery in Egypt. He did not save them as a result of their observation of the Passover. Instead, they observed the Passover in order to receive a salvation that God had mercifully prepared for them. The precondition of obedient response to God’s free offer salvation does not reduce the glory of God’s grace.
The exercise of free will is not a meritorious action! Free Will is not made redundant by the Father’s “drawing.”
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draw him” (John 6:44)
must be read alongside
“No one whom my Father draws ends up coming to me unless he wishes to respond to the Father’s drawing.”
“God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not.” (Rom. 9:15,21). 5
The TULIP “U” of “Unconditional Election” is likewise totally depraved, because Calvinists would have you believe God must deprive Himself of His Attribute of Truth – specifically, foreknowledge – before picking who will be saved, as if that would make God more ‘fair.’ Thus God is derided as needing protection from Himself; and man is exalted as someone who could have merit in himself and whose merit could be discovered if God DID use His foreknowledge! This is the same false claim the Arminians made, though antithetical in flavor.
Yet look how easy it is to fix it.
The Bible’s definition of “Unconditional Election” is that God elected Christ according to his holy decree declared centuries before Christ was born.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” — Isaiah 42:1-4 NIV
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— so he will sprinkle many nations — Isa. 52:13-15a NIV
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin — Isaiah 53:10 NIV
Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect. Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 where Jesus died for ‘many’; John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 where Jesus in prayer for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world; Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27 which state that the Church was purchased by Christ, not all people; and Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many (not all)”6
This Calvinist statement is not worth a dime! How can anyone with sense say - “Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all” and “Jesus only bore the sins of the elect” - together in one breath? These are mutually contradictory statements.
And the “scriptural” proof cited for this teaching on “limited” atonement? It is primarily Matthew 26:28. It says, “… for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” They say the word “many” indicates that Jesus’ blood was not shed for all of humanity. And yet they claim that “Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all.” Sufficient in what sense?
What does this verse say? Does it say that Jesus’ blood was shed just for a few who are called “elect?” If the word “many” in this verse leaves out some of the human race out, then, based on Romans 5:15 and 19, Calvinists will have to teach that not all humans are sinful!
Romans 5:15 “For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”
Romans 5:19 “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”
How’s that? Will my Calvinist friends now teach that all humans were not made sinful by the sin of the one Adam? Don’t these verses show that only “many died” and not “all”? No Bible believing Christian will take the word “many” in these verses (including Matthew 26:18 and Isaiah 53:12) to mean anything other than “all.”
Which is why the word “many” in Matthew 26:28 should be read as “all.” The Word Biblical Commentary renders the verse as “All of you drink of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for all for the forgiveness of sins.”7
The second “scriptural argument” cited in favor of this teaching on “limited atonement” is equally ridiculous. “John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33).”
On what basis are my Calvinist friends tying John 10 and Matthew 25 together? Why do they assume the “sheep” in Matthew 25 and the “sheep” in John 10 represent the same group of people?
There is no mention of any “goat” in John 10. The use of the word “sheep” in John 10 was not intended to divide humanity into “sheep” and “goats.” Calvinists would like to interpret the “sheep” in John 10 as the “elect” which they claim is the same as the “sheep” in the judgement passage in Matthew 25!
However, the “sheep” in Matthew 25 do not represent the “elect” or the “church.” In Matthew 25, the “sheep” are the people who helped a small group that Jesus identifies as “these brothers of Mine.” These “brothers” of Jesus are distinct from the “sheep” and the “goats.” They were a minority who suffered hunger, thirst and imprisonment for Jesus’ sake. This small group – Jesus’ brothers – can be none other than Jesus’ followers, the Church. They are certainly not Jews. Jesus never called the Jews his brothers. Instead, he saw his disciples and all who obeyed him as his brothers, sisters and mother.
It is noteworthy that the judgement mentioned in Matthew 25 is not the final judgement mentioned in Revelation 20. The verdict in Matthew 25 is not based on grace or atonement but just on the basis of human actions. Those who helped “the least of these” brothers of Jesus were called the “sheep” while those who did not were found worthy of condemnation. (This passage is best understood in the light of the events mentioned in Matthew 24 and is beyond the scope of this discussion.)
The third passage cited is the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17. It is true that Jesus prayed for his disciples and for those who would later believe in the testimony of these disciples. However, it does not prove anything other than what is plainly stated there. It does not “prove” that Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world! Such “arguments from silence” will not hold any water. Similarly, Acts 20:28 says the church or God’s flock was purchased by the blood of Jesus. This verse does not say Jesus died just for the “church.” The same applies to Ephesians 5:25-27. This passage refers to Christ’s work in the lives of those who believe and take baptism (the “washing” in this passage is certainly a reference to baptism). Here, too, Paul does not say Christ’s atonement was just for the Church!
What do Calvinists have to say about the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus? John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b)
Or what do they have to say about John 3:16?
“For God so loved the world … that whosoever believes in Him …”
The biblical teaching on atonement may be summarized as follows:
Notice, at all points, how Godʼs Sovereignty is stressed.
When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy”; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.8
What a fabulous claim! No human being on God’s list of “elected” people can succeed in resisting God’s call until their death. Even if they resist for a while, Calvinists claim, God will prevail on them.
This distinction mentioned above between “external call” - given to all people – and the “internal call” given to some who are “elect” is indeed a grand fabrication. The Bible has no such teaching.
There is also a blaring contradiction in these statements:
“But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted.”
“This call is by the Holy Spirit … whereby they willingly and freely come to God.”
How can anyone’s response to the gospel be called “willing” and “free” when they cannot but fall in line with a God who manipulates “from within.” Is this some kind of a divine puppet show? If this teaching does not portray humans as robots, then words have no meaning at all!
I have already explained, in the light of John’s Gospel, chapter 3, how a sinner gets regenerated. A repentant sinner who obeys the gospel and takes baptism is not a robot. His obedience is his own response to the divine provision of salvation. The exercise of faith and obedience to the gospel is a human action for which every person will be answerable to God. God will not hold a disobedient unbeliever to account if he were lost just because he were not included in God’s list of “elect” for no fault of his or because God did not tweak him from the inside to make him believe and obey!
Now, how about those who successfully resisted the gospel till their last breath?
Thousands have died without responding positively to the gospel. It may be easy for Calvinists to say: “That person died without responding to the gospel even after hearing the gospel several times. He/she surely was not one of God’s elect or an object of irresistible grace.”
How can anyone say with surety that every sinner who died rejecting the gospel did so because he or she was not on God’s target list of “irresistible grace?” What if he/she were on God’s watch list and still died in rebellion to the gospel? Such a thought does not gel well with Calvinist “doctrine of irresistible grace.” So, they reject it! This is a logical blunder. They assume the veracity of the doctrine even as they go about examining it! Thus, they short-circuit their argument.
What will Calvinists say about the Pharisees and the lawyers who “rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John”? (Luke 7:30) Now, I know the difference between John’s baptism and Christian baptism. The point however is that these Jews REJECTED something GOD had PURPOSED for them. Do the Calvinists have any proof to suggest that these Jews who rejected God’s purpose once eventually fell in line with God’s purposes before they died? The burden of proof lies with the Calvinists!
The Bible has several such instances of men who REJECTED God’s will and purpose for their lives. It is easy for Calvinists to dismiss these people as not being a part of God’s elect! That is a classic example of ‘Arguing from silence’ - another logical fallacy. Let them prove that sinners who died in sin after hearing the gospel were NOT part of God’s ELECT. Assumptions and claims are not proofs.
The scripture passage (Romans 9:1-24) to “prove” irresistible grace will backfire on Calvinists. In this passage, the apostle Paul is trying to grapple with Israel’s unbelief and the resultant rejection by God. Mind you, the nation of unbelieving Jews came from Isaac, the promised seed. Besides, Israel (Jacob) was God’s elect as opposed to Esau. And still, Israel (a majority of them) rejected God’s Messiah and salvation. This is another classic example of the Elect’s rejection of God’s grace. As a result, God too rejected his elect. Does this mean God had broken his covenant by treating the unbelieving Jews like common Gentiles? Has the word of God (the covenant) come to no effect? (v. 6) Paul found it difficult to digest it. He then concludes, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (v. 6b) in the light of Esau and Pharaoh who fell foul of God’s favor (v. 13, 17). Yes, indeed, those who were God’s elect had in Paul’s time become objects of God’s wrath just as Esau and Pharaoh of old. Many of Paul’s rhetorical questions are directed at Jews who had rejected the gospel.
The reference to Ishmael and Isaac; or to Jacob and Esau are not references to individuals. They are references to their descendants or the nations that arose from these individuals. There is actually no word “children” in the Greek verse translated “For the children not yet being born …” (verse 11). Adam Clarke feels the word “nations” would be more appropriate here. This is because, as an individual, Esau never lived in subjection to Jacob even though the Word said “The elder shall serve the younger.” Applied to the descendants of Esau and Jacob, we see how God’s choice of Jacob’s descendants over Esau’s to be His choice group of people worked toward the former’s advantage.
How then do we understand verse 16? It is not about individual salvation but about God’s choice of a favored nation or a “covenant people” or a “church.”
I conclude, therefore, from these several instances, that the making or continuing of anybody of men as the peculiar people of God, is righteously determined; not by the judgment, hopes, or wishes of men, but by the will and wisdom of God alone. For Abraham judged that the blessing ought, and he willed, desired, that it might be given to Ishmael; and Isaac also willed, designed, it for his first-born, Esau: and Esau, wishing and hoping that it might be his, readily went, ran a hunting for venison, that he might have the blessing regularly conveyed to him: but they were all disappointed-Abraham and Isaac, who willed, and Esau who ran: for God had originally intended that the blessing of being a great nation and distinguished people should, of his mere good pleasure, be given to Isaac and Jacob, and be confirmed in their posterity; and to them it was given. And when by their apostasy they had forfeited this privilege, it was not Moses’ willing, nor any prior obligation God was under, but his own sovereign mercy, which continued it to them. (Adam Clarke)
Jesus’ final lament clearly illustrates His disappointment with the chosen race when He pronounced an irreversible judgement on the city of Jerusalem (and indirectly on the nation of Jews.) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matthew 23:37-38).
Who can say Israel was not God’s elect? The very fact that God repeatedly sent prophets to this nation over the centuries shows that this nation was His elect. He tried time and again to win their devotion. Finally, He sent the second Elijah (John the Baptist) and His Son Jesus Christ. The majority rejected John and Jesus. Jesus knew the final destruction of that city and temple would happen in AD 70. And this is what the Son had to say as He lamented over Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” That’ it! “You were unwilling!” So much for the doctrine of “irresistible grace.”
You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure. They are eternally secure in Christ. Some verses for this position are John 10:27-28 where Jesus said His sheep will never perish; John 6:47 where salvation is described as everlasting life; Romans 8:1 where it is said we have passed out of judgment; 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God promises to never let us be tempted beyond what we can handle; and Phil. 1:6 where God is the one being faithful to perfect us until the day of Jesus’ return.9
TULIP’s “P” for “Perseverance of the Saints” is also known as “Once Saved Always Saved.”
There is an inherent contradiction here. “Perseverance” calls for continued diligence in the face of adverse circumstances. The word brings the idea of continuing relentlessly in the path of salvation. And yet, Calvinist get a laid-back attitude by interpreting “Perseverance” as “Once Saved, Always Saved” attitude!
So look how easy it is to fix it:
You believe and get baptized, you’re born anew into the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5)
This is not the END. This is the beginning of a new life. You are given a fresh START, a clean slate to begin on a new note. (This is contrary to what is commonly said: “You don’t have to be “kept” saved, it’s OVER; you got God’s Righteousness and Life.")
My objection to the claim “once saved, always saved” is based on these:
First, the Calvinists talk as if spiritual regeneration is the end of a journey; as if “born again” people have been straight away transported to heaven! As far as I understand it, spiritual regeneration or “new birth” is the BEGINNING of a new life in Christ. A Christian is given a “clean slate,” a new start on a new note.
By using the word “saved” in the wrong way, Calvinists deceive themselves by thinking they have reached the perfection of salvation. They speak as if they have already obtained the climax of salvation, even the glorification of their bodies!
Let’s examine how this word “saved” is used in the New Testament with regard salvation:
… it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mk 13:13;)
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (Mk 16:16)
Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” Luke 13:23
I say these things so that you may be saved.” John 5:34
I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved …” John 10:9a
The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Acts 2:20-21
“Be saved from this perverse generation!” Acts 2:40
“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47
“[Peter] will speak words to you by which you will be saved …” Acts 11:14a
“But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus …” Acts 15:11a
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved …” Acts 16:31
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Romans 5:9
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Romans 5:10
“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, …” Romans 8:23-24a
“… if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” Rom 10:9
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor 1:18
“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:15
“… so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Cor 5:5b
“just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Cor 10:33
Ignoring these three tenses in which “saved” is used in NT, Calvinists emphasize just one sense of the word – the past tense. “We are saved! We are saved! And we are saved!” Is justification the end? What about sanctification? What about future glorification, our future adoption as sons of God, and our salvation from the coming wrath? We who claim to be “saved” (justified) are also “being saved” and “will be saved.”
Read an in-depth study on “Once ‘Saved,’ Always Saved?”
The best illustration that God prepared in history to make us understand the past, present and future senses of salvation is the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt and their journey through a desert for forty years. While the redeemed slaves walked through the sandy desert, they could say, “We are saved.” Yet, they had not reached their destination! So, they could also say, “We are being saved.” Thinking of their future entrance into Canaan, they could say, “We will be saved.”
We who are living the Christian life today are like the Israelites who were journeying through the desert towards the promised land. We are being saved although we were saved from slavery to sin. This comparison between Israel’s pilgrimage and our pilgrimage was not invented by me. The apostle Peter used it in his epistle when he referred to Christians as “aliens” in a strange land (2:11), pilgrims whose life is but a “sojourning” on the earth (1:17).
Paul’s comparison of the initial stages of Israelite exodus to Christian experience of baptism and Christian life is striking:
“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:1-4)
Just as the Israelites were promised a Land flowing with milk and honey (the Promised Land or Rest), we too have been promised a Land or Rest. In fact, the writer of Hebrews argues that Israelites never got any Promised Land/Rest (see Hebrews 4:7-9)
“For if Joshua had given them rest, He [David] would not have spoken of another day after that” [in Psalm 95:7] (4:8).
That’s true! Israel got no rest in the land of Canaan. So the promise was repeated through David. In fact, that promise of a Rest still remains and is kept for those who believe in Christ! “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Heb 4:8-9). Therefore, the Church now is going through the real “wilderness experience” similar to “shadow” experienced by Israel. Our exodus goes on, and we have several lessons to learn from Israel’s exodus. I shall come to that in a moment.
In this Christian pilgrimage, we have a destination. That destination was not chosen by us; it was chosen beforehand by God. Where are we headed to and what destination did God choose for us? God wants us to (I) be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29); (ii) be adopted as his sons (Ephesians 1:5); and (iii) to share the glory of God’s Son (2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3). These lie in the future. God’s choice of our destination even before the “foundation of this world” (Eph 1:4) is called “Predestination.”
Calvinists attribute other meanings to the word “predestination.” They do subscribe to the view that God decides the destination of His elect. But they seem to believe that this predestination by God will guarantee that a Christian will reach his destination!
For instance, before a bus starts from a bus depot, the traffic manager decides where the bus should go. He allots a destination board for the bus. Thus, he predestines that bus to a particular destination. That action does not guarantee or ensure that the bus will reach the destination! Similarly, God’s choice of a destination for his people does not cause them to reach that destination. It does not guarantee that the person reaches that destination. This is where God’s scheme of salvation demands a “walk” that matches the “talk” of a Christian. This does not compromise the Sovereignty of God because God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to let salvation work in this fashion.
I shall now take you through several Scripture portions – all taken with due regard to the contexts – to show how every Christian should persevere in his spiritual pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Since we are going through a wilderness spiritual pilgrimage, what lessons have God kept for us?
A Christian’s initial celebration of his “salvation” (justification and regeneration) is quite like Israelite celebration on the shores of the Red Sea after they crossed it. Under the leadership of Miriam, they sang, “The Lord has become our salvation.” This is quite similar to a Christian’s celebration after he believes and takes baptism: “I am saved!”
Once saved, always saved? Yes, with respect to Pharaoh and Egypt. But was Israel’s journey over as soon as she crossed the Red Sea? No! Is a Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage over as soon as he declares “I am saved” after his regeneration? No! This is what I am trying to impress on my Calvinist friends. Miriam sang, “I am saved.” In that same breath, she ought to have reminded herself: “I am being saved” and “I will be saved when I reach Canaan.”
Even as we celebrate like Miriam, we too should remind ourselves of this fact: “I am saved; I am being saved as I journey through this wilderness; I will be saved fully when God resurrects/transforms/glorifies my mortal body.” Only those who lose sight of the reality of this spiritual pilgrimage would prematurely through caution to the wind and say, “I am saved.”
All the “assurance of salvation” that could have been given to Miriam and company would have been regarding their escape from Pharaoh’s clutches—not about their entry into the Promised Land. That entry was yet to come. It was entirely up to them to bank on God’s faithfulness and walk in faith and obedience to the Promised Land.
What does that mean to us? It means that we should be careful about the way we live in our “saved” state – in this wilderness journey – so that we will indeed “be saved!” Let us continue with Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 10.
[God saved Israel] “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
The stories of Exodus and the Desert Pilgrimage were not written so that we will find enough stories to tell our children at bed time. Thrice apostle Paul says here that the Israelite exodus was designed, executed and recorded for OUR benefit, as an example and object lesson for us! Why? So that we will not make their mistake; so that we will not fail in reaching our divinely predestined destination!
The writer of Hebrews picks up the same strain when he warned Christians about the danger of falling into the hands of a God who judges everyone’s secrets:
“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall , through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:11-12)
How should a Christian be diligent? Hebrews does not leave us in the dark here. Instead, the instruction is clear, “… let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus …” (12:1-2)
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” 1 Cor 15:1, 2.
In this context, Paul indeed wants Corinthians to hold fast specifically to his teaching on the resurrection of Christ – a cornerstone doctrine - and the hope of resurrection for those in Christ. Paul is comfortable with the idea that people can end up “believing in vain” if they let go the word!
Jude’s epistle balances God’s role and our role in the second stage of salvation – the earthly sojourn. Initially, Jude refers to Christians as a people who are “kept” by God. Towards the end, he encourages his audience by saying that God is “able to keep” them till the end. But sandwiched between these two promises lie Jude’s exhortation to his readers that they should “keep themselves.”
Jude thus balances divine provision/protection with human responsibility! This is the general tone of scriptural teaching on this subject!
There are several passages that urge Christians to live upright lives as they look forward for the completion of their salvation – their glorification at the time of Christ’s return. Here are some of them:
Peter warned his readers to maintain a certain “fear” as they lived their lives on earth post-justification.
“… like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; …” (1 Peter 1:15-17)
And again, in his second epistle, Peter urges:
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless …” (3:14)
Often, evangelicals quote Romans 6:23 (“The wages of sin is death”) while preaching the gospel to sinners. Did Paul write that verse with unbelievers in mind? Or did he write it as a warning to “born-again” believers? Indeed, it was the latter. Paul writes to baptized Christians:
“ … For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification …
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (6:19-23)
What is Paul saying here?
Obedience is what God demanded of His people whom He redeemed from Egypt.
“For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’” (Jer 7:22-23)
Obedience is what God now demands from us too who have been redeemed from slavery to sin.
I could go on and on to show several texts that show a Christians responsibility to continue in obedience and faith throughout his/her pilgrimage so that he/she will enter God’s rest. The above texts are sufficient to convince any genuine seeker of truth.
Second, just as the Calvinists deny “free will” to sinners, they deny “free will” to those who are born anew to God’s kingdom. God does not take away your FREE WILL once you are “saved” (justified). If sinless Adam could sin and suffer for it, then a redeemed sinner too can sin similarly and suffer for it.
If a “saved sinner” cannot exercise “free will” and commit a sin leading to eternal death, why do we find the following warnings and commands in the Bible? The highlighted words indicate an action of will.
Romans 6:11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live
Galatians 6: 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Hebrews 2:1 We [Christians, the writer included] must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
Hebrews 4:1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands , let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7 Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us [believers], therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Third, I wonder whatever makes Calvinists believe that obedience or disobedience makes no difference in the new life in Christ?
The grace of God is often misunderstood and misconstrued. Some make it an excuse for licentiousness or lasciviousness as Jude observes in Jude v. 4. For those who do not consider disobedience as a threat to the “security” of their salvation, I would suggest that they read Jesus’ words towards the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-27.
“Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Other verses that stress the need for obedience to Christ post-justification:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned .” 10. “ If you keep My commandments , you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
Comments and Feedback
Barry Gritters, T.U.L.I.P or, The Five Points of Calvinism↩︎
Matt Slick, What is Calvinism? Jan 12, 2009.↩︎
Karen Pusey, “Jewish Proselyte Baptism,” The Expository Times 95, no. 5 (February 1984): 141–45. doi:10.1177/001452468409500505.↩︎
Matt Slick, What is Calvinism? Jan 12, 2009.↩︎
Matt Slick, What is Calvinism? Jan 12, 2009.↩︎
Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 33b (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher) 1998.↩︎
Matt Slick, What is Calvinism? Jan 12, 2009.↩︎
Matt Slick, What is Calvinism? Jan 12, 2009.↩︎
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: May 1, 2010