The Calvinist Connection
Library of Sermons No. 40
Copyright 1992 by
Joe Crews (Amazing Facts)
All Rights Reserved
Printed in USA
Published (Under permission) by
COCONET-US, LLC (Educational Department)
Although all of us have heard the dramatic story of the prodigal son, few have considered the intriguing steps in his revolutionary recovery. After his money was exhausted and all his good-time friends had abandoned him, our Lord describes how the confused and starving young man “came to himself.” Luke 15:17. In that mind so deluded by the fantasies of sin, a strange new revelation began to unfold. Thoughts and memories which had been long suppressed by the spell of sin began to dimly glow and develop.
So the first step in the prodigal’s return was simply that he began to think. That was something he had not done since plunging into his intoxicating, feverish round of indulgent spending. The bubble had burst, and it was natural for his thoughts to reconnect with the realities of life as he had known them in his father’s house. Jesus said he began to think about the home, and his parents, and their servants. But thinking alone is not enough to take anyone out of the “far country” of sin. Not one prodigal will ever be welcomed into the Father’s house with the words “Well thought, thou good and faithful servant.”
But then the young man began to talk to himself. According to the Scripture he said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. And am no more, worthy to be called thy son.” Luke 15:18, 19. But he was still speaking from the miserable much of the pig sty. Talking about being saved is not enough. The Father will never welcome anyone with the words, “Well said, thou good and faithful servant.”
Finally, the Bible records that “he arose and came to his father.” Luke 15:20. He began to move for the first time in the right direction. The memories, the resolutions, the decisions – all are now translated into action. “He arose and came.” That was the final step that brought him out of his place of shame and bondage. And to everyone who follows his example will the Father say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21.
What a moving scene as the younger son meets his father and receives the clean robe, new shoes, and family signet ring of authority – all symbols of full acceptance, forgiveness, and restoration. Very quickly, we can imagine, the happy youth utilized the facilities of his father’s house to wash away the marks of this prodigal past, and to show forth the evidences of a new relationship.
This story by Jesus illustrates the only way that anyone can get into the heavenly family. All of us must receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness. It is the most important and necessary step in the salvation experience. We must understand how to come, how to be accepted, and how to fit into the new role of son ship.
Strange as it may seem, this elementary experience of the robe has been made terribly complicated and distorted. The subject of righteousness by faith has been more often misrepresented than almost any other theological issue. The whole fabric of Protestantism has been affected by conflicting views over the roles of justification and sanctification in the process of being saved.
GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS
Many seem to agree that the modern confusion on the subject probably stems from an ancient system called Calvinism. Although John Calvin was a great French reformer who deserves much credit for throwing off the yoke of Catholicism, he also introduced a series of basic errors which have permeated most of today’s Protestantism. Between 1536 and 1559, Calvin produced a monumental work entitled Institutes of Christian Religion. Those four volumes actually shaped the theology of reform churches throughout Scotland, Holland, France and England. Later, Calvinism became a powerful molding influence over major American denomination.
Briefly, we can summarize the erroneous elements of Calvinism in four categories. First: Predestination, which teaches that the exact number of the saved and lost has already been predetermined by a sovereign God. Since each person has a fixed destiny, there is no such thing as free will or personal choice in the matter of salvation.
This doctrine of “election” has brought both despair and elation to millions through the ages, depending on their ability to generate “feelings” about their own salvation. What terror of soul must have harried multitudes into their graves because they “felt” rejected of God. On the other hand, those convinced of their unconditional election, allowed no convictions of conscience to prod them into performing unpleasant duties.
Second: The doctrine of Christ’s irresistible grace made it impossible for the pre-selected saved ones to evade the decree of God’s sovereign choice for them. The benefits of the atonement are, therefore, limited to only those who were divinely elected for salvation from the days of eternity.
The third error is the natural outgrowth of the first two; namely, that once saved means always saved. If one is fore-ordained by God’s unalterable decree to be saved, there can be no possibility of falling back or losing that eternal security. After choosing to become a Christian, the door is forever closed on any future decision to change course or to renounce the faith. Now they must be saved in spite of themselves, and also without any reference to their future choices or actions.
A COUNTERFEIT RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH
Now, I want you to see how these Calvinist concepts opened the door to a fourth perversion which has invaded almost every Christian denomination to a greater or lesser degree. If one cannot ever be lost after accepting Christ, then how can the wicked lifestyle of some “converts” be explained? What about backsliding? How do we explain apostasy? How can God save the person who is walking in willful transgression of His law?
The contemporary evangelical Christian would probably answer that the imputed merits of Christ’s righteousness would cover those sins and thus assure justification for the professed believer. Here is where the deadliest effects of Calvinism are revealed. The strange theory that continued willful disobedience can be “justified” by merely accepting credit for Christ’s perfect obedience is a fraudulent claim of a compromised Christianity. Not one Bible text can be found defending the practice of known sin.
There is indeed a beautiful doctrine of imputed righteousness which provides justification for those who claim it by faith. But true faith always produces obedience. It never allows for the deliberate continuance of sin. The twisted doctrine which gives assurance of heaven to the practicing sinner is one of the deadliest errors stemming from Calvinism. Unfortunately, many individual Christians have adopted the view without recognizing its tainted origin or its dangerous implications.
After looking at the four unbiblical principles at the root of Calvinism, we can see that most modern churches have been influenced by one or more of these teachings. The amazing thing is that some who have been historically opposed to predestination, irresistible grace, and eternal security have been snared into the fourth error of counterfeit righteousness by faith. For this reason, we need to carefully examine the issue under the microscope of God’s Word in order to identify its hidden dangers.
Please notice what this position actually is proposing. In so many words, the claim is made that the atonement saves us from the results of sin, but not from the sin itself. Salvation does not involve so much a change in our nature in relation to sin, but rather, a change in the nature of sin in relation to the Christian. Incredible as it may seem, that this doctrine affirms that when you accept Christ, that very moment sin loses its deadly sting. Something happens to change the nature of sin. It is no longer threatening to your salvation. God gives you an instant “standing” of righteousness which allows you to safely and securely continue in disobedience without jeopardizing your hope of heaven.
I emphasize, again, that these same words may not always be utilized by those who have been captivated by this comfortable doctrine, but there is no doubt that they express what is believed. Some would want to qualify the kinds of sins that could be safely practiced while claiming justification. Others would place no limit on the category of continuing sins covered by the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
VICTORY IS NECESSARY
Do you begin to notice the common element in all of these variations of Calvinism? None of them believe that the Christian is transformed by the power of God so that he can stop sinning. That is the weakness of the whole theological scheme. It denies the very essence of the gospel to save people from their sins.
Let me try to explain how mesmerizing this belief can become. Of course, it is appealing to every one of us. Who hasn’t been tempted to believe it, especially when struggling with some special weakness of the flesh. After repeated failures to overcome, haven’t you been attracted by the idea? Let me tell you what happens if you toy with that temptation. One of two things will inevitably take place in your life. Either you will discover that “he is able also to save them to the uttermost” and will claim the total victory over that sin, or you will convince yourself that God will save you while continuing to commit your besetting sin. Hebrews 7:25.
Why is there no other alternative in this situation? Because no one can keep on repenting endlessly of the same sin. It is too painful. Repentance is not cheap. It involves heart anguish and grief. Every time you truly repent, you also determine to yield to that sin again. That is an essential element of real repentance. The deep sorrow and tears of such an experience are not contrived or artificial. I remember my own heartbreak as I pleaded for victory in my early teens. I knew God could give me deliverance, and my faith grew stronger each time I agonized over a failure. Then, the day came when I claimed the promise of God and walked away from that sin forever.
I must tell you frankly that I could not have continued that program indefinitely. I had to go one way or the other. I had to claim an objective victory outside of myself or else yield to the subjective feeling that it was impossible, and therefore, God wouldn’t require it of me. That guilt was too great, and I could not have lived with myself in any other way.
Do you understand what I am saying? We must either find relief by overcoming in the power of Christ or by redefining sin so that it is no longer threatening to our salvation. I have met those whose tormented consciences would give them no relief until they convinced themselves that God would not cast them out for practicing sin. Only after justifying the existence of sin in their own minds could they find relief from the guilt. Strangely enough, for such people it is almost as though they are hearing the gospel for the first time. And indeed it is a gospel – a new one. It uses Bible texts, utilizes theological arguments, and even focuses on love, grace, and the cross. But this new gospel not only changes the nature of sin, it also, changes the nature of the atonement, the nature of Christ, and as we have discovered, the doctrine of righteousness by faith.
REDUCING SIN IS NOT THE ANSWER
Now, let’s peer through the lens of God’s great amplifier of truth, the Bible. What does it say about sin? But first, let’s note what the Scripture do not say about sin. Not one text teaches that we should diminish the amount of sin committed. Reducing the quantity is not the issue, because it is the quality of sin which makes it objectionable. It always brings the same results. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. How could a little bit of sin bring only a little bit of death? The Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1. God’s program projects a plan where there is no sin, no condemnation, and no death.
How could that be? Because true righteousness by faith includes forgiveness for sins that have been repented of, confessed, and forsaken. The word “righteous” means right-doing. How could anyone be called righteous who pursued a course of wrong-doing? It would be a contradiction of terms.
Incidentally, the same can be said concerning the word “saint” which translates from the Greek as a “holy person.” Can there be such a thing as a “sinning saint”? If so, one could only conclude that there are “unholy holy ones.” A carnal Christian is no more possible than a square circle. Paul declared that “to be carnally minded is death.” Romans 8:6. But the converted soul has been delivered from that sentence of death, and no longer lives for the flesh and the world. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Romans 8:13. Notice the only two choices open to any of us – “ye shall live … ye shall die.” The only way to die is to live after the flesh, and the only way to live is to die to sin in the flesh.
Someone may reply that in this experience of righteousness by faith people are only counted righteous, even though they have not really experienced it. That brings us right back to the basic error of Calvinism – that God creates a legal fiction by granting an exemption from guilt even though the guilty conduct remains. But doe salvation consists of juggling records to make sinners appear as saints even though they continue to sin?
The fact is that when God declares a person righteous. His creative, self-fulfilling word performs the miracle of conversion at the same time to make that person righteous. Justification takes place in exact conjunction with the new birth experience which empowers the believer to turn away from known sin. At that point also the Holy Spirit enters the life to make total victory a glorious possibility for every true believer.
Not only does genuine justification provide a standing before God, it also provides an actual state before god – a state of righteousness, or right-doing. We refer to that state of being as sanctification. In other words, righteousness by faith is not only inputted; it is also imparted. It not only provides forgiveness for the past, but power for the future. It not only removes the penalty of sin, but it also takes away the sin itself. It consists of both justification and sanctification.
Has anyone ever drawn any security from the practice of sin? Paul declared, “But now being made free from sin … ye have your fruit unto holiness.” Romans 6:22. Again, Paul wrote, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Romans 6:18. “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. The only way to be delivered from death is to be delivered from sin.
The very core of the gospel is to restore man to the original position of obedience from which he fell. If there is no change in man’s state, then the language of the Bible would be a lot of words without meaning. Consider the most common terms used to describe the process of salvation – redemption, reconciliation, justification, atonement, and righteousness. Each one of those theological words incorporates the idea of being separated from God. For example, the word “atonement” literally means at-one-ment. The original oneness of God and man was broken by sin, or disobedience. For man to be restored to that unity with God, there must be a removing of the factor which brought the separation. Until sin is removed, there can be no at-one-ment, or total reunion of God with man.
In similar fashion, the word “reconciliation” carries the core meaning of having been alienated and needing to be brought back. But alienated by what? Sin, of course. We always come back to that root problem which must be resolved before God and man can be in harmony once more. Unless there is a removing of sin, there is also no relief from guilt, condemnation, and the death sentence.
The word “redemption” is one of the most meaningful expressions used in the Bible. We often sing about being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The dictionary defines redeem as “to buy back.” Something was lost and needs to be restored. What was it? Man’s life had been forfeited by sin and needed to be bought back from the service of Satan.
Two things were absolutely required before full redemption could be effected, and the divine relationship resumed – forgiveness for sins already committed, and unreserved renouncing of sin as a future choice. As far as I have been able to discover, not one feature of the great plan of salvation makes provision for the continuing practice of sin. Disobedience is the dark, miserable force that separates man from God, and it can never have a part in his recovery from that separation.
The truth is that the only way to remedy this separation from God is to experience a separation from sin. “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3:26. There is no suggestion here that a man’s sins are to be separated form the notice of God by some hiding curtain of His righteousness. Nothing escapes His notice. Human minds can be dulled, blinded, or hypnotized into perceiving things which are not true, nothing can be covered form the all-seeing eye of God. Jesus did not come into the world to make man look good, but to make him good. Had He only removed the penalty of sin without removing the sin, He would have made Himself an accomplice in al man’s failures. No, the text says that God sent Jesus to turn away every one of us from our iniquities. That is so clear and concise that no one can be confused.
THE FRUIT OF CALVINISM
How much of this permissive attitude toward sin can be traced to the Calvinist connection? We would have to concede that most denominations today have been liberalized to some degree by the leaven of these false theories. Even those churches who have historically opposed the more radical views of Calvin now appear weakened in their defining of sin. Few indeed are those churches who fearlessly expose the willful breaking of God’s law as a factor in their ultimate salvation. There is a growing tendency to define sin in very generalized terms so that none can be embarrassed or made to feel uncomfortable.
A serious maligning of God’s character is involved in the “standing but not state” view of righteousness by faith. This version of the gospel credits god works to all those who believe in the objective work of Jesus in His living and dying. It does not require any subjective change of heart, nature, of lifestyle on the part of the believer. Righteousness is a covering which is placed over the sinner so that he can be credited with right-doing even though his practice continues to be sinful. This is called justification by faith. The individual is now “justified,” but the word itself means “to show to be just.” How can God show someone to be just who is not just? Does God declare something to be true which is not true? Impossible.
And what of the sin record in the books of heaven? All will finally be judged out of the things written in those books. Does God keep an accurate account of every word, though, and action? Indeed, He will make the final decision based on His infinite knowledge of every individual.
Now, let us suppose that a young man accepts Jesus on the terms of the Calvinistic gospel. He professes faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. He is credited with being righteous, but unfortunately, his subjective experience continues to be rebellious and disobedient. What does God do about this man’s record in heaven? While He faithfully records the unrighteous deeds of this professed believer, does He declare him to be righteous? Is it not abundantly clear that the recording of a man’s sin must correspond perfectly with the man’s life? Right now Jesus is interceding before the Father in the heavenly sanctuary for every sinner who confesses. This is the special time for sins to be blotted out or retained in the books of record, but mark this down and never forget it: no sin can be blotted out of the sanctuary record that has not been blotted out of the life already.
The books are a perfect reflection of the life experience of each person. If we want to be declared righteous, or shown to be just by God, then we must accept by faith the victory of Jesus as a continuous imparted power to keep us from sinning. This is true righteousness by faith, and what God declares about us can be confirmed by the loving obedience we are rendering Him. In other words, no man is justified by fait whose faith has not made him just.
SINS FORGIVEN AND FORSAKEN
The beloved John clearly affirmed the true nature of salvation when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. Obviously, the apostle was talking about more than just forgiveness for past sins. He wrote that God will also “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here is a deeper sanctification work which is accomplished simultaneously with forgiveness. Thus, both phases of true righteousness are described – the imputed justification and the imparted sanctification.
Peter discussed one of the greatest mysteries of the conversion experience when he explained how we become “partakers of the divine nature” and escape “the corruption that is in the world through lust.” II Peter 1:4. Certain it is that the apostle was not talking about some accounting process. There was actual assimilation of the mind and character of Christ so that no pollution of the world could defile.
In this first epistle, Peter explains a bit more about the nature of this victory over the fleshly lusts. “For as much then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” I Peter 4:1, 2.
Notice how Peter explicitly connects the “mind of Christ” experience to ceasing form sin. He perceived that the inward spiritual transformation of a man would happen at a specific point in time, and after that, “the rest of his time in the flesh” would be a glorious litany of triumph over the “lusts of men.” There is no Calvinistic portrayal here of ongoing transgression under the cover of some legal technicality. Like other inspired authors, Peter recognized sin as a deliberate defiance of God’s will which could never coexist with genuine justification by faith.
This is very similar to the way Jesus taught on the subject of coming into His family. He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” John 15:5. Much of that chapter is relating to the necessity of a constant organic union of the vine and branches. There must be the unceasing surge of vitality flowing from one to the other. Who would dare contend that this symbiotic relationship is merely a legal accounting? Christ said that this is the way He connects with His followers. We truly receive and manifest the very life of Jesus. Along with Paul we can say “Yet not I. but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. Dr. Richard Taylor described the vine-branch relationship in these words:
To live through Christ’s righteousness does not mean that His was sufficient for both Him and us, that we remain sinful, and that His righteousness is merely imputed to us. As we have pointed out before, this is nowhere stated in the Scriptures. We should rather say that Christ by His righteousness broke the long reign of unrighteousness, and then by His death made I t possible for us to also have victory over sin, and be individually cleansed. This is by no means and independent righteousness. It can be maintained only by constant abiding in Him and constant dependence upon the blood. But we do insist that although the righteousness of the branch is derived from the vine, it is more than imputation; it is an actuality in the very fiber and leaf of the branch. – A Right Conception of Sin, p. 49.
What did James mean when he wrote, “Purify your hearts, ye double minded”? James 4:8. Was he describing something that was possible or impossible? And how does one obtain this purification? Is it only a dream or hope for some far distant goal? Do we “grow” impurities out of the heart through long years of trying? The true truth is that God’s Spirit can sweep away those sins at the moment of conversion.
It is just as absurd to talk about growing sin out our heart as to talk about growing dirt off our faces. We have already found that there is no allowance in the Bible for a graduated program of sin reduction. On this point God is extremely arbitrary. Any tolerance of sin would be inconsistent with His holy nature.
CHRIST NOT A MINISTER OF SIN
The great Apostle Paul dealt a deathblow to Calvinism when he wrote, “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Galatians 2:17, 18. How cleanly Paul cuts through the twisted concept that justification allows for the practice of know sin. If Jesus upheld anyone in their course of deliberate transgression, He would share in their guilt and be a minister of sin. Those who “seek to be justified by Christ” will not be “found sinners.” Sin condemns, but Paul declared, “There is therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.
We cannot fail to notice that Paul is telling the Galatians how useless it is to “seek to be justified by Christ” without turning away from the practice of sin also. No matter how much seeking through all the formalities of faith and acceptance of Christ, no one can be truly justified as long as he is found a sinner. The apostle here speaks of rebuilding the things he had destroyed. He is referring to the earlier rejection of sin, which he allows to build into his life again. Thus, he describes the re-entry of willful transgression in these words: “I make myself a transgressor.” In that condition he is no longer justified by Christ, because, as Paul says, He will not be the minister of sin.
One inspired commentator made this statement on the subject in 1904, long before the issue had affected most of Protestantism. “He who has not sufficient faith in Christ to believe that He can keep him from sinning, has not the faith that will give him entrance into the kingdom of God.” Review and Herald, March, 10, 1904. How true! We need confidence in the ability of our God to prevail in our behalf. Never will He leave us to struggle helplessly against the oppression of a defeated foe. The victory has already been won; and since Calvary, Satan has not one effective weapon to use against the trusting child of God.
Three powerful promises of God actually stand ready to release their explosive liberating strength into your life and mine this very moment. They are easy to memorize and remember because they all begin with those triumphant words “He is able.” How we need to encapsulate those simple words into our brain’s frontal lobes! They are true, and we should say them, sing them, and pray them until we know that there is not a ghost of a change for the evil one to make us sin. Here are the three promises:
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Jude 24.
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Ephesians 3:20.
“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for the,” Hebrews 7:25.
If we had no other assurance in the entire Scriptures, these would be sufficient to carry us through the firestorm of Satan’s final furious assault against the saints. Where could we find more staggering, mind-boggling words or phrases with which to wrap our faith in? Had Calvin viewed these promises as applicable to all who would receive them, millions would have been spared the isolation and hopelessness spawned by his doctrine of non-existent predestination.
Furthermore, those exceeding great and precious promises would transform the thinking and the experience of all who currently believe that it is impossible to live without sinning. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think! Use your imagination right now, and think of the most impossible barrier of sin, weakness, or temptation in your life. He not only will give you all you have been able to imagine, but exceeding abundantly above what you have been able to conjure up in your wildest dreams. So trust Him! Thrust Him! He is able!
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