Why We Hold To Calvinism: Understanding Total Depravity (Part 1)

This first point of the acronym is really essential to understanding the entire system. It has been said that Calvinism really stands upon each prior point as they build a systematic approach of looking at the Bible soteriologically. That is to say that the logic of the system stands or falls as a whole. If Total Depravity is not how the Bible describes the condition of man then there is no reason for Unconditional Election or any other part of the TULIP  to follow. What is necessary to begin our discussion with then is a biblical survey of the will of man.

A Definition of Freedom: 

What needs to be stated right from the start is that at no point historically has Calvinism (or Reformed Theology) ever claimed that man does not have a will.  This is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the view by Dave Hunt, Norman Geisler, Chuck Smith, and many others who claim otherwise.  From Augustine,  to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards there has always been a vital discussion of how the will of man relates to the will of our sovereign God. Explanations and defenses of their views may be offered elsewhere but for now allow a straightforward examination of some biblical passages to form our view.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else guard your heart for from it flow the well springs of life”. Luke 6:45 says “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Furthermore, Ezekiel states that the reason Israel is going to turn back to God from their rebellion is because He will give them a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 says “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This theme can be found in numerous places through the book of Ezekiel alone (11:19, 18:31,). Take even a cursory reading of Ezekiel 28 and you will find that the very reason Satan (described as the King of Tyre) is shown to be in rebellion against God is because of his heart. Ten times this is is repeated in the chapter alone! Strongs concordance here says that the hebrew word for “heart” which is “leb” (and comes from the word lebab) can also be described as ones ” inner man, mind, will”. What we find then is that the Bible says that it is the heart that ultimately decides which decision a person will be inclined to follow. Even the word “inclined” however implies nothing more then a mere preference. Perhaps a stronger word is in order. The desires of the heart are what a person will end up acting out. More could be said on this, but for now allow this to be our definition of freedom as described by the Bible.

Freewill: “A free act is one in which a person acts in accordance with the desires of his heart”.

With this groundwork laid on what true free will is the next logical step to take is to ask the question “How does the Bible describe the heart of man?”

The Condition of Man’s Heart:

Lets start at the beginning in Genesis. Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually. Now I grew up with the view somehow formed that this was only a pre flood condition and after Noah survived the flood somehow all of mankind was more like him. Genesis 8:21 laid this view to rest though when it stated after the flood that “when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”  Consider the consequence of this. The reason God gives for not wiping out the world again is because even though He had done so once mankind could not change.  Of course this wasn’t new to God, but it does provide us with a powerful example of how mankind is described in its natural state. Notice this condition is both universal as it is internal.

The next text to examine is Ephesians chapter 4. Here you will find Paul exhorting the Christians at the church in Ephesus to walk together in unity as members of the Body of Christ. His argument for this is that we have found a new life in Christ that leads us to act and live differently then the way we were before. In verse 17 he compares this against the way the Gentiles act which is in “the futility of their minds” against the Lord. Why is this the case? Because of their hearts. Verse 18 says “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Once again we find the the Greek word for “heart” used here, which is kardia, is identified by Strongs concordance to be “2588 kardía – heart; “the affective center of our being” and the capacity of moral preference”.

Allow one more example before we conclude this brief study. Take a look at Matthew 12:34-35. It says “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” Once again, we see Jesus himself clearly state that the sin of a man arises straight out of the heart itself. What can be concluded from this is that the natural man will act in accordance with “the abundance of the heart”. See Mark 7:21 and Matthew 5:19 for the same argument.

In summary:

First of all realize that this is nothing near the scope of verses or depth that could have been used. Rather this post was used for a rather particular purpose of making two points. Defining the biblical view of mans free will and explaining how the Bible shows this view to be one in which mankind always chooses sin. In summary then we can see two points.

1. The Bible says that it is the heart of man that make his decisions.
2. It also says that every thought and intention in the natural mans heart is evil.

Conclusion? Man will always “freely” choose sin.

Alternately, it could be stated as follows:

P1. If the heart of man is the source of man’s choices then man’s free choice will be one in which they act in accordance with their hearts desires
P2. Man’s heart desires sin alone and continually.
C. Man’s heart will never choose God.

Why spend so much time on this? The deeper understanding we have of the depths of our own depravity the greater we can see the beauty of God’s power in saving us from our state.  God’s glory is magnified by the miraculous saving of sinners that never would have come to him on their own. His power is the reason we believe and His power is the only reason we have been changed. This will be explored more in the next post.

-praisethekingofglory

Pascals Wager in Apologetics

I’ve been pretty troubled lately. Here’s a thought I’ve been playing around with in regards to some of the existential questions that many unbelievers can ask about Christianity.

A groundbreaking development in the philosophy of religion was an existential “argument” for belief in God formed by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. It’s called Pascal’s Wager. If your already familiar with the argument then feel free to jump down to my own notes on it below. If you’re not then hopefully the following will help. download

The full explanation and defense of it can get quite complicated as it introduced probability theory and requires some background knowledge in decision theory, but nonetheless I believe it is important for the apologists to be familiar with this important possible justification for why one should believe in God.

Here is one formulation of the argument simplified (in a way my non mathematical brain can understand it):

1. If it is impossible for a person to believe with certainty that God exists, then that person should believe in God anyway—“just in case” He does exist.

2. If it turns out that God does exist, the believer “wins” the wager by receiving an eternal reward.

3. If it turns out that God does not exist, the person who believes has lost nothing (except perhaps some temporal pleasures, the loss of which would be outweighed by the emotional difficulties of unbelief).

4. If God does not exist, and a person does not believe, then he may gain some temporal pleasures.

5. If God exists, and a person does not believe, then that person is punished eternally for his unbelief. pascalandhobbes

The conclusion that should be reached then is that the “believer” is the only one that truly wins the wager. There is really no way for him to lose which would affect his life with that much significance. Pretty interesting huh? If you’d like to take a look at some more technical explanations and formulations of it then I’d encourage you to look at it here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/ I’ve even formulated my own variation of the argument which I find, personally, to be quite satisfying. Perhaps I will find a way to write it out later…but for now it shall remain in my head 😛

Nonetheless, I am not convinced that Pascal’s Wager is an argument that the Christian apologist should be using and want to give a word of caution to those that are. My main problem with using the Wager as an answer to any question on why should one live as a Christian for existential reasons is because the Wager leaves us with a possible chance that the Christian could be wrong. The reasoning goes even if there is no God in reality one should still live their life as if there is, just in case there turns out to be one. This appears to me to run contrary to the way the New Testament authors describe the Christian life.

In regards to Jesus dying on the cross for our sins Acts 2:36 says we can “know assuredly”. Luke 1:4 says that the reason he wrote the account for Theophilus was so that he could have “certainty” of what happened in the life of Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 1:5 says that the Gospel came to the church not only by word but “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. In Colossians 2:2 Paul says that the struggle Christians are having can be dealt with by encouraging them to realize that “all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ”. For time’s sake I will not continue but the verses could be multiplied exponentially. Consider the following verses as well: Hebrews 6:11, Romans 4:19-21, Hebrews 10:22, Ephesians 3, Proverbs 14:26, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 22:17-21 and Romans 8:16.

Therefore, it seems to me, for a Christian to tell others that they should live their life as a Christian and hold to belief in “God’ anyway because it would make a better “wager” would be to ignore what the Bible explicitly commands us to rest out assurance in! We are not to hold to faith in God by mere “probability” that the benefit of believing in him outweighs the consequences if we are wrong. The Bible not only tells us to live with “certainty” and “full assurance” but it even goes a step farther to say that if we are wrong then we are the most to be pitied!

1 Corinthians 15 is an incredible chapter that every Stoa apologist should be well familiar with in regards to its usefulness for Category 5, but I think it really takes a powerful perspective when it is set against the background of Pascal’s Wager.

Consider Paul’s argument in verses 14-19. He says “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I see two arguments against almost any version of Pascal’s Wager here. The first is that if Christ has not been raised then the Christian is actually deceiving other people and therefore misrepresenting whatever “true” God may exist. That is, if we are arguing for the God of the Bible….if your when you present the Wager then I don’t know why you’d use it in the first place. Secondly, and most persuasively, is Paul’s statement that if we are wrong it is not that we have somehow “lived a fulfilling life that was worth pursuing”. Au contraire! We are to be pitied, for our entire faith is in vain and we are still in our sins! There is NO reason to present an apologetic argument where on one hand you try to present the unbeliever with the guilt of their sin and then on the other argue that they should still believe in a “god” even if there is no way to really be sure because it leads to a better probability. If the Christian is wrong in their claim that Christ rose from the dead because of the power of God then we, of all people, should experience the most sorrow and guilt in this life. Praise God that is not the case.

Hopefully that helps give a little perspective on my thoughts about using Pascal’s Wager in an apologetic speech. It’s important to understand the argument and I fully recognize I didn’t take the time to flesh it out so please look into it more elsewhere. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that one should not utilize it in their speech because of the biblical requirements demanded of the apologist. We are to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:5) and in doing so we shall “take every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). May these words be the foremost of our thoughts when we defend His word in the public arena.

-praisethekingofglory

Ordo Salutis: Election

Calvin

Election is easily one of the hottest debate topics in all of Christianity. I’m going to put my opinion out there now, just to get it out of the way. I’m a full-on Five Point Calvinist. I am very much Reformed in my soteriology, really past the point of no return. Now, I don’t want to spend this post defending nor arguing for Calvinism. The whole point of this series isn’t to prove my Order of Salvation is better than yours, but rather to remember how salvation is God’s act of glorifying himself. Predestination is not special in this regard. I want to stand aside, set my opinions aside, and let God’s glory shine through what I write.

What Election Really Is

Many people (Arminians in particular, but not just them) often have a misconception of how I view election. People throw all kinds of accusations at Calvinist that aren’t even true. So I would like to take a brief moment and talk about what Election really is not.

Let’s blast before we build. Election is not an abolition of free will. Election is not a free license to sin without ever truly repentance. Election is not God choosing people to go to hell.  Many will often say that holding to predestination makes Calvinist’s cold-hearted and that we play, what my favorite preacher calls, “Duck-Duck-Damnation”, where we don’t evangelize to lost people. Sadly, this is slandering our point of view by saying that we are dangerous, and that our doctrine is hateful and cruel. That isn’t even close to what the truth is.

Now that we’ve blasted, we can build! Election is God’s sovereign choosing of people to be objects of his saving grace. It’s important to remember our situation when God saves us. We are not naturally good. Rather we are the exact opposite. We are horrifically sinful, evil, and utterly horrendous people! As I said, election is not an abolition of free will, but rather our will leads us not towards God but in opposite direction towards hell. God then sees us running towards hell and instead of letting us perish and die forever like we deserve, He instead is so amazing, so insanely loving, so filled with grace, that He is willing to choose and save those who despise him and spit in his face. And that is the heart and motive in Election. Not some cold-hearted, cruel, loveless salvation, but the exact opposite! The fact that God is  willing to look at us and say “Mine” when all we do is rebel against him, I can do nothing but worship him; this is what election is all about.

What Election Is All About

Now that we know what we’re even talking about, let’s look at God’s amazing work of election that shows his Glory ever so brightly and lovely. Let’s examine the beginning of Ephesians 1:

4 even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.

Let’s take this nice and slow. God (He in verse 4) chose us before the world began. Typically what happens is the Calvinist will stop after the foundations of the world part and just keep on debating. I say that because I have done it. It is so easy to get caught up in the argument, to forget what God’s reason behind predestination is. And here in Ephesians we see three of his reasons.

JLY

1. Love: God’s love is one of the most cliched attributes of God. We have said ‘Jesus loves you’ so many times that it has become waves against a rock; there’s no effect. We need to stop for a second and consider this. Jesus loves you. The almighty, self-sufficient, holy, all-knowing God of the universe loves you. It becomes extremely personal with predestination, because God chooses you, specifically you. Not because of anything you’ve done, but completely out of grace. Grace is key here, because then and only then can we understand the glory of God. Whenever I read verses on predestination it strikes me how often the love and grace of God are so closely tied to election. I’ll give you an example. In Malachi 1:2-3 when God says that he loves Israel, and they question His love, He goes to His sovereign choice over who His people would be. It says ““I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” The incredible emphasis of the text is that it is entirely in God’s hands who he chooses to love. Of course this opens up questions over how God can be said to be selective in his love with one verse and seemingly universal in others (such as John 3:16) and that is an important topic that will be addressed elsewhere. For here though we must rest, as Christians, in the incredible truth that God has decided to love us and that choice was entirely his. Both Ephesians 1 and Malachi 1 show this breathtaking truth clearly.  This isn’t a point to defend predestination, rather God uses it to defend His love! Jesus loves you! Praise Him for his love!

2. Adoption: Now I don’t want to spend too much on this point, as I am hoping not to spoil the forthcoming post on adoption, but a word on it is needed here. God doesn’t just elect us to be some faceless number in his Kingdom, but rather to be a beloved member of His family (Galatians 3:26). God is so amazing, that He goes beyond dying for us (which is far beyond what we even deserve) , but now he makes us part of His own family! We are now heirs of the kingdom, to one day be allowed to glorify Him in His presence (Galatians 4:7)! I want to plant a thought in your head to ponder until I write on adoption again, and that is this: why are there genealogies in the Bible? Why did God think it needed to list names in the Bible that no one can pronounce, and these people are never mentioned again? Think about it.

3. His Glorious Grace: Oh the glories of God’s grace! That we mere mortals that rebel day and night against the almighty, holy God, could taste the sweetness of grace. The Gospel is the full expression of all of God’s attributes. There we see God’s sovereignty, God’s glory, God’s mercy, God’s justice, and the most amazing of them all, His Glorious Grace. Why do we deserve this? We don’t! Plain and simple! We deserve death and punishment for what we have done. That’s the glory in God’s Glorious Grace. That He loves us just the way we are and is willing to die for us while we are still sinners. Thanks and praise be to him! Never cease to think of God’s Glorious Grace! Go forth and praise his name, making his name great in all nations. Thank God for His Glorious Grace.

-The Ransomed Sinner