Was Jesus a Calvinist?

tulipThe title of this post is somewhat naughty, almost like the question, “Does God believe in atheists?”  By “Calvinist” I mean someone who follows the teachings of John Calvin.   The name John Calvin is a swear word to many, but I hope to show you that Calvin’s theology should be our theology because it was a biblical theology, indeed the theology of Jesus Christ himself.

John Calvin lived in the 1500’s in Geneva, Switzerland.  He was and is one of the hero’s of the Christian faith.  He was one the greatest Christian thinkers, theologians and reformers who guided the church back to the Bible after it was immersed in superstition.   Calvin is still massively influential today, and either loved or hated.  Depending on your worldview, you will either gratefully read John Calvin’s writings and benefit from them or you will despise them.

The sovereignty of God

The ‘big thing’ of Calvin’s theology, the big umbrella or the overall truth that held all the others truths together, was the sovereignty of God.  The bottom-line for Calvin was that God is in charge and God does whatever suits his good pleasure.  Calvin said that God is God and will always be God. No one or no thing can stop him from being God.  He reigns and rules and is in control of all things, all the time.  There is no time when he is not in control.  And God’s sovereignty is demonstrated best when he calls lost sinners, like ourselves, to perceive the glory of Christ.

The Bible says:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

    or who has been his counsellor?”

 “Or who has given a gift to him

    that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. 

(Romans 11:34-36)

Jesus said:

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.”

John Calvin, like Jesus, was committed to the sovereignty of God.

TULIP

The teachings of Calvin may be summed up by the acronym TULIP which lists the so-called 5 points of Calvinism (or I would argue the 5 points of the gospel).

1. Total Depravity

Here we find the answers to the controversial questions: Can we choose God? Do we have a free will?

Total depravity is the teaching that says that, since the Fall of Man (Genesis 3), every area of our being is fallen and scarred by sin; no area is left untouched. Sin has tainted our wills, our emotions, our minds, and even our physical beings.  The result is that, as Romans 3 says, no-one is righteous before God or understands spiritual things.  We naturally seek man-made religion, to run our own lives and to worship gods of our own making that approve of our sinful lifestyles.

So, do we have free will? Calvin followed Martin Luther’s teaching on the subject and said definitely not.   Luther would ask you, “Does a lion have free will?”   You might answer that he does: the lion could choose to hunt a warthog, antelope or not to hunt at all.  But take that hungry lion and put a pile of meat to his one side and a pile of vegetables to the other. Which food will the lion choose?   Does the lion have free will to choose either pile?  No.  The lion’s will is in bondage to his nature, to his pre-programmed disposition.   You may argue hypothetically that the lion could choose the vegetables, but in reality he never will.  Our wills are in bondage to our fallen nature.

Calvin said:

“If a man considers himself and his own nature, what is he able to say?  See, a creature cursed by God and worthy to be refused acceptance in the common range of all other creatures, even of worms, flies, lice and vermin.  For there is more worth in all the world’s vermin than there is in man…there is nothing in it but sin…and the devil rules us.”

The Bible says:

 “Their throat is an open grave;

    they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of snakes is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (Romans 3)

Jesus said:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

Human beings since Adam have a prior disposition towards sin and evil, and a prior biased away from God. Our wills are not free. Our wills are in bondage to sin.

2. Unconditional election

This refers to what we call predestination.  John Calvin wrote that predestination is, “God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.”

Calvin continues:

“And let us conclude that God looks at nothing but our miseries (sins) when he calls us to himself.  He does not consider whether we seek him or not, for how would that be possible? We pull in the contrary direction.  God does not consider whether we are able to do him any service or not, for we are high-handed rebels against him.  God does not consider whether there is any inclination in us, for all our thoughts and desires are deadly enemies fighting against his righteousness.  What does he look at?  The infinite number of miseries he finds in us, and the horrible confusion in which we are.”

The Bible says:

“He (God the Father) chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…In love he predestined us. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

God predestined us, that is, he decided our destiny beforehand.  Many modern commentators seem to have a problem with this language, but this is what the Bible unmistakably teaches.  God the Father chooses us before the creation of the world.  The Triune God works powerfully and magnificently for our salvation to the praise of God’s glory.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things (including our salvation) according to the counsel of his will so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.(Ephesians 1:11-12)

Jesus said:  

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44)

The word for “draws” literally means to drag, to lead by force or to compel.   How does God call spiritually people to himself and make them alive?  Ephesians 1:13 tells us:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Christians were saved when they “heard” and “believed” the gospel.  When those chosen by God before the foundation of the world hear the gospel they believe it they are made spiritually alive.  Calvin asked the question: How can we know we are chosen by God?   He gave the answer: By believing in Jesus Christ.

3. Limited atonement

We cannot choose God.  God freely chooses us.  How does God make enemies his children? Through the death of Christ.   This begs the question: What did Jesus’ death actually achieve?  Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet and pay the price for everyone’s sins?  Or did Jesus die to save those that God has unconditionally elected?  Most Christians would say that Jesus died for all the sins of every person in the entire world and we apply the benefits of his death personally to us  when we put our faith in Jesus.

However, the doctrine of Limited Atonement (most evangelical theologians prefer the more positive designation of “Definite Atonement”) says that Jesus died only for the elect of God to actually and really and truly save them.  When Jesus was crucified he did not simply make salvation a possibility, but rather he saved God’s elect.  Jesus experienced God’s wrath on behalf of God’s chosen.  Jesus made atonement for God’s people and in reality reconciled them to God.

Calvin said:

“The sacrifice of Jesus’ death serves to purchase an everlasting atonement for us, so that we must always flee to it for refuge.”

The Bible says:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  (Ephesians 1:7)

The Bible does not speak of potential possibilities that Jesus’ death may or could achieve depending on personal faith or not, but rather the definite salvation that Jesus’ death did achieve for those God has chosen. Jesus’ death saved and redeemed and purchased God’s people.  Christians were crucified with Christ.

Jesus said:

“I lay down my life for the sheep (not the goats).” (John 10:15)

The opposite of the doctrine Limited Atonement in the theory of General Ransom that says Jesus paid the price for every person’s sins.   But this cannot logically be true.  How could a just God punish an unbeliever for their sins if Jesus has already received their punishment? You cannot be prosecuted for the same crime twice.  If Jesus paid the price for everyone’s sins, everyone must go to heaven.

4. Irresistible grace

This doctrine says that when God calls us to faith in Christ he calls us effectively; he always succeeds in his purpose to save us.  The Bible distinguishes between the general call to all sinners to come to Jesus (e.g. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”) and the specific call or summons that God gives to his elect.

Calvin said:

“God does not offer us his grace, as a man might offer an apple to little children, so that the best runner should come and have it.  If God should thus toss it out, it is certain that the greatest part of our salvation would be the product of our own power and skill, and the praise of it would redound to ourselves.”

The Bible says:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  (Ephesians 4:1)

Jesus said:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44)

There can be no salvation without irresistible grace.  We are dead in our sins and totally unable to submit to God; we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.  The incredible news of the gospel is not that God makes bad people good, but that he makes dead people alive.  God the Father elects us before the creation of the world. God the Son dies to accomplish our salvation and God the Holy Spirit calls us to himself and applies that blood-bought salvation to us; we simply respond in repentance and faith, and enjoy all benefits of that salvation.

5. Perseverance of the saints

Can a Christian lose their salvation? The Bible says no.

Perhaps a better wording of this doctrine would be, “God’s preservation of the saints” or ‘God’s persevering with the saints”.  The word “saints” is the word the New Testament uses for regular Christians.

According to the Bible, a Christian can never lose their salvation or fall beyond God’s grace.  A Christian can never be un-adopted from God’s family, be un-justified or un-redeemed.  Christians will perseverance to the end, not because they are great but because God is faithful.  This doctrine has been misunderstood by many.  The doctrine does not say that Christians will not face any spiritual dangers or never fall into sin.   This doctrine simply says that if you are a Christian you will persevere through all the trials and temptations and never lose your right standing before God.  Obviously, this applies only to Christians and not to those who simply profess Christ, thinking they can live like they want and claiming a free ticket to heaven.

John Calvin said:

“God’s Spirit does a two-fold work in us with respect to faith. For he enlightens us to make us understand things which otherwise would be hidden from us, and to receive God’s promises with all obedience. The second is that the same Spirit is pleased to abide in us and to give us perseverance, that we do not draw back in the midst of our way.”

The Bible says:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Jesus said:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-30)

Calvin was a Christian

Jesus Christ was a Calvinist.  Or to put it better, John Calvin was a Christian in the proper sense of the word and believed what the Bible taught.

It’s probable that you have found some aspects of these doctrines difficult to believe as it goes contrary to many teachings in some churches today.  Calvin gives us some final advice:

 “Now when we find anything in the gospel that seems hard and difficult to swallow, let us not do as a number of mad people do, who reject whatever is not according to their own ideas;  but let us reverence that which is hidden from us as yet, waiting until God advances us and comes more intimately to us and increases the measure of our faith.

Each one of us must withdraw himself from the world and forsake his own reason, so that we may submit ourselves with true obedience and humility to the things which we know have come from God.”

John Calvin, if he were still with us, would no-doubt ask you (as Jesus does): Have you cast yourself on the mercy of our good God?