November 04, 2002 Q & A

Predestination and Irresistible Grace


My Christian Reformed upbringing has taught me to understand that Calvin's theory on predestination shows that God will save only the elect and that God has predestined some to salvation and some to damnation. (Perseverance of the Saints.) I believe the wording is that God "chooses" the elect. Do you believe this? I do not. Scripture teaches that God wants all to be saved. The CRC teaches through "limited atonement" that Christ's death was not credited to all people, but only to those "chosen" for their salvation. This is also unscriptural.

Also, the theory on irresistible grace is in question. The CRC teaches that people cannot resist God's saving grace, which is offered only to the elect. This is incorrect in my view because God's grace is sincerely offered to all, and it is our fault if we reject it. Please give me the OPC views on these very important issues without spending a lot of time.

Thank you very much.


I would begin by saying that the so-called "Five Points of Calvinism" are not John Calvin's "theory." They do represent his doctrine as set forth in the Institutes and his Commentaries. In fact, the "Five Points" are the five doctrinal assertions of the Synod of Dordrecht (Dordt) in Holland in 1618 long after the death of Calvin in 1568. Calvin's theology was the sum and substance of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands from Reformation days on. The purpose of the "Five Points" was to answer the teaching of Jacob Arminius.

Jacob Arminius was a professor of theology in Holland and introduced the theological system known as Arminianism. He denied that man was totally depraved, and affirmed that election was conditioned on unregenerate man's ability (in his unregenerate state) to repent and believe so that his new birth was the product of his faith and repentance. Therefore Christ died, making it possible that all might be saved. So saving grace was resistible and salvation, therefore, losable.

It wasn't till after Arminius' death that the Reformed Church in Holland took notice of the students of Arminius holding to his unbiblical (as they believed) and revolutionary view of the sovereignty of man in determining who would and who would not attain to salvation. So the Canons of Dordt were drawn up by the Synod of the Church, meeting at Dordrecht in Holland. Theyr eaffirmed that God is sovereign in all aspects of salvation, which all the original reformers (including Martin Luther) believed. It so happens that Arminianism has been adopted by Methodists (following John Wesley) and the later revivalists, following Charles Finney (in New York State) in the early to middle 1800s.

I said that, though Calvin believed what later became known as "The Five Points of Calvinism," yet their formulation was not from him. However, I disputed your use of the word "theory" as you applied it to him. These doctrines are biblical.

We speak of the theory of evolution, as advanced by Charles Darwin. That IS a theory because it advances an attempted explanation of the origin of the various species of living, animate organisms. I hold that, because it flies in the face of the biblical doctrine of creation that it is not truth, but a theory. I cannot say the same for the Five Points. They are taught in the Bible.

Let me deal with the "T-U-L-I-P" series and show how the Word of God teaches them. (And they don't exhaust biblical doctrine, but they are the very heart of what the Scriptures teach about man's salvation.)

TOTAL DEPRAVITY: What is meant by the term? Not that, having descended from Adam they are absolutely wicked. Only Satan and his fallen angels (demons) are absolutely evil. God restrains fallen mankind so that they can live together in a degree of harmony. We call that common grace. So the medicine you buy on prescription, or over the counter, is not poison. God restrains fallen sinners from being as wicked as they can be. Your denomination declared common grace to be biblical in its synod of 1927.

What Calvinists mean by TOTAL depravity is that all parts of the human soul are affected by sin - particularly the intellect, the emotions and the will. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Bible says, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised" (I quote the New American Standard Bible). Read also Romans 1:18 to the end of the chapter.

Fallen man has knowledge of God from the creation about him and the conscience in him. But he is "dead in [his] trespasses and sins..." because he refuses to accept the evidence (Ephesians 2:1-3). The god of this world (Satan) has blinded their spiritual sight (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this deadness is not like the deadness of a dead person. Unbelievers are alive to the world and all its appeals but dead only to the knowledge of God. Little children need not be taught to be naughty It comes to them naturally.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION: How do the spiritually dead come to new life in Christ? By the "New Birth:" (John 3:3-5). True, the Greek says "born from above," but Nicodemus understood it as a second birth. In birth, the person born has no choice in whether born red, yellow, black or white - male or female. Jesus said, "...unless one is born of water and the Spirit...." Water signifies inner cleansing of the heart from sinful rebellion; the Spirit is the Author of the new life given in regeneration. John 1:12-13 is more concise: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood [not of his parents' genes] nor of the will of the flesh [the will of a father and mother] nor of the will of man [his/her own choice] but of God." All human agency is excluded in the new birth. God alone is the author.

Romans 8:28-30 is also to the point. Those who love God are those who are called according to His purpose. Predestination is based on "foreknowledge." Arminians say "Aha! Election is based on God's foreknowledge of our faith." I used to see it that way. But that understanding flies in the face of Ephesians 1:4-5 and following. Verse 4 says "...just as He called us in Christ before the foundation of the world... In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intentions of His will." This last phrase eliminates the idea that as God He foresaw our choice of Him and therefore, after the fact, elected [chose] us to salvation.

Yes, we must believe to salvation, but the faith that saves is also the gift of God, not of works so that none can boast (Chapter 2:8-9). Verse 11 of Ephesians 1 says that EVERYTHING happens after the counsel of God's will. Acts 11:18 tells us that God gives repentance unto life.

But how do we interpret "foreknew" in Romans 8:29? The meaning is that God "knew" his elect savingly before the foundation of the earth. How did He know them? As His redeemed! It was just as God knew that a certain young lady would become my wife, even before I met her. A lot of "accidental" circumstances brought a girl from Maine to love an Iowa farm boy!

LIMITED ATONEMENT is better stated as "definite atonement." It's not that God was able to save a limited number, so all the rest had to be lost. As has been said, the death of Christ was "sufficient" for an infinite number of fallen sinners. But it was "efficient" for His elect. God ought never be thought to be thwarted by any creature. If Jesus died for the purpose of saving some who will be condemned to hell, then his purpose for those was thwarted. And that's unthinkable!

Is there Scripture for this? Yes. John 10:11 is specific. "His sheep"! Look at verses 28 & 29. It is "my sheep" who "hear My voice." And it is to them He gives eternal life. And it is they who will "never perish."

One other reference from John's Gospel: In chapter 17:6-12, our Lord tells His Father that He has kept all those disciples the Father had given Him. But He excluded Judas, the betrayer, not because He couldn't keep him, but he was "the son of perdition," meaning that Judas was not given to Jesus for salvation. "Son of" meaning, "devoted to" [damnation]. Jesus had His own reason for choosing one known by Him to be a traitor from the beginning.

There are some verses that seem to contradict those quoted above. You mention one--2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." Taken alone, this verse can bear the Arminian interpretation--that He wants absolutely everybody to be saved. But that would put the Lord God in the position, as already stated, to be thwarted in His intentions. Such a god is not sovereign!

Moreover, he uses the pronoun "you." The epistle was written "...to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by our Savior Jesus Christ" (1:1). It was a letter written to Christian believers. The "you" clearly indicates that God will not draw down the curtain on human history till the last chosen one is brought in!

One more such verse, 1 Timothy 4:10. The Greek word for "savior" and "salvation" is sometimes used with a broader meaning than salvation from sin and hell. It can mean "deliver" from some sort of trouble. Some people were delivered from what seemed certain death who later died in unbelief. I've know people to pray for deliverance from death by accident or disease and their prayer was answered. But later it was obvious that they died in unbelief. God works in mysterious ways. But He specially works lasting grace in those who believe.

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE says that, though some of God's elect may resist Him for a time, they will not prevail. Saul of Tarsus is an example of one who was not allowed to resist. Read any or all of the three accounts of his conversion in Acts (9, 22 and 26) and you'll not see a whisper of Christ's pleading with him to receive His salvation. As soon as Saul knew who had revealed Himself, he said, "What will you have me do, Lord."

I've already cited Scriptures that underscore this doctrine. John 10:1-6 and 28 are much to the point. Also Romans 8:28--those who love God are those whom He called. In Reformed parlance we have the general call as in Matthew 11:28-30 and 2 Corinthians 5:20. But there is also the effectual call such as in Romans 8:28. Not one of His true sheep will be allowed to perish!

PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS is the proper term. I was exposed to "eternal security" before I ever heard of the Five Points. This term involves our activity. We are not passive in our sanctification. Sanctification is progressive. It is a struggle with the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Philippians 2:12 & 13 put it well: We are to work out, not our redemption ("Jesus paid it all!") but our sanctification. Read the word, struggle in our prayers, and repent of our daily sins. Yet IF we are really His, we won't be lost.

Go back to Romans 8:28-30: Those who are called are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ; they are justified freely by grace from all their sins, and they are glorified! Why the present tense on "glorified" if we haven't yet been glorified? Because in God's purpose He sees us as already without sin. And IF we are really His, we will persevere to the end.

See John 6:44, Philippians 1:6 and John 10:28. 1 John 2:19 tells us that those who begin with Jesus but fall away were never "of us"; for had they been "of us" they would have continued "with us"!

I could stop here, but I suspect behind your doubt about the Five Points, is a sense of "fairness." Is it fair to send to hell some who are not able to come to Christ because they were born rebellious sinners like you and me, but not called by sovereign grace? Read Matthew 20:1-16 (the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard). The master of the vineyard says, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own?"

It is Jesus who died. Salvation is by grace. And we all begin as hell-deserving sinners. And yet you and I were called to salvation, not for anything good He saw in us, but because He loved us in Christ from all eternity.

The same question is raised in Romans 9:9-24. Jacob and Esau were both unworthy sinners. But God places his love on a cheater--Jacob. In time He made a saint out of him. But Esau freely chose to sell his birthright. He had no just complaint. And when those who are rejected complain that they have been treated unjustly, the Apostle doesn't refute the claim, but rebukes it! (See verses 19-23) Read also Exodus 33:19 which is quoted in verse 14.

This has been a long answer, but I hope it meets your question and answers it. If not, please come back at some point with further inquiries.



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