1. A Story to Begin
As they walked along the street, the man and the woman were conversing. It was a blustery, cold day in Minnesota, but that didn’t bother these two. The seriousness of the conversation was palpable. It was one that would be remembered for a long time:
“How did you come to know Jesus?” the man asked.
“All my life I had been the tallest girl in school,” she answered. “The other girls used to make fun of me, and I hated it. I would cry and cry and cry. But then one day, more or less out of the blue, I was overcome by God’s love. I was convinced of his love for me, of Jesus’ death in my place, and I was then liberated to love him. From then on, I repented of my sin and believed in Jesus Christ for my salvation. All of the name-calling I had received at the hands of my classmates no longer mattered to me; all that mattered was that the Creator of the universe loved me and gave his Son for me.”
The man stopped, looked up to the sky, thanked God, and said, “That’s exactly what Calvinists try to honor.”
2. What Calvinists Try to Honor
You see, the man from the story was a pastor, the woman one of the members of his church. Recently, this pastor had taught his people about the so-called “five points of Calvinism.” The woman raised several objections to these doctrines of grace, so the pastor offered to walk her home one day to discuss them.
The woman, like so many others, objected most fiercely to the doctrine of “unconditional election,” the idea that God is free to graciously choose to save some people from before the foundation of the world, leaving the rest to their just condemnation.
“It sounds so unfair,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe that God would do something like that.”
But as they continued walking, the man asked: “When you came to know Jesus in that moment, do you think it was ultimately God’s decision to save you?”
“Of course!” she answered.
“So, God could have decided to save you before He actually saved you, right?” the pastor asked gently.
“Well, yes,” the woman answered hesitantly, not knowing where the pastor was going with this.
“Okay, let’s say that God decided to save you thirty seconds before He actually saved you. Would that have been okay?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Now let’s say that God decided to save you three minutes before He actually saved you. Would that have made a difference?”
The woman, brow furrowed, answered: “No, that wouldn’t have made a difference. God still would have saved me, regardless of when He chose to save me.”
The pastor, having made his point, concluded: “Exactly.”
3. Eyes to See
For many, “Calvinism” evokes of images of stoic Presbyterians who never smile and never have fun. For others, “Calvinism” refers to that theological system which says people are robots and that evangelism and missions aren’t necessary for people to be saved. Still others think “Calvinism” is a wicked heresy, false-teaching derived from the theology of John Calvin, a murderer and political tyrant.
But for the Calvinist, “Calvinism” simply means the supremacy of God in and over all things, according to the Bible. And this supremacy is what the Calvinist tries to honor in stories like the one from above. The Calvinist believes with his whole heart that God is totally free to save people whenever He sees fit. God doesn’t have to override the freedom of humans in order to save them; all He has to do is reveal himself in all his beautiful splendor, and humans will freely come to him.
To use a word picture, the Calvinist believes that when God saves a man, He gives to that man new eyes, such that he can see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Where the man was once blind, now he can see. Once he was lost, but now he is found. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
4. Unstoppable Grace
When I was growing up, I used to go to church for two reasons:
1) So my parents wouldn’t get mad at me.
2) To chase girls in the youth group.
I was about as “pagan” as pagans come. I had no interest in God, no desire for holiness, no need to read the Bible, no knowledge of Christian teaching, and no ability to love God. And oh boy, my life reflected that truth.
I went through the majority of college as an unbeliever. I wasn’t as bad as I could have been, but I wasn’t very good. And then, out of the blue, after I had gotten myself into some pretty shady situations, the gospel was preached to me.
It wasn’t a full blown gospel presentation. It was more like: “You know God can forgive you, right? That’s why He sent Jesus.”
And in that moment, when I felt the full weight of my sin and knew no hope, God opened my eyes to the glory and grace found in Jesus Christ. This was unstoppable grace.
I had a feeling of the utter holiness of God, the holy God in whose presence I would melt. If He had counted my sins against me right then, I would have shattered into a million pieces. The waterfall of God’s wrath would have crushed me like a fly who dares venture too close. Just like the sun can burn up your eyes from millions of miles away, so too would I have been instantly incinerated by the holy God who created it.
But I wasn’t. In that moment, God opened my eyes to see. I saw that Jesus Christ had taken my sins. It was the Son who took my place, who was crushed by the wrath of God. The holy heat of the fury of God burned against him such that he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
And that’s how God makes a Calvinist. Against the backdrop of the supreme holiness and perfection of God, we see how utterly despicable we truly are. With Isaiah, we say, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, emphasis added).
Then, and only then, does God show us how gracious He is. It is as if a burning coal, too hot for an angel to hold in his hand, is touched to our lips and we cry out in pain, repentant pain. And then we hear these gracious words: “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). All because “the LORD has laid on [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
5. Picking up the Pieces
Since then, I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what happened, trying to pick up the pieces of my world. God had shattered it, you see. I had built for myself a dream world, one over which I reigned as king. But the One True King will not give his glory to another. He bent down, looked at my treasonous creation, and with one swift stroke knocked it all over.
I guess you could say this is perhaps one of the reasons I am a Calvinist now. I had no interest in God before I was saved: it had to have been God who moved my heart, who gave me new eyes to see. I felt the supreme sovereignty of God as He invaded my life. I didn’t give him permission to do that! He just did it. And I have a feeling, which is confirmed by Scripture, that this is how God saves people. He doesn’t wait for us to move first. No, “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
So I’m going to be writing about Calvinism over the next few weeks. It’s a topic that hits very close to home. I have dear friends and family members who aren’t Calvinists, some of whom hate Calvinism. And what I want to do is not simply convince you that Calvinism is right, although I think it is. What I want to do is to show you that this is what the Bible teaches, that this is the God-centered theology which honors God the most. I don’t expect everyone will like what I have to say. And I’m under no illusion that I will be able to perfectly demonstrate these things or answer all objections.
But what I can do with my whole heart is say with Jonah: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9). To Him be glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Thanks for reading. Have any additional thoughts? Leave a comment below if you feel so inclined.