What is Calvinism?

Though associated with derogatory curse words in many circles, we at GCC are not really too worried about being labelled (or libeled) as Calvinists. We know that the spiritual thing to say is that we are simply Christians. However, most heretics and false teachers love to use vague terminology that avoids any connotations of exclusivity or narrowness.

So unashamedly, we unreservedly and unapologetically align ourselves to what we believe the Scriptures teach regarding the doctrines of God, man, and redemption.

In no way are we claiming that those who do not adhere to the doctrines of Calvinism are any less saved. True and saving faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, coupled with true repentance is what justifies the individual before God Almighty, not merely the recitation of biblical doctrines.

However, we truly believe that the “doctrines of grace” (a synonym for the word Calvinism) exalt God to His rightful and self-revealed position of regal splendor and majestic glory that He alone inhabits.

In a nutshell, the doctrines of grace, or Calvinism, are captured in the acronym T.U.L.I.P., which can be broken down as follows:

Total Depravity

The Scriptures teach that after the Fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3), that he was corrupted and tainted in his thoughts, desires, actions, and emotions.

Simply put, the Bible clearly teaches that man, in and of himself, is unable to 'choose', “come to”, or “receive” the salvation that God freely offers to all of mankind. The reason is simply this: man is dead spiritually (Ephesians 2:1-3). By nature, all humans are alive to sin, but dead to God. Or, in the words of Paul, we are by nature “slaves” to sin and unrighteousness (Romans 6:17-22). Why? Because we by nature love sin and hate God. We are willful enemies of God's benevolent reign and claim over His creation (Romans 5:10). Why? Because we are all “under sin” (Romans 3:9).

This is Scriptures diagnosis of the “natural person” (1 Corinthians 2:14) who is “in Adam” (Romans 5:12-14, 18). This is why Paul has no problem declaring that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is why Paul says that those who are “of the flesh” have minds that are “hostile” to God, that is, that actively and willfully hate Him (Romans 8:7). In fact, Paul says in the same verse, that those who are unregenerate (that is, not converted to Christ) “don't want to submit to God's law; indeed it cannot.”

This last phrase, “cannot” is explained by theologians as the doctrine of inability, which basically says that those who have 'natural' hearts are not able to come to Christ for salvation. Why? Because they hate God, and thus hate the fullest revelation of Him in Christ.

This is why Jesus said to the religious people of His day, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

Unlike most churches, which teach that man is able to freely come and receive salvation however and whenever he chooses, we believe that this is an impossibility until God Almighty grants the sinner a new heart (which Jesus calls the “new birth” in John 3). Thus having a new nature that is not enslaved to sin, the regenerated sinner is now “enabled” by God the Holy Spirit to believe via the gift of faith and repentance (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29; cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18).

Just as a newborn baby naturally gasps for air when he or she passes from 'darkness to light', so the Scriptures show that the newborn Christian naturally gasps for Christ by faith when he or she passes from spiritual darkness to light.

Those addicted to crack cocaine will choose a rock of crack 100 times out of a hundred if they are offered either that or a healthy, nutritious, life-giving meal. Why? Because their very nature is programmed to choose what kills them. And not against their will. They gladly choose death. 

To the unregenerated, “natural” person, the Good News of free salvation in Christ which God offers to all peoples, “the gospel is foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23). 

Calvinists do not deny “free will.” We believe that every dead-in-trespasses-sinner freely and gladly rejects the free offer of the gospel, just as every elect sinner that is given a new hear freely and gladly receives the free offer of the gospel.

Other Scriptures that support this deadly diagnosis of all mankind apart from the sovereign and effectual grace of God: Genesis 6:5; Psa. 51:5; 58:3; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 13:10-17; John 3:3-12; Romans 3:9-12).

Unconditional Election

This is but the logical overflow from the doctrine of mankind's inability to willingly and submissively come to God for salvation in Christ. 

This doctrine basically teaches that God, before He created the world, chose to save for Himself people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. In fact, unless God chose, or “elected” to save individuals, no one would ever be saved, since they are unable to do so.

This is precisely what Luke tells us in Acts 13:48, wherein the Gentiles, having heard the gospel from the apostle Peter, believed unto salvation. However, Luke adds that it was only those who “were appointed to eternal life [who] believed.”

Contrary to what is communicated in most pulpits, the Bible repeatedly and clearly teaches that election precedes salvation, and not the other way around. We do not become elect when we believe. Otherwise we determine who is elect, not God. However, the Scriptures show us that God is the active agent of the verb “elect”, and humans are the passive recipients. For example:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every Spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose [literally 'good pleasure'] of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace...In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the frist to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12)

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking [i.e. redemption]. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day'.” (Romans 11:7-8)

“But we ought always to give thanksto God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved[KJV = “chose you from the beginning”], through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

“[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He fore-loved He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

Other notable passages: Deuteronomy 7:6-10; 14:2; Romans 9:6-33; 11:1-10, 25-32; 1 Corinthians 1:20-31; 2:6-16; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 2:7-10; 2 Peter 1:10.

Limited Atonement

This doctrine is perhaps better titled “Definite Atonement”, as the Scriptures teach that the blood that Jesus Christ shed was effectual to perfectly and fully save His elect people.

This is most certainly the greatest stumbling block for people to accept, as the truths of this doctrine, at least at first glance, portray God as unfair and cruel for creating people He never intended to offer salvation to.

We confess that emotionally speaking, this is a hard truth to digest. But we believe that the Scriptures represent this to be the case, even though we might not fully understand God or His ways. Even the apostle Paul, after stating some heavy things regarding God's electing and hardening purposes in Romans 9 and 11, finishes his argument with a statement of humility that we would do well to imitate:

“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways! 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. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

We must confess with Isaiah that God's ways are infinitely higher than ours, and thus we must be careful in judging Him to be unfair by our standards (cf. Isaiah 55:8-11). Rather than questioning God, we must learn with Job to put our hands over our mouths and let God be God (read Job 38-42).

Nevertheless we believe that the following Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ did not shed His blood for every single person ever born, even though it is the predominant teaching in most Christian circles:

“[Mary] will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

“For this is My [i.e. Jesus'] blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

“For the Son of Man [i.e. Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many.” (Mark 10:45)

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

“You [i.e. the Father] have given Him [i.e. Jesus] authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” (John 17:2; cf. 17:24)

“I [i.e. Jesus] am praying for them [i.e. His disciples]. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You [i.e. the Father] have given Me, for they are Yours. All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10)

“Care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

Perhaps the greatest passage of Scripture is one of the best known Scriptures among Christians today, though many have never understand the particular, or exclusive use of pronouns. We read,

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon hHm was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see His seed; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:4-12)

If Christ died for everyone, then His mission was a failure, since the Bible clearly teaches that there are people in Hell. The atonement in the Calvinist view is to be likened to a narrow bridge which goes all the way across the Grand Canyon; for the Arminian it is like a great wide bridge that only goes half way across. In other words, Calvinism teaches that salvation is complete for some rather than partial for all.

The Calvinist, however, quotes unashamedly the final stanza of William Cowper's classic hymn:

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose it's power;
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.

Other notable passages: Romans 5:10; Galatians 1:3-4; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 2:10-18; Revelation 5:9. 

Also note that in the OT, the high priest, on the Day of Atonement made sacrifice to represent only the covenant people, and not the nations. The entire book of Hebrews builds upon this, showing that the true and great High Priest, Jesus Christ, entered once-for-all to make atonement only for the covenant people, that is, His elect.

Irresistible Grace

Basically, the Scriptures teach that those whom God has predestined before the foundation of the world unto salvation in Christ will be drawn effectually and irresistibly by God's grace. Again, a better term for this doctrine could be “effectual calling.” Again, this is seen most clearly in Romans 8:29-30, where the apostle says,

“For those whom [God] fore-loved He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

As theologians note, Paul's use of “call” is not merely some indiscriminate “invitation”. No. As one studies how Paul uses this cognate, we see that to “be called” is to be one of God's elect people (e.g. read 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, 18-31; Romans 1:6-7 to see Paul's usage; cf. Jude 1:1; Revelation 17:14).

Jesus Himself taught this in John 10, where we read,

“Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers...I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd...The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not part of My flock. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me...My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all.” (John 10:1-5, 14-16, 25-27)

Basically, Jesus is teaching that all those whom the Father has given to Him in eternity past (see also John 6:37, 39; 17:2, 6, 24) will hear His voice and follow Him. In John, “hearing” and “seeing” is not merely a physical phenomenon, but a spiritual one (see John 6:40; 12:36-40; cf. Mark 4:11-12).

Unless one is “drawn” by the Father, Jesus Himself says that no one is “able” to come to Him (John 6:44). The Greek word used for “draw” is also used in John 18:10; 21:6; 21:11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; James 2:6. In every one of these usages, the word is translated “dragged” and suggests not merely a passive call, but an effectual one.

Of course many see this and respond that God drags people to Himself against their will on the one hand, and rejects others who want to come to Him on the other. Of course, having studied radical depravity/corruption, we remember that, “No one is righteous; no one understands; no one who seeks God. All have have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Also, understanding the idea of God's sovereign regeneration of the elect upon hearing of the gospel (Romans 10:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6), the sheep are given a new heart, or in the language of Isaiah “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” (cf. John 3:3, 5). With this new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27), the elect gladly “come” (Matthew 11:25-30) when called by their Good Shepherd and, and thus correspondingly and gladly receive Him (John 1:12-13).

Other passages that further this idea of God's irresistible and effectual call to His elect are: Matthew 22:14; Luke 10:21; John 5:21; Acts 16:14; Romans 9:21-24; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Galatians 1:6; Ephesians 1:18; 4:1, 4; Colossians 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 2:9; 5:10; 2 Peter 1:3; Revelation 17:14.

Perseverance of the Saints

Again, a better and more appropriate title would be “The Preservation of the Saints.” Basically, this doctrine teaches that all those whom God has effectually called to Himself in regeneration and justification are not able to lose the salvation that has been graciously bestowed upon them. This is taught in many places throughout the Scriptures, such as:

“And those whom [God] justified, these ones He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30). Here the aorist tense for “glorified” must be highlighted. Basically this passage is saying that the glorification for the elect is already a done deal; though not yet realized in time, it is an irrevocable guarantee.

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

“As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9)

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29)

“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

“Jesus, the found and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

“[Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him.” (Hebrews 7:25)

“Who shall separate us [i.e. the elect of v.33] from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

Those who are “in Christ” by faith will never be “cast out” (cf. John 6:37). The Scriptures clearly teach that salvation from beginning to end, from eternity past to eternity future is a sovereign gift of grace that God gives to those whom He chose to be His sheep. We love to sing the final stanza of the modern hymn “In Christ Alone”, which trumpets:

No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand.
'Till He returns, or calls me home,
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

In Christ alone, and for His glory alone,

Pastor Ryan Case