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Why I am Reformed (Baptist)

March 9, 2014

My Christian journey has taken me from the Methodist church in which I grew up (mainstream Arminian), to an Arminian Baptist church, to a Reformed Sunday School class within that church, now to Reformed Baptist faith. In my young adulthood I struggled with major doubts about the faith of my childhood, finally discarding it completely and rebuilding it from the ground up. God blessed me with a faithful wife who waited and prayed for me fervently to find the right path, only then to join the journey herself as we both departed our Arminian roots in favor of Reformed doctrine.

There are two distinct concepts captured in the title of this article. Before discussing the Baptist denominational question (in the next article), I will begin with an explanation of why I am a Reformed Christian by looking at the five distinctives of Reformed (Calvinist) doctrine, most of which remain points of major disagreement with Arminian theology…

This is an article I have planned to write for a long time, and this topic is one of the most important on which I’ve touched. It was truly a worldview change to me to understand that we cannot accept Him as Savior unless God works first in our hearts. Understanding that for the first time, I realized that when I was saved, it wasn’t me “figuring it out” or “finding the truth”, but instead God reaching into my heart and changing me from a sin-loving pagan, and only then did the Gospel make sense to me. What would my life be if He had left me to my former self? Instead of casting my eye across all “I had accomplished”, including “finding Jesus”, I realized in humility that I owe all of my life’s blessings to God.

I am no theologian, so although I do cite Scripture which I think is relevant, this is only a summary of my perspective; far stronger doctrinal defenses are available from far more qualified scholars, but this is how I understand the key points of Reformed doctrine:

Total Depravity:

Without the Holy Spirit, man is spiritually dead; without God’s action on our hearts there is nothing potentially capable in us of responding to God’s Truth. Before we can accept Him as savior, God must change our hearts.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” — John 8:34

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” — Romans 3:10-11

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. — 1 Cor. 2:14

I grew up believing what most mainstream churches teach, that although man was overcome by sin in the Fall, God still provides us the ability to understand His gospel and to repent and accept Christ.  John 3:16 is used as proof that it is up us individually to believe in Christ and accept salvation.

I later learned that the technical term for this is “prevenient grace”, for which Arminians point to John 1:9 for proof – “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” But John 3 is a strange chapter to seek for support for Arminianism, given Christ’s explanation that we must be “born again” in order to see the Kingdom.  And the phrase “gives light” from John 1:9, rather than inner light or spiritual life, is clarified more clearly later in John 3 to mean “shed light”:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. — John 3:19

Thousands of churches every Sunday urge the lost in their pews to “make a decision for Christ so you can be saved”. But the popularity of a concept is by no means proof of its truth (Matt.7:14). To me the overwhelming number of false converts proves there must be more to salvation than the sinner’s prayer. To explain this major problem, either you believe that one can lose salvation (see below) or you accept the Reformed concept that in order for a sinner to truly accept Christ, that God must first have changed him, to give him that faith and repentance. Clearly it is possible for anyone to make a “shallow soil” (Luke 8:6-7) walk to the altar from peer pressure or an emotional reaction to an eloquent altar call and mood music, but true repentance from God shows itself in genuine brokenness and turning to Christ for salvation.

Unconditional Election:

God chose the Elect before the beginning of time, based solely on His own will. The repentance and faith that they demonstrate in their lives is solely the result, not the cause, of God’s grace to them. He does not “look through the corridor of time” to know who will accept Christ, but instead gives faith as an unearned gift to Elect sinners who never could have deserved it.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. – John 6:44a

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide… — John 15:16a

For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will. — Eph. 1:4-5

To me this is the core point of the Reformed faith. Despite its prevalence throughout the Bible, it was difficult for me to drop the “corridor of time” interpretation I had heard for so many years. Not only did this idea seem “fair” to me – for people to live with the consequences of our free choices – it also had the subconscious benefit of keeping me in the key role of claiming my salvation.

Finally I determined to drop my preconceived ideas and study the passages on this topic directly, with no effort to “find the spin” which would enable alignment to my concept of fairness or how I thought God should be. I realized that true fairness from a just God would consign all people to Hell, and He tells us in the parable of the workers in the field (Matt.20:1-16) that it is His divine prerogative to save some, no matter how they have lived their lives. I realized that the “whosoever believes” passages (often used against Election) are teaching the same thing as all the Election passages, once I understood that we are all spiritually dead, and that these passages promise salvation to those who truly “believe”, not just “profess”. God must have brought spiritual life to anyone “whosoever believes”, meaning that they are Elect! I also realized that the “Christ came to save us all” statements are generally found within passages written directly to believers, not the lost…

The Bible does not say God “took note of us” or “rewarded the decision He knew we would make”. He chose us ahead of time (literally) due to nothing of our own merit.

Limited Atonement:

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the act of propitiation only for His Elect, which was finished in that moment. No part of His sacrifice was a “failed payment” for unregenerate sinners who would never repent or accept Him as savior.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 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 will snatch them out of my hand. — John 10:11,26-28

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. — Matt. 20:28

Arminian theology claims that Christ’s crucifixion made it possible for the entire world to be saved, BUT actually effected the salvation of no one (since they claim each person’s acceptance of Christ is a necessary critical contribution). I don’t understand the importance of enabling billions of “hypothetical” sacrifices which never came to fruition, due solely to choices of individual people – and more importantly, it makes little sense in light of the final words Christ uttered on the cross:

He said, “It is finished”, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. — John 19:30b

He did not say “It is begun. I’ve done my part, now I need believers to do their part for the next few millennia”. No, it was truly finished, which means that Christ’s sacrifice must have been paid for – and only for – His sheep whom He knew would be saved.

Irresistible Grace:

The Elect must come to salvation during their lifetime; God is sovereign and nothing can stop Him from fulfilling His will. Just as man’s free will cannot bring him, spiritually dead, to salvation, also no decision of one who is Elect can keep God’s will from bringing them into His kingdom.

You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. — John 10:26-27

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. — 2 Thess. 2:13

I would never have doubted as an Arminian that once God sets His will to complete something, nothing can stop Him; on the other hand I would not have agreed to this doctrine. The adjustment was to understand the Bible’s teaching about Unconditional Election (see above) – that in fact it is something God does set His will on, to choose whom to save – coupled with the fact that our own human free will is insufficient and spiritually dead without salvation. Once I understood that, it became clear that His grace to the Elect is irresistible.

Perseverance of the Saints:

All who are saved are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, not with perfect lives but being sanctified; convicted of their sins, but never condemned.

He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” — Matt.25:33-34

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. — Rom.11:29

I was taught in the Methodist church that one can lose their salvation; this is a required corollary of freewill Arminianism to explain false conversions (see above) in those who have made a profession of faith but who later fall away and bear no spiritual fruit. As proof for this view, Matt.6:15 is a major verse to which supporters point: “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This is actually a question I dealt with in joining the Baptist church even before taking up Reformed theology (mainstream Baptists generally believe in the perseverance of the saints). The issue hinges on how the different denominations consider that forgiveness is ever possible in the first place. Unlike Methodists, Baptists believe that true forgiveness is impossible except through Christ as believers. Therefore Matt.6:15 means that if you cannot bring yourself to forgive others, you may not be saved yourself, and your own sins may be unforgiven. In that light, the passage makes no mention of anyone losing their salvation.

Where I am and Where others are

This is how I understand the key points of the Reformed faith as it has been traditionally summarized in the TULIP points.

I have very close family and friends who cannot agree with the conclusions I summarized above, and I love them no less, no differently because of this fact. Along with all who are truly saved, I will see them in Heaven and have no worries about how they will live their lives due to this difference. Although I am happy to discuss these topics any time they ask, I have no compelling drive to “convert” them to Reformed faith. Why then is this issue so important to me?

..Because I owe it to God to understand His message and instruction as best I can, to find the most coherent and consistent understanding I can find of the most important book in the history of the world. And because at the same time, coming to my understanding of these doctrines changed me and my relationship with Christ, how I lead my family and love my wife. As always when trying to follow God’s will, obedience to Him has brought me innumerable blessings I never knew I was missing beforehand.

Although it is not (perhaps because it is not) a theological proof by any means, I pray that this humble summary may be of help and encouragement to some who read it.


From → Bible

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