Writings on Christianity

Reformed View of Salvation and Election (Tsouloufis)

My friend Dan Tsouloufis recently wrote a short essay explaining the Reformed (Calvinistic) understanding of salvation and election.  It’s really helpful, biblical, and balanced.  Definitely worth the ten minutes or so it takes to read it:

“I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the Reformed/Calvinist view of salvation, since in some circles it’s still deemed controversial, due to such characteristic doctrines as predestination, unconditional election, limited atonement, and so forth.  Additionally, due to its adherence to God’s sovereignty in all things, including in man’s salvation, this view is thought to violate man’s free will, as well as make God seem unfair or unjust.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s important to note that the Reformed view of salvation is a thoroughly biblical view that informs its theology, not the other way around.  There are those who claim that the Bible is used to fit into a “preconceived” Reformed theological framework, but I believe this is a gross misunderstanding of the Reformed tradition, which has always been guided by the principle of the authority of Scripture.

Therefore, what I’ve tried to do in this brief essay is provide a high level overview of the Reformed view of salvation, by highlighting the main themes that characterize this view.  I provided Scripture references where applicable, and at the end, I provided numerous Scripture passages for further study.  Also, I listed several book recommendations for additional study.

While the Reformed perspective does emphasize God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation, nowhere does God’s sovereignty mitigate man’s responsibility.  It is true that God is sovereign, and the Bible affirms this.  If God is not sovereign, then He would be less than God.  It is also true that man is free, albeit in a limited sense, and man is responsible for his actions.  The Bible affirms this too.  Man is truly guilty, in spite of the fact that God is sovereign.  Therein lies the mystery.  This mystery is difficult to reconcile philosophically within our limited, finite minds, but we believe it nonetheless, because it’s what the Bible teaches.

Nowhere does Calvin, nor any other major Reformed thinker, ascribe to man the status of a robot.  Nor, of course, does the Bible.  The Bible describes a holy God who is eternal, self-existent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present.  In other words: sovereign.  The Bible also describes man as flawed and sinful, yet man is responsible, and accountable, for his actions.

Regarding man’s salvation, it is all by God’s sovereign grace, from beginning to end.  Man in his natural, unregenerate state remains under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13) and under God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18, Eph. 2:3).  Man is spiritually dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1) and is in active rebellion against God (Col 1:21).  Therefore, man cannot choose God or the gospel of Christ; God must choose man (John 6:44, 65).  Hence, the Reformed doctrines of unconditional election and effectual calling, whereby man is elected, called, and regenerated by God’s efficacious grace through the work of the Holy Spirit, so that man will believe and choose the gospel of Christ.  Without rebirth, man has no desire for Christ.  Without a desire for Christ, man will not choose Christ.  Man will not seek God as He is (Rom. 3:11) apart from God’s special grace and divine calling.  Thus, the Holy Spirit must first awaken and illuminate the truth of Christ in man’s heart, in order for man’s desire to turn toward Christ.  Once this work of regeneration takes place, man will, by his own faith and volition, choose the gospel of Christ.  The guiding principle here is that regeneration “precedes” faith, since the sinner is passive in the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Spirit, man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14).

How God works His efficacious grace in man is a mystery, known ultimately only by God, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).  Certainly, the Bible gives us a road map; but how the Holy Spirit works, behind the scenes, is truly a mystery and a miracle of epic proportions.  Also, it is important to recognize that God is not obligated to give grace to anyone (Rom. 9:15, 11:35).  God gives grace to whom He wills (John 5:21, 6:39) for His glory and purpose (Rom. 8:28, 9:23).

Lastly, there’s an important point that needs to be made concerning the controversial nature of the doctrine of unconditional election (i.e. whether God “chooses” to elect some people and not others).  Many people think this doctrine makes God seem unfair or unjust, as well as violate man’s freedom to accept or reject the gospel.  While this is admittedly a very difficult doctrine to accept, even if we don’t accept it, the alternative isn’t much better.  If God doesn’t “choose” anyone, but He leaves it completely up to us to choose Him, the fact is, some people will still end up in Hell.  Thus, it begs the question, “If God knew beforehand I would not choose Him, and I end up in Hell, then why did He allow me to be born in the first place?”  You see, it doesn’t really let God off the hook.  One could ask, “Is that fair?  Is that just?”  So a third option is to consider a more “open” view of God, whereby God doesn’t always know in advance what events will take place until they occur, and thus He doesn’t know who will choose Him until they do.  While this option may let God “off the hook” so to speak, it completely undermines His sovereignty, plus it makes God contingent on His creation.  In my mind, any such view of God is not really God at all, and clearly the Bible does not portray this lesser view of God.  Therefore, we’re back to the age old dilemma of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and how this plays out.  The Bible asserts both of these realities, but it does not really reconcile them, at least not in a way that our finite minds will be satisfied.  However, we need to be reminded of the Doxology in Rom. 11:33-36 (below).

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.”

The following Scripture passages shed light on the Reformed view of salvation: John 6:37-39, John 6:44, John 6:65, John 10:27-29, John 15:16, John 17:2, John 17:9, Acts 13:48, Rom. 3:9-12, Rom. 8:28-30, Rom. 9:10-24, Rom. 11:33-36, 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:3-6, Eph 1:4-11, Eph 2:1-10,  Phil. 1:6, Col. 1:21, Col. 3:12, 1 Thess. 1:4, 2 Thess. 2:13-14, 2 Tim. 1:9, 2 Tim. 2:10, Titus 1:1-2, Titus 3:5, 1 Pet. 1:1-2, 1 Pet. 2:4-10, 2 Pet. 1:10.

To study this subject further, several good books I recommend are: “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul; “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility” by D.A. Carson; “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by J.I. Packer; and “Putting Amazing Back Into Grace” by Michael Scott Horton.  Also, the literary debate between Luther and Erasmus on the nature of man’s will, as discussed in Luther’s classic, “Bondage of the Will” is a must read.”

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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