I, along with my co-pastor, are preaching through the Gospel of John. We’re about halfway done. The Fourth Gospel is not merely introductory material on the Christian life, but a deep, theological book that covers many weighty topics. I would argue that John’s Gospel is highly Calvinistic, especially in John chapter six and John chapter 10.
To my delight, I’ve received a few questions along the way about doctrines like election, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints. Below is a sample of some of those questions, along with my answers. The aim of my answers is to reflect accuracy, brevity, and simplicity.
Before I show you the questions and answers, let me give you one passage that has encouraged me over the years as I wrestled through, in particular, the doctrine of election: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25).
God is 100% just in all his actions. Even though I don’t always fully understand why he does what he does, I can go to bed at night without all my questions answered, and still have peace knowing that it is impossible for God to be unjust in any of his dealings with his creation.
A Mini Q&A on A Few Calvinistic Doctrines
So some had/have no chance at eternal salvation-completely out of their hands?
It’s true that one can come to faith in Christ only if God grants that person faith to believe. However, the Bible never blames God for who he chooses and who he doesn’t. Always the blame is on the person for not believing, not on God’s sovereign choice. God is never under obligation to be gracious (to quote a Shai Linne lyric). Grace is an undeserved gift. How one can come to faith only if God opens their eyes and how the blame is on people and not God, is a mystery that finite humans are not able to reconcile.
Are there ones God chose that don’t ever come to believe?
No. If God chooses someone, they will irreversibly come to faith in Christ at some point. It is impossible for one to be chosen and not come to faith in Christ.
What about the ones that walk away — were they really chosen?
I can’t say with full accuracy, since only God knows their hearts. For example, I know someone who made a profession of faith when they were a child. They walked away from God in high school and in college. And then after college — through a series of hardships (this is the way God often works to get someone’s attention), they came back, so to speak, into the fold. Now they are a vibrant follower of Jesus. They were saved the whole time. But if one is truly apart of God’s people, they may sin or stray, but he will always bring them back to himself.
What about those who make a profession of faith in Christ as a young kid but never seem to come back into the fold? Again, I can’t say with the utmost certainty since only God knows the human heart, but at this point, it seems best to infer that they were never truly saved in the first place, and we need to pray like crazy that God saves them.
Those who persevere until the end are saved. Those who don’t, aren’t. Since those whom God chose are in the metaphorical hands of Jesus (John 10:28), he will never let us go. Typically, theologians will provide something called “grounds for assurance,” which are signs that you are truly saved. Signs of genuine conversion are: a love for God and his people, a conviction when you sin, a desire to obey and please God, and — probably most prominently — a quiet, inward, and supernatural assurance from the Lord that you are a son or daughter of his (John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 1006).
This doesn’t mean that you’ll be perfect. We all stumble in many ways. This doesn’t mean your faith will be spotless. We may have some doubts from time to time. But it does mean that if you truly belong to Christ, he will ensure that you persevere until the end. As R.C. Sproul says: “We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because He holds tightly to us.”
Why would God condemn some? How can He be a loving God if He condemns some?
I guess we have to define what “love” means. When you use the word “loving,” which standards are you referring to — one’s subjective standards, how the world uses it, or how God uses it? How to answer this question will depend on what we mean by “loving.” It is true — gloriously true — that God is loving. God is love, but love is not God. Love is merely one attribute of God, but it’s not the only one. R.C. Sproul reminds us that the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy, but it never says that he is love, love, love. God is loving, but he is also a God who feels righteous anger toward sin, a God of wrath and justice.
Believe me — you don’t want a God who is loving but not just. He would be a whimsy, pathetic God who could do nothing about sins and injustice in the world. On the other side, you don’t want a God who is only just and wrathful. He would be terrifying. What we see in Scripture of God is this: he is 100% loving and gracious and merciful, but he is 100% a God of anger and justice and wrath. His character is perfect. So we must not take one of God’s attributes and pit them against the other. When we consider God’s character, we must consider all of his attributes collectively.
So how could God be loving if he condemns some to hell? By condemning (to use a term of your choice) to hell, God is not acting unjustly. He is exercising his wrath and justice against sin. Those are part of his attributes, too. He’s allowed to do that because he is God. God doesn’t owe anyone mercy.
Then are we all made in God’s image?
Yes. All humans — regardless if they have faith or not — are created in the image of God and should be treated with equal value, dignity, and respect. This is the chief distinction between human beings and animals as outlined in Genesis 1.
So does God not really love all creation?
I’m going to answer your question in a slightly different way then you asked it and say yes, God loves all of his creation, but not in the same way. He loves all people in a general way, but he loves his chosen people, all Christians, in a special way. Here’s a quick metaphor.
A married Christian man will love the women of his church in a general way. If a woman in his church goes to the hospital, he’s concerned for her. He may pray for her or visit her. When a woman is doing well, he is happy for her because he cares. But this man has a different, special, exclusive, loyal kind of love reserved for his wife only. In the same way, God loves all people in a general way, but he has a different, special, exclusive, loyal kind of love reserved for his people that secular people do not enjoy.
I know it’s not on our works or anything we’ve done, but if some don’t even get the chance, how is that in line with a loving God?
John Piper answers that question here:
I get that some would never choose to believe, but never to be given the opportunity, I don’t understand. Just really unsettles me.
God’s choice of who is saved doesn’t negate personal responsibility. All people everywhere in Scripture are commanded to repent from their sin and believe in Jesus — and that decision has real, eternal consequences. We have a responsibility to make a choice, but only those for whom God pursues and opens their eyes will decide to believe in Jesus. How those two go together is a mystery. There is a mysterious element to this that requires faith.
Doesn’t make me question my belief in God, makes me hope scholars have interpreted this wrong (on election).
There are some scholars who would align with saying that your salvation is totally up to you. However, I don’t think the biblical evidence aligns with this perspective.
My thought/hope has always been that God puts a yearning in all human hearts. That we all feel an emptiness or longing for something more that can only be filled by God. So how can a person who is not chosen be held to the personal responsibility part when it doesn’t even matter for them?
Amen. God has already put a yearning in all human hearts. Read Romans 1. It explains this in more detail. Essentially the argument is this: God reveals himself to all humans — every single person everywhere — through their conscience and through creation, among other ways. God has placed an inner sense in each person that says that he’s real, a small whisper, so to speak, that says, “I’m real. Repent before it’s too late.” Many ignore this internal sense. That’s why Paul says, “They are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
We must not portray those who are not believers as innocent. Like they are bummed to not be saved. When in reality, a bigger, more robust doctrine of sin would see it differently: that unbelievers are God-haters, who ignore the many ways in which God has revealed himself, and many of whom would rather spend an eternity in damnation than repent and believe in Jesus.
I don’t know how/why the individual is held responsible and not God. I don’t fully understand it. It’s a mystery to me. Ultimately, the more we see God’s holiness and how much he hates sin, the more we will understand why hell is real.
They are not going to heaven no matter what and it’s not because they chose not to believe, it’s because they weren’t chosen. So they don’t even have the spiritual capacity to believe because they aren’t chosen? Does that make sense?
Yes, it makes sense. Perhaps this C.S. Lewis quote, from The Great Divorce, will paint a clearer picture.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
We should not see unbelievers as innocent. They’re not. They know exactly what they’re doing in not repenting. God has clearly revealed himself to all people, and yet they blatantly ignore their conscience and creation. They do not repent because they don’t want to. They’d rather be a god than worship the true God. If Lewis is right, then hell is something unbelievers choose for themselves.