Coming to Grips with Calvinism, part 2: Transformational Truth
The last (and first!) entry ended with a plea to consider the claims of Calvinism for whatever biblical truth they may represent and expound. This next series of entries will examine (relatively briefly) the major theological claims of Calvinism and consider what these claims “look like” when they are lived out, i.e. truly believed.
But before we get to the particulars, let’s be reminded from Scripture of the nature of theological belief. I’m currently preaching through the book of James – talk about a book with a sanctifying sting! James continually puts before us the nature of true faith in Christ. True Christian belief is demonstrated by actions in accord with the doctrine believed. Anything less is self-deceit – 1:22.
For the Christian heart, to know who God is and what He has done in Christ is to act in accord with that truth. Thus, in Scripture, commands from God (the imperatives) always proceed from doctrinal statements about God (the indicatives). The indicatives often segue to the imperatives with the simple word “therefore.” Consider Romans 12:1 as a classic example. The command in 12:1 is based on all that precedes it in chapters 1-11. The indicatives imply and demand the imperatives. Biblical doctrine demands dutiful response to it, even when no specific command is given.
Think of it in these terms: Imagine a young boy running amuck at home – screaming, throwing things, locking a younger sibling in the pantry – that type of thing. Now imagine a frustrated mom finally catching her tornado of a child, placing her hands (gently) on his shoulders, looking deeply and intensely into his eyes and saying: “Your father is going to be home any minute.”
Mom needn’t say another word. She need not give her rampaging boy a list of what to do: “quiet down, pick up what you threw and let your sister out of the pantry!” The boy knows his dad – he knows what his dad likes and doesn’t like – and the thought of his dad’s immanent appearance moves him immediately to action. He knows what needs to be done simply by virtue of knowing his dad, and knowing his own behavior.
As Christians, we know our Heavenly Father through Christ – and what we know of Him moves our hearts to affection and our hands to action. My analogy obviously breaks down at several points. The boy should have obeyed his mother, and the change in behavior upon hearing of his dad’s return may not indicate a change of heart. But therein lay the beauty of the true knowledge of God in Christ. Biblical doctrine is transformational truth. When the Holy Spirit applies His Word to the hearts of those redeemed by Christ, when Christ’s sheep truly trust their Shepherd’s promises, their hearts are truly changed. 1 John 3:1-3 beautifully expresses this truth. As Christ’s sheep attain increasingly holy affections, they are moved inevitably to increasingly holy actions – and thus James’ essential burden in writing.
Now, how all of that applies to this blog:
Those who believe in the doctrines of grace ought to be increasingly gracious people. None of us is a finished product. We are all progressing, or rather, being progressed, in our becoming more like our gracious Savior. But there is an amplified responsibility for those who proclaim these doctrines with their mouths to own them in their hearts and show their validity in their lives. If Calvinism most faithfully grasps and articulates the fact that it is God who is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure, then we Calvinists ought to most faithfully dedicate ourselves to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We must do so not as a means of measuring ourselves against the doctrine and life of other Christian camps, but as a demonstration that we actually believe what we say we do, as a witness to the transformational nature of biblical truth.
Next, Lord willing, we’ll turn to the particular, defining emphases of Calvinism with a view toward living out the biblical truth expressed therein. Thank you for reading!