Doctrines of Grace
Let me begin by saying that the human soul has an infinite value. This is why Jesus posed the question in Mark 8, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” And so, when we look at the salvation of the human soul, it is also of infinite worth. Said a different way, if you are worried about your next paycheck and how you will pay your bills, you are normal. If you are thinking about saving for the future to maybe buy a car or house, then you are still normal. If you are thinking about retirement and the long-term future, you are more abnormal. And if you are thinking about your eternal future, then you are a rarity. Most people do not allow their minds to dwell on what happens after they die. They will deal with that someday–when they are older and settled down, they will deal with those more serious things.
But it is foolishness to not consider your eternal soul. Because a miscalculation here does not mean that a check bounces or carrying a balance on your credit card, it means that you come short of Heaven. It is your eternal destiny and it is a big deal. And I want you to consider your eternity tonight–to look at your undying, immortal soul and to consider what salvation is.
And so, this week and next, we are going to dive deep into the Scriptures, deep into theology and deep into our salvation. In the next two weeks, we will answer the following questions. Is God sovereign over man’s salvation? Does God’s sovereignty cancel out man’s responsibility? Does man choose God? Does man have free will? For whom did Christ die–for everybody or for a select few? Can you lose your salvation?
I have titled this message, “Grace Changes Everything”–and our theme is the doctrines of grace, that is the sovereignty of God in salvation, or the issue of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Tonight, we will enter into a debate that has raged since the Early Church Fathers and is still alive and well today. Let me define these two systems of theology. Buckle up.
On the one hand, you have Arminian doctrine, named for Jacob Arminius, which extols the value of man’s choice. It teaches that man is sinful and needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ which has been offered to all men freely. As an autonomous being who has free will, man has the choice to accept or reject the offer of salvation. Those who accept in faith are elected based on their faith and choice of Christ. This is called conditional election. God knew beforehand what man would do and so He elected those. A person that chooses Christ will be secure in Christ, so long as they remain in Christ. But if they turn from Christ, they may in fact lose their salvation.
On the other hand, there is Calvinism named after John Calvin, which extols the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners and broken down into five points–total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. It states that man is inherently sinful and that on his own he will never choose God.
It turns to unconditional election, also called predestination, which teaches God has elected or chosen certain sinners for salvation not based their actions, but on His gracious choice, who He then called in time through the Gospel message. It highlights a limited atonement–that Christ died only for the elect . And that once a person is saved, they will never forfeit or lose their salvation–once saved always saved. Now these two positions square against each other and we want to look at the Scripture to see what it says.
Listed at the bottom of your notes are also a few useful resources–Curt Daniels Systematic Calvinism, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by Packer, and Doctrines of Grace messages by John MacArthur.
The Bible is our authority–we must come to the Scripture and leave behind our preconceived notions. We cannot carry over our biases or traditions or who we think God is, based on our feelings or presuppositions. We look to the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible, inerrant and sufficient Word of God. All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7). The Bible is full of, “Thus saith the Lord“–these are authoritative statements from our ultimate guide and authority. And so when we come to this type of difficult doctrine, we cannot say, “I don’t believe that,” or “that must be wrong,” or “I’ll just ignore that part of Scripture because it’s too difficult.” That is the wrong response. John MacArthur says, “If you have a Bible and you believe it, then you have no choice.”
Theological systems ultimately fall short. We do our best humanly to put doctrines into categories and to organize them systematically. This is an effective way of helping us to wrap our mind around certain truths. For example, theology proper is the study of God Himself. Christology is the study of Jesus Christ. Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiology is the study of the Church. Glutenology is the study of wheat and all of the delights of bread. And so on–these are systematic theologies.
But when we try to take the infinite mind of God, coupled with His limitless love in redeeming sinners, and try to condense it down to five simple truths with no overlap and no issues, you know there are going to be problems. And so while the monikers can be helpful–“I am a Calvinist . . . I am reformed . . . I believe in the doctrines of grace.” We get an idea of where a person stands, and that is good–but ultimately I don’t want to be known as a Calvinist, I want to be known as a biblicist.
When asked, “How much should a preacher know and read Scripture?” Charles Spurgeon answered saying, “Cut him anywhere and you will find that his blood is Bibline–the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He can’t speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” And certainly that is how it should be for all of us, yes?
Do not resolve Biblical tensions, let them lie. The Bible is filled with paradoxes and seeming contradictions. Here is just one example. The trinity is three-in-one–explain that. Sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that the Bible is written by God Himself and there are some aspects of it that we will never understand.
Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are as high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? (Job 11:7 to 8). But even still, we are to be like the noble Bereans, who Acts 17:11 says, “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” And when we get to the edge of the Scripture and our understanding fails, then we are to remember Deuteronomy 29:29, “The deep things belong to the Lord.”
One caveat–don’t punt the ball too early. Too many see these truths as too deep and they don’t want to buckle down and work them through. Instead they give up–its like punting on second down. We need to wrestle over these truths and seek to understand all that God has for us. Having said all of these things, lets dive in.
- Who is in control of your salvation?
The answer quite simply is God. God is in control of your salvation in the same way that He is in control of all things. And this is where we must begin as we explore this topic, with God Himself. To say it quite simply, God is God. He has always been and will always be exactly that–God (Curt Daniels).
Open your Bibles to Genesis 1:1 and let us set our eyes on God. This verse says, “In the beginning, God“–He was there before the universe. In fact, He has always been. He was all there was. He is the uncreated One. Before man, or animals, or stars, or devils, or anything else–there was God, the self-existent Trinity. Deuteronomy 33:27 says that He is the eternal God, and according to Revelation 1:8, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
He is the Creator, and Colossians 1:17 says that “in Him all things hold together.” He is self-sufficient, all powerful, depending on nobody for the origin of His existence, the sustaining of His being, or of His future essence. He said to Moses simply, “I AM that I AM,” in Exodus 3:14.
He is transcendent–that is, far above all things. Isaiah 6:3 says that He is “lofty and exalted.” He is in fact infinitely above His creation, and is fundamentally very different from us–which is why the psalmist says, “You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21). But God is unlike His creation. In Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
He has all knowledge, which is to say that He never acquires new information, nor does He ever make a mistake. He is perfect in all His ways. In addition, He is completely independent of any outside forces. Said a different way, He is totally free to do whatever He chooses to do, simply because He so chooses. Ephesians 1:1 says that He “works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
AW Pink said it this way, “God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, and always as He pleases.” The psalmist says, “Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). He acts according to His own pleasure. He needs no permission, nor does He seek approval for what He does–which is why Isaiah asked, “Who has been His counselor?” (Isaiah 40:13). The answer? No one.
All of this leads to the pinnacle of these attributes–the sovereignty of God, or the godness of God. Simply put, God is King. He was King before creation, and now He is King over all that exists. Psalm 103:19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.” Or put simply in Revelation 19:6, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!”
His is a divine monarchy. As King, He rules over His creation, exercising His will and accomplishing His purposes, and none can stay His hand. He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords and He reigns supreme. And while this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on the infinite nature of the sovereignty of God, it is enough for us to answer the question that we posed a few minutes ago.
Who is really in control of your salvation? And the answer is–God. God is. This is unmistakable and unarguable from Scripture. As the one who controls all things, God is ultimately responsible for the salvation of sinners. And so we set the table with this knowledge–a high view of God, the sovereignty of God in all things. All else flows from this.
One of the struggles that immediately comes out of this doctrine is that of human responsibility. If God is sovereign, is man still responsible? Or said another way, does man really have free will? Can man choose God on His own?
- If God is sovereign, is man still responsible?
Harmonizing human responsibility with divine sovereignty is one of the greatest puzzles in theology. Many deny one or the other, and some deny both. But we are not able to do this and still hold to the Scriptures.
Human responsibility is the aspect of human personality called the will. It is the idea that man is accountable to a greater law. It implies that there is a certain morality to live by. This moral code is based on the character of God Himself and has been clearly laid out in the revealed will of God in His Word.
Human responsibility implies that man has a choice between two or more options. Some would argue that man’s will can be neutral, somewhere in the middle of right and wrong–but this is not what the Bible says. It is clear that there are two choices, two roads, two masters, and two destinations. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me,” in Matthew 12:30. And He also said, “No man can serve two masters,” in Matthew 6:24. It is one or the other–never neither and never both.
So is man responsible? The answer according to the Scriptures is yes. Turn to Genesis 2:15 to 17, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
This is human responsibility–the outcome of your life is directly related to the choices you make. They chose disobedience, and the result according to this verse was what? Death–immediate spiritual death. The relationship with God was severed violently and permanently. And death was woven into their physical bodies as well–to dust they would return.
I don’t want to belabor this point, but you will see in Genesis 4 that Cain’s murder of Abel brought the judgment of God. God held him responsible as a direct result of his actions. Genesis 6 and the flood–“the intent of man’s heart was only evil continually,” so God decided to blot out man from the face of the earth. God’s judgment was a direct result of the actions of man.
We could go on like this throughout the entire Bible, but let me direct you to a passage that makes man’s responsibility clear. Turn to John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Or we can look at Revelation 20:12, “The dead were judged…according to their deeds.”
Is man responsible? Yes. Every person is accountable to the moral standard set down by the Creator. Each has the choice to obey or disobey. And God has set aside a day of reckoning to judge every person based on their life. Said a different way, people go to Hell because they are sinners and have chosen to reject God. John 3:18, “He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
And this is the point where many people go off the rails. If God is truly sovereign as we saw in point 1, then how can man be responsible? If God causes the sun to rise and set and determines the length of each man’s days and has orchestrated even the finest details of our lives, then how can man be held eternally responsible? Or said a different way, is it fair for a sovereign God to judge those who reject Him? This is a fair question and one that must be wrestled with.
Ultimately, these are two sides of the same proverbial coin–these truths are complimentary, not contradictory. When asked how he reconciled the two, CH Spurgeon said, “I never try to reconcile friends.” Truthfully, the answer is out of our understanding and above our ability to comprehend, but where the Scripture presents us with tension, we must allow that tension to exist and not try to explain it away. And the Scripture presents us with both of these as viable parts of life. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12 to 13).
- Can Man Choose God?
This is our next question. If man is responsible for his actions, then no problem. Some people choose God and some don’t–right? You put the Bible in front of some people and they choose to believe it, and you put it in front of others and they choose to reject it. It seems pretty straightforward.
But to assume that the will is self-determining is a mistake. This is not what the Bible teaches. And this is not what is in the heart of man. We have already seen that man’s will is not neutral. Remember? He who is not with Me is against Me. And now we need to recognize that not only is the will not neutral, but it is also not self-determining. What do I mean by that? The will is not independent. It is not ultimately free.
We like to think of ourselves as being in total control of our lives and having the autonomy to live as we desire, according to the freedom of our will. This is one of the greatest perceived rights that man believes he has. It has often been referred to as “free will”–it is the ability to choose. But the will is not independent. It does not exist as a self-determining entity. It is acted upon by something inside of us.
Our nature affects our will. So a good nature will produce a good will and a good will produces good works. A bad nature will produce a bad will which will produce bad works. Isn’t this what Jesus said in Matthew 7:17? “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”
And most people have no problem with this. Good people go to Heaven and bad people don’t. This is part of the underlying belief that man is inherently good. He is upright, moral, and kind. Of course there are always a few “bad seeds” like the guy who shoots up a school or the ruling class of Nazi Germany. In short, man is good.
When you are sharing your faith and you ask people if they are going to Heaven when they die, what do they say? “Yes”–100% say, “Yes.” What about when you ask them why? Most people believe that they have lived good enough lives that when they die, God will overlook the bad and they will go to Heaven. In a recent poll, people were asked, “If the world was split in two halves based on how good they are, would you put yourself in the top or bottom 50%?” 98% of those polled said they were in the top 50%.
Overall then, people live good lives because what is in them is good, thus telling us that their very nature is also good. But my friends, this is not what the Bible tells us. It does not record a story of the goodness of man and his many virtues that make him worthy of entering into the holy presence of God by his own merit. No–from the very first pages in the garden where our first parents sinned, to the very final pages of rebellion at the apocalypse, man is shown to be a cunning, deceitful, wicked, disobedient, arrogant, hater of God.
Scripture does not recount for us stories of men who are good, but rather it tells of a God who is good and who forebears a sinful and rebellious creation. Said a different way, man’s nature is flawed, damaged, broken, defective, fallen. He is not by nature good. He does not by nature choose good things. He is–we are by nature sinful. This sin nature has been passed on to each of us as sons and daughters of Adam.
There is not a single part of man that has not been fatally infected by sin. Sin affects our bodies–illness, disease, weakness, and death. Sin affects our emotions, feelings, and affections. Second Thessalonians 2:12 says that we take pleasure in our wickedness. It also impacts our desires–“worldly lusts” in Titus 2:12, “fleshly lusts” in 1 Pet 2:12, “ungodly lusts” in Jude 18.
Sin affects our minds. Titus 1:5 says, “Even their mind and conscience is defiled.” The very thoughts of man are controlled by sin–he cannot understand spiritual truth. First Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” And 2 Corinthians 4:4 takes it a step farther–it says that our minds are blinded and therefore man is unwittingly deceived. He lies to himself and believes his own lies. The “heart is deceitful above all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) and, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).
Sin affects our conscience and our will. He is stubborn (Psalm 78:8), stiffnecked (Acts 7:51), and his heart is as hard as a rock (Ezekiel 11:19). To sum this up, every part of man has been affected by sin. He is sinful in his nature and he is sinful in his heart. Paul said it this way in Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me.”
Or even more indicting is Romans 3:10 to 12–notice the use of the word none. “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” Let me ask a question–is man generally good? The answer is clearly no. But it is worse than even this.
Turn to Ephesians 2:1 which reveals to us how desperate our state really is. “And you were dead“–this is a big deal. “You were dead”–lifeless, a corpse, completely and totally unable to respond, with no ability to do anything. If you have been to a funeral lately, or seen a dead person, you know they don’t do anything. They have no power to respond.
I sell medical equipment, etc., which takes me to the OR nearly every day. Recently I was at Kaiser, coming out of surgery. Across the hall there was a man on a gurney–they were pumping him full of medicines. They were shocking his heart. They were giving him CPR. They were telling him to live. “Get up. Breathe. Fight.” The family is in the hallway begging, “Please don’t go. Come back to us. Live. Respond. Do something.” But all he did was lay there–unresponsive. He had no power to do anything at all.
Look back at the verse, “in your trespasses and sins, dead in sin.” Since Adam, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. and the wages of sin, the payment for sin, is death–Romans 6:13. You aren’t dead by some freak accident or a rare disease. You are dead, just like every other human being who has ever lived. If we put the right type of lenses on, we would see that this world is full of the living dead–physically alive, but spiritually dead.
Verse 2, “In which you formerly walked according to the course of this world.” According to 1 John 2:15, you love the world and the sins of the world. “According to the prince of the power of the air,” that is Satan himself–“of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” You are under his jurisdiction.
John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” That is the situation. We do not belong to God or respond to Him, we belong to Satan and respond to our sin.
Verse 3, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” You engaged in all the sin and lust and desires of the world. It even says here, indulging in it. My two girls and I made lava cake–it looks like a little cupcake, but when you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the top, the inner molten chocolate lava comes pouring out the sides. And I sat there eating this rich Godiva lava cake, and just delighted in it, reveling in it, savoring it, and even relishing it.
So man is with his sin–indulging in all that the world has to offer. Verse 3, “and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Not children of God, children of wrath–under the wrath and judgment of God. Man’s basic problem is not a lack of self esteem or a lack of chi, or that he is out of balance with God. He doesn’t just need to say a few prayers and clean up his act a bit and do a few good deeds to get right with the big guy upstairs. He doesn’t need a sex change operation or therapy to get rid of his repressed memories. He isn’t a victim of circumstances out of his control.
Man’s problem is he is absolutely dead, and he is incapable of relating to God. As a dead man, he has no ability to respond to the commands of God. There is nothing he can do to raise himself up to God. He is dead. So back to our question, can man choose God? The answer is no–man will never choose God. He has no ability to do so.
Does man have free will? Does he? The answer is no. He forfeited that in the garden a long time ago when he chose sin. According to Martin Luther, he described it by calling it the bondage of the will. Jesus said it differently in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
“We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise himself from the dead” (RC Sproul). Each person is totally without hope (Ephesians 2:12), without strength to obey (Romans 5:6), and without excuse (Romans 2:1).
Please excuse me if you think I am belaboring the point, but this concept is replete in the Scriptures and is so important to understand. Man cannot choose God. And while the Gospel commands dead men to rise, dead men to believe, dead men to understand, dead men to repent–the Gospel commands dead people to do what they frankly cannot do.
Listen, it is not until verse 4 comes in–and it is the sweetest thing. It is the best news. Ephesians 2:4 and 5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.” This is it. God had to do it. God had to come down and give life. He had to open the eyes of the sinners. Such good news, God had to do it. Wow–that is amazing!
And so, when we contemplate our salvation and we think, “Oh, I wasn’t really that bad. My sin wasn’t as bad as it could have been”–no. We were so desperate, flawed, enslaved, and dead in our sin that we could do nothing about it. “But God.”
And if I can just close by saying, this is what is so amazing about what Jesus did. As a man, He was confronted with the same opportunities to sin, the same temptations, the same weaknesses, the same human desires, and yet He never sinned. He lived in obedience. Where we failed, He succeeded. Where we fell short, He was perfect. This is why He is described as the perfect sacrifice, as the righteous one, as the spotless Lamb. He was given on our behalf. He died the death that we deserve. And in His death and resurrection, we have life. And we will forever thank and praise Him for what He has done for us in the work of Christ by accomplishing our salvation.
But there is far more, and we are out of time. The next question is–if we cannot choose God, then did God choose us? And the answer is, yes–and that is the topic of election. Then did Jesus die for everyone, or just those He chose? Then if Jesus chooses someone, can they resist His salvation? And finally, can a person lose their salvation? All of these questions next week. Let’s pray.