What Calvinism SHOULD Produce

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When some people hear the word "Calvinism" they are immediately turned off. Others have no idea what it means. Calvinism is the most thorough, systemized representation of biblical doctrine. But how does that work out practically in the life of one of God's elect, adopted children? This article attempts to answer that question using the prophet Isaiah as our example.

Submitted: January 30, 2017

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Submitted: January 30, 2017

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by Dr. Jeff Hagan

Scripture: Isaiah Chapter 6

Introduction:

B. B. Warfield describes Calvinism as “that sight of the majesty of God that pervades all of life and all of experience.” Or, to put it bluntly, “God saves sinners.” Whenever doctrinal statements in Scripture are presented God wants us to understand them but He also wants us to know the effects of them on our personal lives. For instance, the profound doctrines found within chapters 1 -3 of the book of Ephesians are directly followed by how to apply those doctrines to life and experience in chapters 4 - 6. Not only are we to gain knowledge from Scripture, but our lives should be transformed by them as well.

So, what are the personal results, or implications, of Calvinism both in our personal lives and in our ministries? How is our personal life impacted as separate from our ministry, and in addition, how is our ministry impacted as separate from our personal lives.

Of course there is no way these can be totally and completely separated. One cannot fully isolate who you are from what you do. My goal here in separating them is simply to bring these principles into sharp focus. Let me also state that I have no intention of implying these two areas are set apart in fixed categories.

In defining Calvinism the renown B. B. Warfield used words strong in an experimental nature. He used “apprehension” and “realisation” which primarily relate to understanding, but they reach beyond that as well. When he uses words like “seen God,” “filled on the one hand with a sense of his own unworthiness,” “adoring wonder,” “thinking, feeling and willing,” he is using words related to experience.* What Warfield is really getting at is that no one is really a Calvinist, no one is truly biblical in their thinking of God, no one really lives the Doctrines of Grace , no one is truly evangelical until these concepts have been etched into every aspect of their experience.** “In other words, Warfield would say that an academic Calvinist is a misnomer, as much as to speak of ‘a living corpse’ is a misnomer. When the soul and the body are separate death has taken place, and Warfield would teach us that when the soul of Calvinistic thought is dead or absent, all that remains is a carcase, a stench in the nostrils of God, and so often a stench in the church when found in a minister.”***

Now, keeping all of this in mind, let's turn to Isaiah 6 and read it together.

Okay, so here we have a record showing how God created a true Calvinist, how God brought an individual to a real vision of the depth of the majesty of God so as to affect him in a way that his life would never be the same again. What was the first thing in this vision that kind of slapped Isaiah across the face? It was the sight of God as the high and lofty One, seated upon a magnificent throne, so that whatever else might be brought forth in the vision — the holiness of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness of God —it is radiating outward from a position of rulership and enthronement: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” This incredible display of the Lord as King produced several notable results in the life of Isaiah.

This incredible display of the Lord as King produced several notable results in the life of Isaiah.

The Results in the life of Isaiah:

First of all, it brought a “deep experimental acquaintance with his own sinfulness.”****

Woe is me! I am undone. I’ve been shocked. I’ve gone to pieces. I’ve fallen apart.” Let's take a minute and remember who exactly is saying this. This was the prophet Isaiah, from every thing we find in Scripture he is a holy man, a man of God. Even though, he had not yet seen the Lord in a way that shook him to his very core and revealed the inherent and thorough corruption of his own heart and life. This is how the “creation” of a true Calvinist starts. In addition, all indications show that those around him were also obedient and godly. However, when Isaiah was given a glimpse of the majesty of God it brought with it not only an insight into his own wretchedness, but also insight into the sinfulness of those around him, of those in his own generation.

Second, it brought an “experimental acquaintance with grace and forgiveness.”*****

As Isaiah feels how thoroughly unclean he is, the seraph takes a burning coal from the sacrificial altar, a coal which then becomes a symbol of the basis on which God forgives sinners. The coal is then touched to the lips of the prophet and an incredible message of grace follows, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” The word “forgiveness” from that point becomes recognized as the truly humbling, overpowering, captivating word that it is. Grace is appreciated so rarely today because the absolute majesty, complete sovereignty, and transcendent holiness of God are not recognized for what they are. We treat the distance between ourselves and God as though it's just a small mud puddle that needs to be stepped over. However, Isaiah saw it as an unbridgeable canyon, and when the Lord sovereignly extended a bridge of mercy across that canyon and touched him, he became a man who fervently lived in a way to honor that providential extension of grace.

Third, it tells us of a man who was “brought to utter resignation before God.”******

After having been cleansed, Isaiah then tells us, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Make note of the prophet’s reaction. After experiencing what he had just experienced, how could he not but reply, “Here am I.”? This was an instinctive reaction of a man who had seen the Lord and heard his voice. And then the Lord tests how deep Isaiah's confession is and we see in him an absolute surrender to not only the will of God but to His ways as well, regardless of how odd they seem. It is instantly made clear to Isaiah that, ironically, his ministry is going to be primarily one of judgment.

But does Isaiah try and back away? Do we see any hesitation or pause? No, we don't. He simply asks, “Lord, how long?” In other words, he obeys and trusts God in His plan and purpose. He resigns himself to God's will and ways.

A Calvinist is “born.”

The Doctrine of Salvation:

According to the Calvinist, sinful man is in need of not just some kind of assistance to save himself, but the absolute need for God to do the saving. The Calvinist believes that Jesus Christ has come not to nudge, suggest, hint at, or even help a person save themselves. Instead, Jesus has come to do the saving, to do so through the Holy Spirit prevailing in the act. This is at the root of the Calvinistic doctrine of salvation, also known in theological terms as “soteriology.” Now, if this is true, it should lead to at least two things in the life of the individual. Those two things are:

First, it should lead to an authentic and honest examination of oneself through Scripture.

Note that I did not say some kind of unbalanced or neurotic introspection. What I said was “authentic” and “honest” by way of “Scripture.” By this kind of self-examination I simply mean obedience to passages like 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” I'm referring to obedience regarding 2 Peter 1:10, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” and other similar New Testament instruction, “Let no man deceive himself”; “let no man deceive you”; “be not deceived;” etc. All I'm saying is we have a duty to Scripture.

The question to be asked at this point is, “Has God done a work in me?” The question is not, “Have I accepted Christ?” instead it is, “Has He accepted me?” The concern is not, “Have I found the Lord?” but, “Has the Lord found me?”

The life of one adopted by God, one who God did do a work in, one who Christ did accept, one who the Lord has found, will show evidence of this incredible relationship. They will produce the fruit of a Christian life. They will indeed perform “good works,” not because they save or keep us saved, but because Ephesians 4:1 tells us to live holy and without blemish. They will continue to produce fruit because Titus 2:14 tells us Christ gave himself for us and as a result we will be “zealous of good works.”

I am not presenting the above, nor the following, to illicit guilt, I just believe living obediently, striving for holiness, as Calvin taught it, has been put on a shelf and left there to gather dust as far as our current culture reflects. A common term among Calvinists is predestination. But to what end exactly have we been predestined? Romans 8:29 says, “Whom he foreknew he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.”So then, we must ask ourselves: “is God’s electing purpose being realized in me?”

He chose me in Christ that, being purchased in time and called in time, I might begin to be holy in time, and have that work perfected in eternity. The only assurance I have that I was purchased to be holy, and will be perfected in holiness, is that I am pursuing holiness here and now. Essentially holiness is conformity to the revealed will of God in thought, word and deed, through the power of the Holy Spirit and through union with Jesus Christ. Holiness, godliness, this is the evidence that his electing purpose has come to life and fruition and it finds its expression in obedience.”*******

Second, these doctrines will lead to the SANE biblical striving of practical godliness. I have come up with three things this should bring about:

1. A healthy distrust of oneself. If I realize and remember that the corruption that is still in me is like a pile of dried firewood soaked in lighter fluid and that each temptation I face is like a lit match , it's going to go a long way in helping prevent me from even toying with sin. Personally I came out of a bit of a legalistic, narrow minded background. It came complete with a checklist of do's and do not's, but then I discovered the truth of the freedom I have in Christ. But I dare not use my new found liberty as a license to sin. I recognize that I am free in Christ, but I also know I have a terrible propensity to evil within me, so I remain on guard and in prayer.

2. An attitude of prayer. Salvation belongs to the Lord. It his His work from the beginning to end? Since this is true he must help us, and his help is given to those who pray for it. He must “work in me to will and to do of his good pleasure,” and I need to ask him to do it. Scripture shows the incredible connection of those two things: “God’s covenant promise to do something sovereignly and powerfully, joined with his command to his people to ask him for the very thing he has pledged to do.”********

3. Faithful dependence on God to fulfill all things. When I sin, does God toss me aside? Of course not. Proverbs 24:16 tells us, “A just man falleth seven times and riseth up again.” My obedience is not the basis for my justification. I repeatedly need to come to the throne of Christ because of my lack of obedience. One does not “come to Christ” as some kind of final step. I fail to obey and therefore need to repeatedly “come to Christ,” not for salvation but for confession and strength.

Conclusion:

So what should Calvinism produce in one's life? What are the results in the life of a Calvinist? If they see God, it will break them; and if they understand that God saves sinners, it will make them a trusting, prayerful, alert person striving for a life of practical holiness. I am completely convinced that Calvinism best represents the systematic teaching of all of God's Word. May God reveal that truth to those who have yet to discover it, and may we live out our lives in a way that makes us eager to one day hear our Lord say to us, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.”

 

*Inspired by, and adapted from, Warfield, B.B., “Calvinism as Theologian and Calvinism Today.”

**Inspired by, and adapted from, Martin, Albert N., “The Practical Implications of Calvinism.”

***Martin, “The Practical Implications...”

****Ibid.

*****Ibid.

******Ibid.

*******Ibid.

********Ibid.


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