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Questions on Calvinism
and Salvation

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's questions are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My responses are in red.


>Dear Gary, I recently read some chapters of your web site, and it raised in me many questions. The most important are predestination and God’s sovereignty, from an intellectual point of view. I submit you the questions. If you have time to answer, you are welcome.

1. How is it possible, from a rational point of view, to believe that Mankind merit damnation, because of Adam's Fall?<

Two explanations are possible here, or a combination thereof. First is what is know as the "Federal Headship" of Adam.

Theologian Millard J. Erickson explains the concept, "A reference to the view that when Adam sinned, he was acting as the representative of the human race; consequently, the whole race suffers the consequence of Adam’s first sin" (Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, p.56).

So Adam represented us in much the same way a representative represents his constituents in a representative democracy. Or, to put it another way, Adam did what we would have done if we were there.

The second explanation concerns original sin.

John Calvin explains:
... the Lord entrusted to Adam those gifts which he willed to be conferred upon human nature. Hence Adam, when he lost the gifts received, lost them not only for himself but for us all....

There is nothing absurd, then, in supposing that, when Adam was despoiled, human nature was left naked and destitute, or that when he was infected with sin, contagion crept into human nature....

Hence, as Augustine says, whether a man is a guilty unbeliever or an innocent believer, he begets not innocent but guilty children, for he begets them from a corrupted nature....

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" [Gal 5:19]. And that is what properly Paul calls sin" (Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, pp. 250,251).

Scripture references on the above points would be: Gen 3:1-20; 6:5; 8:21; Ps 51:5; 58:3; Jer 17:9; Rom 5:12-21; 1John 3:4.

So we are condemned before God because we inherit a sinful nature. And this sinful nature inevitable leads us to sin. Or, to put it simply, we sin because we are sinners (Rom 3:23).

>2. Why God should have made such a wrong creation, knowing its perverse effects?<

This difficult question would apply to any Christian viewpoint, not just Calvinism (unless one denies that God knows the future).

In any case, God created in order to glorify Himself (Ps 19:1). We may not be able to fully understand how an "evil" world can glorify God, but in the end it will. Furthermore, there is also much good in the world to praise God for now.

>3. If God created part of mankind to be saved, and some to be lost, why to create the lost part?<

Your question here reflects a "Supralapsarian" viewpoint; whereas, I and most Calvinists ascribe to a sublapsarian view. See my Correspondence on Calvinism for a discussion of these different Calvinist viewpoints. My comments there should answer your question.

>4. When a person realizes he is an elected one, he will never get lost. If so, which is the sign of election?<

Your first question is really not much different than the question of how can a person know that he is saved. So it is really not unique to the Calvinist view.

For me personally, I humbly believe that I am saved for three reasons that, for want of a better way of putting it, I will call the intellectual, emotional, and experiential.

Intellectually, I know that one is saved purely by the grace of God. A person who is in any way trusting in anything he has done for himself is not saved (John 6:28). Only the propitiation of Christ can save a person (Heb 2:17).

I believe that God has brought me to trust in Christ, and Him only, for my salvation. And God’s Word (which I believe to be true) promises that anyone trusting in Christ has eternal life (John 6:37-40). Or to put it another way, "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day" (2Tim 1:12).

Emotionally, there is the inner witness of the Spirit. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:16). I do not believe the "witness of the Spirit" that I have can be explained in purely psychological terms.

Experientially, I know how much God has changed my life, from the inside out. I am a totally different person today than I was ten years ago. Again, I do not believe the changes I have experienced can be explain psychologically: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2Cor 5:17).

Moreover, I know that in many ways God continues to lead me in my life: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom 8:14). If I sin, He leads me to repentance. So I cannot live or abide in sin (1John 3:9).

Furthermore, I know that God will not let me go. With the many problems I have experienced in my life (physical and otherwise), there have been many times when I felt like abandoning my Christian faith. But intellectually I cannot do so. I discuss this aspect in my article Value of an Intellectual Faith.

But also on an experiential level, there has always been an abiding sense that God would not let me go. I would always picture myself trying to leave; but eventually God would bring me back (John 10:26-30).

Now, I must emphasize that of the above, the first, the intellectual, is the most important. In fact, it under girds the other two. In other words, because I know for intellectual reasons that the Bible and the Christian faith are true, I can trust that what God has promised in His Word will come to pass. Moreover, it is from His Word that I can know that the emotional and experiential aspects are not purely psychological.

Similar to the above is an article I read recently in the first issue of the Journal of Christian Apologetics published by Michigan Theological Seminary.

In it is an article titled, "The Personal Testimony of the Holy Spirit to the Believer and Christian Apologetics" by Gary Habermas. I refer to one of Habermas’ books in my article "Has Christ in Fact Risen?"

Habermas relates how he went through a period of "intense doubting" of the Christian faith for a period of about ten years. He eventually came through this doubt when, "… the factual questions were finally assuaged only by the data" (p.51). More specifically, Habermas believes, among other things, "The cornerstone of salvation, the Gospel data, can be historically verified" (p.63).

The context of these statements is Harbermas’ discussion of the "testimony of the Spirit" to the believer that he is a child of God. But he is careful to point out that this "experience" is not the basis of salvation, but apologetics is.

Habermas also relates an interesting point that relates to my discussion above. He writes, "Long before I had ever studied the work of the Holy Spirit, and precisely during these times of doubt, I had often experienced what I could best describe alternately as an unusually potent restraint or a personal conviction concerning the truth of Christianity. Especially during the times of my most intense religious doubt, I had the distinct impression that I could not relinquish my Christian faith" (p.50).

He then proceeds to explain why he believes this "impression" can not be "explained in psychological terms" (p.63). So Habermas’ experience has been very similar to my own.

>5. Could he be confused about it?<

Again, your question here would relate to salvation in general, not just election. As my response above indicates, I do believe that it is "normal" for a Christian to have assurance of his salvation. But it is possible that a person has not been taught properly, or his emotional state is such that he does not recognize the witness and working of the Spirit in his life.

Biblical evidence that one can be saved without an assurance of it can be found in the first epistle of John. Near the end of the epistle, John writes, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God" (I John 5:13).

Since he was writing to Christians ("you who believe in the name of the Son of God"), John is apparently addressing those who were not sure of their salvation. So yes, it would appear that it is possible for someone to be saved (elect) yet be confused about it. Such a person will not experience the joy of his salvation; but he is salved nevertheless.

>6. Could someone realize he is elected to damnation, and be sorry of it?<

The example of Judas comes to mind here. The Bible does say Judas was "remorseful" and returned the money he was bribed with. But he then went and hung himself (Matt 27:3-5). So there is not indication he actually repented in the full sense of the term as Peter did (Matt 26:75).

However, Judas would be an unique case. In general I would say that someone who is not-elected to salvation (which is how it would be put in the sublapsarian, Calvinist view) would not be caring about such matters in the first place.

It would be possible that a person might use his claim of being non-elect as an "excuse" to be depressed, suicidal, or most likely, to continue in sin. But I don’t think that would qualify as someone who is "sorry" for his non-elect status.

In other words, if he was truly "sorry" for being non-elect, then he would be on the road to repentance, which would be evidence that he just might be elect. Judas was apparently not on this road.

So, in general, I would say that a person in rebellion against God (as we all are until God regenerates us) would not want to seek God; so he would not be "sorry" for not being able to find Him (Rom 3:3:11,18).

>7. Why Calvin put so much emphasis on Man lackiness? If we are God's creatures, we are not totally wrong (if we don't choose voluntary to do wrong), even after Adam's Fall. Surely if we compare ourselves with God we are nothing, but we don't have to make this absurd comparison. And our aim is to go toward God, as Jesus shows us, without too much fear.<

You may consider it an "absurd comparison" to compare ourselves to God, but God does not:

Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev 19:2).

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48).

... but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy" (1Peter 1:15-16).

As for man’s "lackiness" as you put it, Calvin put such an emphasis on it because the Bible does. Numerous verses in the Bible declare the sinfulness of mankind. See, for instance: 1Ki 8:46; Ps 53:2,3; 130:3,4; 143:2; Pr 20:9; Eccl 7:20; Isa 53:6; 64:6; Rom 3:10-18,23; Gal 3:22; Jam 3:2; 1John 1:8-10.

You are right that we are not totally wrong; but we are not totally right either. And God does demand perfection. One sin separates us from Him: "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).

No matter how righteous we think are, when we come into the presence of God in our own "righteousness" we will be forced to cry out, So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isa 6:5).

The sixth chapter of Isaiah had a great effect one me. It was one the passages of Scriptures that God used to led me to realize the futility of trusting in one’s own works for salvation. Hence why the first sermon I preached was based on this passage. For a transcript of the sermon, see Is Your God the God of Isaiah?

Bottom line, yes we do have reason to fear if we are trying to come to God in our own works. I am currently reading a very good commentary on Leviticus by Andrew Bonar. In it, Bonar explains very well how the entire Levitical system of sacrifices were designed to show the Israelites the absolute holiness of God and the futility of approaching God in our own way. The dramatic deaths of Nadab and Abihu demonstrated these points (Lev 10:1).

And less you think this was just an Old Testament incident that has little relevance for us today, remember that a similar incident was repeated in the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by God for simply telling a lie (Acts 5:1-11).

So yes God does demand perfection. A simple little lie can bring down His wrath. A since we are all sinners by nature, we will all "voluntary" choose to sin. So we need to trust in Christ’s sacrifice alone for our salvation.

The writer to the Hebrews sums up the situation well:

For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 10:30-31; 12:29).

Lastly, less you think that all the above sounds a little "harsh" - it is only once one understands the holiness, righteousness, and wrath of God, that one can truly understand God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. The person who knows that he deserves damnation is the one who can truly glorify God for the salvation He provides:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.... O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:18-19,24-25).

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Rom 5:8-9).

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1John 4:10).

>Happy 1998
Paolo<

Happy 1998 to you also. I hope the above is helpful.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site in January 1998.

Calvinism - Eternal Security and Salvation
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