It’s all about control! Who is in control, that is.
A discussion concerning Reformed Faith and Calvinism stimulated me to put pen to paper about this (actually fingers to keyboard but it sounds so much less poetic).
Before we start let me point out that I am an unapologetic Calvinist. Not a hyper-Calvinist, mind you, just a plain old 5 point, TULIP sniffing believer. I might even be a 4.8 point guy according to Eric Svendsen but that does not affect the present discussion. Along with this position comes belief in the complete Sovereignty of God. Again, total Sovereignty, plain and simple. And the corollary of that Sovereignty is the conviction that God is in Sovereign control, not just in theory but in daily practice. (For those unfamiliar with these terms, here is a link to a primer on Calvinism).
In the above mentioned group discussion we were talking about the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. There were the usual arguments on both sides, and no real resolution, as is often the case. Later, I was musing about how unsatisfying I had found it, and why. Sure, we didn’t agree, and yes, I would like to be agreed with, but that wasn’t the whole story. There was something more fundamental that bothered me.
I realized that what bothered me was that all the difficulties that had been expressed with the Calvinist position implicitly reflected some level of rejection of the absolute Sovereignty of God.
There were great, sensible, laudible reasons that the Arminian position made sense from a human perspective, and it clearly made many things more practical on the surface. But that is totally irrelevant.
The absolute Sovereignty of God is not something of mere lip service. Either he is or he isn’t Sovereign. If he is, then the entire Arminian position on man’s will and its effects falls away. Man does not get to select or create any aspect of his position concerning salvation.
Any rejection of the absolute in absolute Sovereignty immediately begs the question of how much sovereignty and who has it. If man becomes an active agent for his salvation in any degree, then he is in effective control of the paradigm. That makes Natural man by implication a co-creator with God (of the future). As such he is then vested with some sovereignty. If God is a Sovereign God, that is utter nonsense.
To follow that thread just for a moment, man would be responsible for himself to at least some degree. Since the natural man by Scriptural definition in the realm of Satan and thereby predisposed to that paradigm, he is helpless to act outside of it and is incapable of motivating himself in the direction of salvation. He can not be other than who he is. If God is not the sole active agent and the requires man’s co-operation, then he can not and will not act in the direction of salvation. In today’s parlance, man is ‘toast’.
Further, even assuming that there was salvation by this means, then if it was up to the naturual man, with his wordly disposition, whether his salvation continued, his nature would cause him to fail in an instant. None of the saints would perservere.
I have no interest (nor the academic letters and apologetics expertise) in exhaustively expounding the Doctrines of Grace in this forum. My real interest is in the implied ‘control issue’ mentioned at the beginning.
As natural men (and women), we are bound into the paradigm of control. By that is meant assumed self-control and self-determination. This reflects the message of the natural, not the heavenly, realm into which we are born and is thus fundamentally Satanic in nature. Specifically, it assumes that man is under his own control, is able to pull himself up by his bootstraps as needed to accept salvation, and thereby by implication creates his own destiny in Heaven. This assumption is not usually stated this brazenly, but that is the heart of it. It may even be surrounded by niceties about looking to God, but the act and impetus of seeking and accepting salvation as an act of will is still being ascribed to man. As such, it vests the control (sovereignty) to man and not to the Sovereign control of the Lord.
The Sovereign control of God is absolute, or it isn’t sovereign. If even a bit is vested in man, then God is not in control any longer and the implications roll out quickly and widely into chaos and the future unkown.
God has unequivically stated in Scripture that He is absolutely sovereign, and acts at the pleasure of His will (alone). As such, everything is His, everything is controlled by Him and everything is at his disposal. No matter how it might appear from our myopic viewpoint, this means that we can only be called to Him by Him. There can be nothing of us in it in an independent sense, for it is against our nature and outside our sphere of ability as natural men. We are His, and He calls us to Himself, to glorify Himself. If we had an independent role, we would be glorified in the decision, and that is completely outside the stated purpose of creation. It was from the beginning for His glory.
It is always very seductive for natural man to want to give himself an edge in his destiny. It is part of our natural makeup. and is quite understandable. However, though the Father, our Lord, and the Scriptures speak volumes about the Sovereignty of God, they are complete silent on any sovereignty of man. It simply isn’t there, folks, except by interpretational implication – which is man made and even then appears to be a stretch.
This certainly won’t put the discussion to rest, but the helplessness of man and the resultant need that he be called by God into repentance and salvation, seems to me to flow directly from the absolute Sovereignty of God. He alone calls, He alone causes us to come since we are natural men and as such are totally unable to do so, and His sovereign decision can not be changed by us (nor by Him due to His nature as God).
So there you have it. TULIP, what flower could be sweeter…