This is part 2 of a series.
Part 1 :: Why I Am a Calvinist: Introduction
The beginning of any soteriology (doctrine of salvation) must necessarily begin with an understanding of the need to be saved. We must acknowledge that we are not born righteous or even spiritually neutral (Psalm 51:5). We are not born with any degree of goodness in us. We do not possess even the smallest potential for good. We are altogether unrighteous. So far, there should be no disagreement. If you do disagree, you are not an Arminian, or even a Christian. You might be a Pelagian.
From here, admitting that we are lost and in need of salvation, we must ask, what now? What can we do about it? And therein lies the disagreement. Calvinists answer, we can do nothing. Arminians say, we can do nothing but for the prevenient grace that God provides, which enables us to exercise our free will. Then we are either saved or not, depending upon our choice.
This is where, while I am most certainly not an Arminian, I am not quite a kosher Calvinist. I don‚Äôt believe our will is the problem at all. I do believe in the freedom of the will, but I believe our will is entirely irrelevant. The will is not an active force. It is simply what we want. And what we want is an outgrowth of who we are. Our problem is not what we want, but who we are. When who we are changes, what we want quite naturally follows. So I really think arguments concerning the freedom of the will are a waste of time.
Furthermore, salvation could never be based on our free choice because salvation is not based on something that can be chosen. All people can make all kinds of free choices. Unbelievers, as well as believers, can make free moral choices, and do all the time. An unbeliever can live a morally upright life, for all appearances above reproach. In fact, I doubt if anything is more pleasing to Satan than a self-righteous unbeliever freely choosing to do good. But those free choices are irrelevant, because ‚Äúby the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.‚Äù
Salvation is by grace, through faith, and that faith is a gift*. We can‚Äôt choose it, we can‚Äôt go get it. It comes to us as a gift, emphatically not because of anything we have done or chosen. By faith, we ‚Äúbelieve on the Lord Jesus Christ‚Äù and are saved. I have written elsewhere on the logical impossibility of choosing to believe anything, and I won‚Äôt go into that here. I will go through what it means to believe by faith, and the process of how we come to believe the Gospel.
To believe by faith does not mean that we take a blind leap. A ‚Äúleap of faith‚Äù is simply wishful thinking, wanting something to be true and really, really, really hoping it is, and hoping that somehow, if we hope hard enough, our wish will come true. That is not Biblical faith. To believe by faith is to believe because we trust the one who has given his word. ‚ÄúAbraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness‚Äù‚Äînot, ‚ÄúAbraham believed what God said,‚Äù but ‚ÄúAbraham believed God.‚Äù That is faith: believing what God said, not because we fully understand it, but because we trust him to tell the truth and keep his word. And that faith is a gift.
That is not to say that no understanding is required. God has revealed himself and his redemptive plan to so that we may understand. He has not simply told us, ‚ÄúTrust me, I‚Äôll save you.‚Äù He has told us how and what we are to believe. We must understand what God has done. We must understand that ‚Äúwhile we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.‚Äù This is where we run into our depravity, inability, or whatever term you prefer. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2 that ‚Äúthe natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.‚Äù So we blunder along through life until, at some point, whether it be as children through our parents, or in our old age through a neighbor or pastor or radio broadcast, or somewhere in between, we hear the Gospel. But we have a serious problem‚Äîwe don‚Äôt get it. It makes no sense. No matter how hard we try, we can‚Äôt understand. As unbelievers, we cannot respond to the general call of the Gospel, because we cannot understand it. It makes no sense to us. We cannot understand how utterly sinful we are, and that the ‚Äúgood‚Äù we see in ourselves is no good at all. We cannot understand that God‚Äôs perfect standard is so far out of our reach that we can never hope to attain it. We cannot understand that our sin carries the death penalty, and that that penalty must be paid. We cannot understand that the only way we can stand before God is to be perfectly righteous. We cannot understand that Christ has fulfilled all those requirements. And because we cannot understand, we cannot do the one thing we must do to be released from the penalty for our sin and receive the righteousness of Christ credited to our account‚Äîsimply believe it.
But that is only the passive reason why we cannot be saved. There is also an active reason. Not only are we intellectually dull and unable to understand, we are unwilling to accept the things of God. We are actively in rebellion against God. From the moment we are conceived we want what we want when we want it, and we don‚Äôt want to be told what to do. We hate God and his demands, and we will not submit to his rule‚Äîindeed, we cannot.
Paul goes on to say (2 Corinthians 2) that, while the natural man can‚Äôt understand the things of God, we who are spiritual‚Äîthose who have been born again‚Äîcan understand, because ‚Äúwe have the mind of Christ.‚Äù So how do we get from this state of spiritual stupidity and rebellion to a state in which we can believe? We must be born again. And just as we had no power to be born physically, we have no power to be born spiritually. Our life must be given to us. Just as there is no way we can assist in our own physical conception, there is no way we can assist in our own spiritual birth. In fact, it is worse than that. Unlike our physical birth, in which we were completely passive, we actively resist the spiritual birth.
Regeneration is not, in any way or at any stage, a cooperative effort between God and man. There is no synergy between us. We don‚Äôt understand our sinful condition. We don‚Äôt understand God‚Äôs holiness. We hate God. At best, we just don‚Äôt want to go to Hell, and we want to know what to do so that we do not go to Hell. We want that because we care about ourselves. We are selfish, and anything we do to achieve salvation is entirely selfish. We do not love God. We love ourselves, and we cannot and will not do anything to change that unless we first become who we are not‚Äîliving, spiritual beings with hearts of flesh. Only God can do that.
And that, in a nutshell, is human depravity.
Next :: Why I Am a Calvinist: Election
*Yes, faith is the gift. If you've been thinking grace is the gift, your understanding of English grammar is as bad as your exegesis.