Illogical as it may sound, I believe it is biblical to say that God has chosen some, not all, to eternal life (Acts 13:49 et al.) Paradoxically, and at the very same time, there is not one word of scripture that says that the other side of this affirmation has got to be that He has elected all the rest to hell. That is a human deduction. It is not the product of divine revelation. I realize it’s attractive and may seem logically unavoidable, but it’s not ‘revealed’ truth! It is this logic that makes Calvinism sound so monstrous, but it is just that, logic. It is not the view of most historic Calvinists.
Damnation is self imposed. Salvation happens when the Spirit quickens the dead (Eph 2:1). God is not responsible for the death of the wicked and has no pleasure in it. He does, however, take the highest pleasure in bringing many foreknown sons safely home to glory. I don’t understand it. I don’t have to. It is sufficient that Scripture plainly affirms it. I still find great simplicity in Spurgeon’s helpful truism: “Salvation is all of grace, but damnation is all of sin.” One thing is certain: There is nothing in one that makes him to differ from another that is not altogether the grace of God (1Cor 4:7), else he would have whereof to glory (Ro 4:2).
I agree that if our assurance is based on our obedience as the test of whether we’re among the elect, it can produce uncertainty when we stumble, especially the fruits that give evidence of true salvation seem lacking. But is this only a problem with Calvinists? Wouldn’t most Arminians agree that one lacking the fruits and traits of “things that accompany salvation,” are called upon in scripture to examine themselves, and to take care to make their calling and election sure? (2Cor 13:5; Heb 6:9; 2Pet 1:10)
Many Christian cults claim a new start with forgiveness and hold hope of renewed forgiveness for future sins, but we also see that this is not always proof of true regeneration. Manifestly, not everyone that claims some experience of forgiveness has been born again. Either that, or some would explain that they have lost their salvation, which opens yet another can of worms.
Who will not agree that true regeneration is a straight gate that comparatively few will ever find, while many will say “Lord, Lord” in confidence that their works gave decisive evidence of a regeneration they only presumed to have? In all the works oriented gospels out there, there is great emphasis on grace, but only as it is proven by works of obedience. Grace is made little more than divine enablement to keep the law. This is surely the cart before the horse. It is the Galatian heresy. It is not that true faith does not produce living works; but the cart tends to get put before horse when works are made the evidence of grace. This is affirmed by evangelicals, but also a number of cults would say the same thing. The question is works of what kind? Baptism? Sabbath keeping? No, a person still in the flesh can do many works but none of this is proof of salvation. Rather, when we are fully satisfied with the only sacrifice that can satisfy the holiness of God and the law (Isa 53:11), so that Christ alone is all our righteousness, quite apart from any righteousness of our own, then the joy and sweetness of that glorious assurance cannot but show itself in works of a new and living kind, flowing from a heart of love that has been changed and set free (Jn 7:38).
When works, even works of verification, become the focus rather than Christ’s finished work, then the cart gets put before the horse. It is a deception to make certain works the proof of salvation when only Christ is the proof of any works. Make Christ sure to the heart by faith, and the right kind of works will follow. When the heart is established on the all sufficiency of His righteousness, imputed and sure, works of a new and living kind, the true fruits of the Spirit are guaranteed to become manifest in some real measure (Mt 13:8). Albeit, not without weakness, failure, and the necessity of purging and ongoing chastisement and purification.
This brings us to the question of simple believing without works as the fountainhead of salvation and every blessing. Such believing is more than mental consent, it is a work of God (Jn 6:29). Let us say we make our choice. Let us say we believe and even believe only, putting no trust in our works, not even in any personal virtue such as human sincerity or any such thing. Let us say we are careful not to measure the evidence of our salvation by outward works, but then life goes on and on some more, and the signs of real life never seem to appear, in fact, just the opposite. What then?
Will the scripture support a claim to salvation that is completely devoid of evidence? What of James’s insistence that a living faith will produce living works? What of the Lord’s statement that the seed that takes deep root will certainly and invariably produce some real measure of fruit, whether it be 30, 60, or an hundred fold? What of John’s insistence that those applying for baptism first show fruits / evidence of true repentance, and what of Jesus’s dictum that if one were truly a child of Abraham, he would do the works of Abraham? Certainly these are not the works of the law (within the power of unaided flesh), but living works wrought by the power of the Spirit through faith. The Pharisees were incapable of these kinds of “works” apart from the new birth.
So the question of evidence by which one may take the greater assurance that his experience of divine forgiveness was truly transforming, truly regenerative, and not merely a passing relief from guilt (as claimed by so many), would seem to be the question of evidence. What kind of evidence should count that one is indeed a new creation? Or should evidence have anything to do with it? In view of quite a number of plain scriptures that warn of the absence of evidence, I have trouble when anti-Lordship salvation advocates say no.
The question is not whether one is helpless to know if they are among the elect, but whether one can be sure that they are regenerate. This is not only a Calvinist problem; Arminians also struggle with that question in times of failure and doubt. It is, of course, easier for the Arminian who can always simply be restored, which they prefer to the notion of getting ‘saved again.’ For the Calvinist, the question is even more terrifying. Since he believes that true regeneration is irreversible, a lapse, particularly a recurring lapse that seems incompatible with true salvation, raises the specter of what if I was never really saved in the first place? If not, what will it take to be sure that I am saved? Have I ever really laid hold of Christ, and if I have, how could I have fallen this far?
If I have not yet sufficiently trusted so as to be secure of my eternal destiny, how will I ever know? Must I wait till my works are well in order before I can take comfort that I’m saved? Must I come to a place of faith that is beyond doubt? And so on the questions go. Besides, who will not agree that the scripture is not silent about the marks of true salvation and the marks of its absence? Doesn’t scripture teach that the faith that receives the seal of the Holy Spirit guarantees a new heart that shows itself in new impulses, a love for righteousness and new hatred of sin, the love of the brethren and so on? These realities have tangible evidence of love and good works, do they not? Only such evidence of a heart set free will ever move the unsaved to emulation, but how will we move the unsaved to emulation if we are struggling with the question of assurance ourselves?
Where these fruits of the Spirit are lacking, particularly when they are completely absent, or where “works that deny Him” (Tit 1:16) persist unchecked and undisciplined, is this not due cause to question ones standing in grace? (Heb 12:8) The question is not whether one is elect, but whether one is regenerate, because all who are regenerate are certainly the elect. The Calvinist suffers from the further disadvantage of believing that a mere decision of the will does not always guarantee regeneration. The evidence is against it, as seen all throughout the mixed multitude that makes up most of world Christendom. We have seen untold numbers of professions that show no fruits of repentance at all, let alone lasting change. This brings questions about the true nature of regeneration, as something more rare than many suspect. Even if Edwards and the early New Englanders seem too severe in their guarded care to “look diligently lest anyone fail of the grace of God,” we should sympathize with their effort to raise a standard of rebuke to the scandal of empty and lifeless profession among many that were religious but manifestly lost. What we need to hear is not criticism for their dilemma but a biblical solution.
I believe the only solution to breaking this impasse is to labor to enter into His rest. This “glorious rest” (His rest shall be glorious; Isa 11:10) is the rest of “the full assurance.” It comes as a gift, as there is nothing of works (our own works) in it. It is free and grace. Out of that rest, His life is sure to flow (Jn 7:38) in some real measure as fruits of the Spirit, not only in good works, but most importantly in the inner witness of son-ship as we cry, “Abba Father,” in confidence that we are irreversibly His forever. Otherwise, it seems we’re on the tread mill of always checking to see if we’re safe, but on what basis? What of the gospel that has us now in Christ and now out of Christ with every fall or persistent temptation, endlessly trying to recover the ground of assurance? Is that any better than Calvinism? I think not. Find the true balance here that does NOT leave clear scriptures inadequately explained, and you will have done the body of Christ an enormous service. I’ve seen problems on both sides of the fence, and “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” :-) that is in terms of a truly biblical solution that doesn’t slide off in a direction that leaves too many gaps to be trusted.
The Reformers had a terse saying to resist the tendency towards the perversion of grace they called,’antinomianism’ (the tendency to turn grace into license) It is this: “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies in never alone?” That is a soundly scriptural statement; but what of the faint of heart who is always anxious to prove whether his works or patterns of behavior show well enough that his faith is true and acceptable to God, i.e., “the faith of God’s elect? It is the vicious cycle of anxiously striving to make sure we’re believing well enough to have the works that show we’ve believed well enough? :-) Is this not also the cart before the horse?
Focusing on the inward evidence of faith can be another trap of self-introspection. It is when we look away from ourselves to Christ that faith is quickened and revived, since a true work of grace will not permit the heart to rest short of the revelation of Christ’s glory, and where Christ is glorified, there the Spirit is given (Jn 7:38-39). When the heart can rest and be satisfied in the perfect and complete righteousness of Christ alone, not only good works, but goodness and mercy are sure to follow by simply taking Him at His Word, not by human exertion and anxious concern, but by the sweetness of His holy person, because when He is all in all, assurance will not be wanting. Then will your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father.
May His grace break through in mighty measure to ground and comfort every true hearted pilgrim in the blessed assurance of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Yours in the Beloved, Reggie