LOOKING TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP JESUS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. 18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known].

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Is Calvinism Important? - Pastor Reid Ferguson

Is Calvinism Important?

By Pastor Reid Ferguson

If we are to deal with a question like this with any clarity, and if we are to understand the new birth and what attends it, we must take seriously some of the similes given to us in Scripture. For instance, regeneration is indeed called being "born again." That it holds the connotation of beginning again, while also having an element of the reality that we begin at a "younger" stage and need to grow up, is evident by many other terms as well. We are to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18a), which implies that we do not know everything about Him, and neither do we know how to live His new life within us (perfectly) right away. In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us that we are given certain gifts by Christ (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers) for the express purpose of aiding in this growth process, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a MATURE man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

Now to inch closer to the question proper, let me add that we also know that such regeneration is a sovereign work of God. It is this that infallibly enables us to believe unto salvation. In other words, everyone whom God regenerates looks to Christ alone for his salvation. In fact, this illumination by the Spirit always produces three chief effects toward this end; Jesus gave them to us in John 16. He says when the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict the world concerning sin (because they do not believe in Him); concerning righteousness (He alone must be righteous because He alone went to the Father in resurrection); and concerning impending judgment (which is evident because Satan has been judged). This is what a new believer knows: He knows of his guilt, the reality that God should judge and condemn him, and that Christ is the One he trusts in as his only deliverance. This knowledge is very basic and unadorned. He then begins to read the Bible and to sit under Biblical teaching, and, in the process, begins to grow in his knowledge of true doctrine.

That brings us back to the original question: How important is Calvinism? That depends on what you mean. Does one need to know the doctrines of grace to be saved? No, because salvation (in terms of regeneration) is not the result of believing but is that work whereby the person CAN believe. The Puritans rightly put it this way: "regeneration precedes conversion." If we keep that straight, then we clear up a lot of garbage. Let me put it another way: I am given sight that I might see; I do not try to see that I might gain sight. I am regenerated that I might believe; I do not believe that I might be regenerated.

John Flavel has a wonderful saying about the nature of our comprehension of some spiritual truths when we are still new in Christ. He remarks that a child looking up from the crib is no less a true child because he does not yet have clear conceptions of his parents. As he grows, he will learn of them, but at first he knows precious little about the parents who gave him physical life. We come into saving faith very much the same. To hear some talk, you aren't really a viable Christian until you reach puberty, or get your driver's license, or reach drinking or voting age. But the truth is, we grow. We grow because He has given us spiritual life. We do not come into the world fully grown. That would be contrary to all the Bible testifies.

An understanding of Calvinism becomes even more important as one grows in Christ. Without a good handle on the doctrines of grace, a number of things usually ensue: (1) One is more susceptible to error. (2) One can make little true progress in sanctification. (3) The Bible will be very confusing. (4) The experience of the Christian life will tend to be less constant and more prone to ups and downs. There are others, but these are the principle ones, in my judgment. The doctrines of grace are foundational to building a solid, consistent, spiritual life. They must not, however, be confused with life itself, which is given by God alone.

One may ask, "Are these doctrines optional then?" In reply, one must also ask, "In what sense?" I do not need them in order to be made alive, but I do need them to live well. I do not need them to know some truth, even basic converting truth (i.e. the Gospel), but I do need to know them to know the whole truth. They are essential in their place. All truth is essential, but how much truth we know, and when we come to know it, varies. When I was very little, I assumed that the streetlights went off and the whole world went to bed when I did. As I grew, I learned that older kids stayed up later; then I learned that my parents stayed up VERY late. When I learned about time zones--whammo--my whole worldview changed. I didn't need to know all that starting out in life. Knowing that we are depraved--sinful and in need of a Savior--is part and parcel to our conversion. Knowing the depths of our depravity is essential to learning the glory of that salvation, but it is not essential to being saved. Unconditional election is essential to forming a right view of evangelism and to laboring with power and without discouragement, but many truly evangelize without it when they point to Christ and Christ alone as the only sacrifice for sins, once for all offered. If this were not true, Paul could not say

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. (Phil. 1:15-18)
Limited atonement helps me understand that Christ did exactly what He came to do; He left no elect man without forgiveness, and He didn't fail. I can trust in that even when I see men seemingly fall back into sin. Such truth prevents anxiety over the souls of men we cannot reach with the gospel. But I do not need to know these truths in order to believe (that is a function of regeneration, remember) nor to preach Christ. Irresistible grace unfolds the Father's unfailing love for His own as nothing else can do, but few men know it is irresistible at the time it brings them to the cross. We come up against it like a rowboat against a supertanker, but we do so in a fog. It isn't until the light of His Word burns off the vapor that we see what really happened. Many a justified man needlessly fears that he might ultimately fail God. We all will fail Him, but what confidence and assurance attends our walk, when once we know the truth that the saints shall all endure! There is nothing like walking up to a bully in the school yard, fearing for life and limb, only to find out later that your big brother was just a few steps behind--waiting to rescue you should you need it. I don't need to know that to live, but how I live surely changes when it is driven home to my soul. We are always responsible to seek out and learn the truth of God's Word, but though we fail to know it fully or do not see some things by reason of the simple defect of our fallenness and the limits of our gifts and capacities, one day I know I will see Him as He is, and that I will know all He desires for me.

How do the doctrines of Grace relate to preaching of the Gospel? Men, in darkness here, are often tempted to use human inventions to convince, cajole, button hole, brow beat or drag men into the Kingdom. Sad. As Augustus Strong once said, "the proof that the Bible is divine is that it has withstood so many years of bad preaching." More often than not, God saves men in spite of our efforts, not because of them, even with the best of preachers. That is no excuse for not knowing or searching out the whole of Biblical truth more accurately or for poor usage of these doctrines in particular. At the same time, knowing these truths blissfully reminds us that Christ will lose none of His Father's elect, ordained to salvation. A proper understanding of the doctrines of Grace will impact the confidence with which we preach and witness. We know that God will gather in His elect, and we know that He most often uses the preaching of His Word to do so; thus, we sow the seed with the utmost joy and confidence. It especially relates to the witness of the work of the Gospel in our lives. When men are anxious about losing their souls, they are greatly distracted from the true, joyous worship of God and from the liberty to live in freedom and trust in their God. It should affect our humility greatly. Knowing there is nothing in our salvation of ourselves, but that all is owing to His grace, makes us able to worship in Spirit AND in truth. Knowing we shall endure by His grace keeps us from fearing the world and running to hide in cloisters and behind the walls of Christian communes. All these things greatly impact the way in which we minister to others, the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit we enjoy, the measure of freedom from the power of sin, and on and on.

To bring a child into the world is one thing. To not equip that child by failing to teach the skills and knowledge necessary to function in society is a horrible travesty, but it does not make him any less a true child. One would be horribly pained to see a six-year old child who was never taught to walk, or to speak, or to feed himself. But one would not, could not, say that he wasn't human because he could not do such things. Neither can we make such claims of professing Christians who do not yet fully understand and affirm the doctrines of Grace. May we roll up our sleeves then, and help all our brethren grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May we give one another the truth of God's Word that we might bring more and more glory to His name.

-Pastor Reid Ferguson


Blogger bluecollar said...

Pastor Ferguson is my pastor.

July 09, 2006 12:24 PM

Blogger jazzycat said...

Mr. Bluecollar,
Your Pastor is very good. I really like this.....

"The Puritans rightly put it this way: "regeneration precedes conversion." If we keep that straight, then we clear up a lot of garbage. Let me put it another way: I am given sight that I might see; I do not try to see that I might gain sight. I am regenerated that I might believe; I do not believe that I might be regenerated."

I really believe that is so true. When man thinks he comes to God on his own, I think he developes a distorted theology in many other area's as well.


July 09, 2006 5:57 PM

Blogger bluecollar said...

Jazzycat: So true. That is why repentance, which Jesus commands us to preach to the unsaved, Luke 24:47, is viewed as a work by those who believe in Decisional Regeneration.

Regeneration results in, and is responded to, in repentance and faith.

July 09, 2006 7:38 PM


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