Conclusion of last week’s post: Calvinism is often falsely depicted as teaching a doctrine that once chosen for salvation, one can sin with abandon and still be saved. Nowhere does it teach this! What it does teach is that God will bring His erring child back to Himself, by way of repentance.
In the position of the Arminians, one has to be “re-saved” each time he falls into some sin (it usually has to be some very grievous sin, rather than just one of the daily sins of man). Often missing in Arminian thought is the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ which is His righteousness imputed to the believer.
According to their doctrine of man’s free will, faith can be lost, regained, and lost again. Missing is the assurance of a sovereign God who will not lose His sheep. Once He gives His Holy Spirit, he does not withdraw Him from His people, so that they plunge themselves into everlasting destruction. This God-given assurance comes from the promises of God revealed in His Word, the testimony of the indwelling Spirit assuring us that we are heirs (Rom. 8:16), and from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience (Canons of Dort, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 10).
According to the thinking of Arminians, this doctrine of Calvinism gives the believer a license to sin without any worry that he might lose his salvation. That temptation does exist, but it is foreign to Calvinistic teaching. Such an argument is ridiculous, as Paul says in Romans 6:1, 2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” No Christian would ever think that he is free to sin just because he is saved and preserved in his salvation by the grace and power of God. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul taught what real freedom is – to be redeemed by Jesus’ blood. Here he warns believers: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:1, 13).
The Arminian does admit that God makes available the power to persevere, but it is entirely up to man whether he chooses to use this power and persevere or whether he will reject it. The bottom line is always the “free” will and the “free” choice of man.
The reference to the “saints” should be explained. These are not special, deceased people who are singled out of Christendom because of some extraordinary works they performed and therefore were given the title of “saint” by the church. That is the Roman Catholic concept of saints.
When the Bible uses the word “saints,” it is another way of referring to God’s elect people. The word “saint” comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means “holy.” In the Greek also where the word “saint” appears, it is the word hagios, which also means “holy” (see Phil. 4:21; II Thess. 1:10). The word “saint” is also the root in the word “sanctification” which means to be cleansed (made holy) and separated unto God to do His will. This is what is meant when the Bible refers to believers as “saints.”
Those whom God has, by His grace, cleansed, remain cleansed from sin. This does not mean that man does not need to put sin to death in his life or can be careless about it. We struggle with temptation and sin all our life long. By God’s grace we recognize our sin and turn to God. I Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” It is God, through His Word and Holy Spirit, who continually works repentance in His elect and it is God who promises that all who confess their sins will be forgiven. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
A Glorious Doctrine
This doctrine is especially glorious in view of the fact that if it were left to man to maintain his faith by his own power, he would surely fall completely away in a moment. Only a biblical view of God, of man, and of man’s sin can result in a proper understanding of the power it takes – the absolute, sovereign power of God – to give us victory over sin. To be sure, the matter of assurance of salvation is not easy for us to accept, as it is explained in the words of Heidelberg Catechism Q. 60 “…although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil, yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never had nor committed any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such a benefit with a believing heart.” Constantly, the Christian’s prayer must be, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Once God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to His people, He does not remove it again due to an error in judgment on His part or due to the failure of man to cling to it.
This doctrine of perseverance is inseparably tied to the entire plan of God’s salvation (see Canons of Dort, Chapter 5, Article 1). The simple truth is that nobody, and no power whatever, can undo what God, from eternity, has determined to do. God does not write the names of His elect in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world with an eraser in hand!
The Christian is painfully aware of his failures and how he daily breaks all the commandments of God. Should this cause him to doubt his salvation? Or, should the basis of assurance rest alone on his good obedience and faithfulness? No, neither of these! It is God who is able to keep that which we have committed unto him – the salvation of our souls – unto the coming of Jesus and everlasting life. “Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12). Likewise Peter says that believers are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:5).
It is not in our own righteousness that we as believers will stand on the judgment day, but in the imputed righteousness of Christ which is ours by faith. If, after faith in Christ, we place our hope of salvation in our works, we deny the righteousness of Christ. Notice that this was the sin of the Galatian church that Paul is warning about: “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Even our best righteousness is insufficient to save us, and even more frightening is that our best righteousness is sufficient to condemn us. Is. 64:6 tells us, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” It is exclusively in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we have the assurance of salvation and life. This is imputed to all who call on the Lord Jesus Christ in true faith. It is the unbeliever who will stand dressed in his own filthy rags of unrighteousness, and be cast from the wedding feast into everlasting condemnation (see Matt. 22:11-14).
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.