This article certainly does not cover everything (either doctrinally or experientially – I just hit on some of the high points), but perhaps it will help some understand where God has brought me!
First of all, understand that I am not a follower of John Calvin. He was just a man, who taught some great truths concerning the Word of God, but was also guilty of error. The doctrine that I believe has come straight from the Bible, with no input from Calvin whatsoever. I do not call myself a Calvinist, because I believe that it is a much misunderstood and misaligned term. Be careful of labeling people – if you wish me to accept the label of “Calvinism”, then you must accept the label “Arminian”, because you disagree with at least 4 of the “points of Calvinism”!
While teaching through the gospel of John in my teen Sunday School Class back in 2003, I came across some key passages that made me pause and question some things. Most notably, these included the following passages:
19 – Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. 20 – For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
21 – For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
22 – For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
23 – That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. 24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come
into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
I noticed verse 21, and asked the question, “What does it mean that the Son quickens whom HE WILL?”
Coming to John 6, we find the following:
John 6:37-40, 44
37 – All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
38 – For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
39 – And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 – And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
44 – No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Here I thought, “But I’ve always been taught that the Father draws ALL men. How can this be if ALL whom the Father draws DO COME to Christ? Does this mean that not all men are drawn in the same way?”
Let me tell you, this caused me great consternation. However, I just couldn’t accept this thought, as it was against what I had been taught throughout my life. I studied it, but couldn’t find any way around it that truly did justice to the text and the context. So…I just ignored it, and taught around it!
Then, I was struck by Jesus’ words in John 10:26: But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
That was no problem until I compared it with the words of verse 16: And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Now it is clear that the Pharisees were not His sheep because they were not saved. But it is obvious that in verse 16, Jesus is speaking of those who are not yet saved! Why then was there a distinction made? These thoughts began to make me question some things that I had been taught concerning salvation and free-will.
As time went on, I became increasingly more agitated with the state of evangelism in our church, as well as others. So much emphasis was placed on “soulwinning”, i.e. getting through a 5 minute presentation of the “Roman’s Road”, and getting the prospect to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” Why is it that we were getting so many people “saved”, but when we attempted to follow-up on them, we had very poor results? Could it be that they had never been converted? But they prayed, and said they were sincere! This always troubled me greatly. It seemed to me as though salvation produces a true change in a life – I knew that I had experienced this conversion!
I began a Master’s degree program through Andersonville Theological Seminary. I began the course in Ephesians. Before the course, I read through the book, and was struck by the strong language concerning God’s having “chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” and being “predestinated unto the adoption of children.” I was struck by the thought that there are only two ways of understanding that: either God chose me because He knew I would choose Him, or He chose me because of His love and mercy. I didn’t like it, and tried to resist it, but as I listened to Dr. Hayes teach on this passage, I couldn’t help but think that his teaching was twisting the scripture, and trying to get around a clear understanding of the text (he was basically teaching the first option I mentioned).
I was not yet fully convinced of the doctrine of election, but couldn’t help seeing it clearly taught throughout the scripture. I began to notice in my Bible reading that the words “calling”, “election”, “chosen”, etc. were sure used a lot in the Bible! And they were clearly referring not to an abstract concept, but to those who belonged to God.
These thoughts were forming in my mind, and causing me to truly think about what the grace of God truly meant, and how salvation truly came to sinners.
In 2007, I came across two passages that were real turning points in my thinking. One was Acts 13:48, which reads, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
That was incredibly clear! I immediately went to my Greek lexicons and commentaries to see if I was just reading it wrong. It was very clear what “ordained” meant, and the fact that the “Gentiles” mentioned here were the objects/recipients of that ordaining, not the subject/cause of it. I could not avoid a statement such as this, which is given without any other explanation – obviously, Luke was writing as if all should know this truth.
The second “turning point” was when I “discovered” Romans 9. This chapter was astounding to me. I read a few commentaries that tried to pass the chapter off as dealing with a “national election” of Israel, but, once again, that was an obvious twisting of the text. It was very clearly speaking of the salvation of individuals. Placed in context with the message of the latter part of chapter 8, there was no other explanation than that God had, according to His will and mercy, chosen His own that He might receive the glory!
When I began to understand these doctrines, it struck me that I was dangerously close to what I had heard preached as “Calvinism”, which was, in my mind, a killing doctrine and a heresy. But I didn’t get it from Calvin – just from reading the Bible! I began to wonder if I was going “off the deep end”. I wondered where I would fit in, as I would obviously not fit in the ministry in which I was currently serving! I began reading Spurgeon, and came to the astounding discovery that what I was coming to believe the Bible was teaching, Spurgeon also taught quite clearly! Someone gave me a copy of Arthur Pink’s “The Sovereignty of God”, and I realized that it was exactly what I had seen the Bible teaching.
The more I looked into Baptists of old, the more I discovered that most of the men I have heard exalted actually taught the doctrines of grace. I discovered that it was NOT a killing doctrine, as most of the leaders of the modern missionary movement were firmly committed to the sovereignty of God in salvation. An understanding of election is not a deterrent to evangelism, because Christ gave us the command to preach the gospel. Rather, it is an encouragement to know that we are “fishing in a stocked pond”. We have a guarantee that men will be saved, because God is working in their hearts, effectually drawing them to Himself.
This was the solution to the problem of faulty evangelism. Evangelism is not about knocking on a door, spending 5 minutes on a “Romans Road” presentation, and getting them to pray a “sinner’s prayer”! It is about preaching the gospel to sinners. It is not our job to use psychology or anything else to make the message palatable or interesting. We must be faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God, and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work of convincing men of sin and drawing them to the Saviour. We are not trying to get men down an aisle, but trust God to do the saving work. We are not trying to use sales tactics, such as “removing obstacles”, but proclaim Christ – who IS a stumblingblock (a major obstacle) to the unregenerate — unless GOD takes the scales from their eyes. This understanding should give even greater evangelistic fervor, as God has promised that His Word would not return void!
Still wondering where I would fit in, I met a pastor in Oklahoma who pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist Church. So there were Baptists who had survived the decisional regeneration heresy promoted by Charles Finney! There was actually an entire network of independent Baptists who remained true to their roots of biblical teaching. They still held to the old Baptist Confessions of Faith that taught the doctrines of grace. Through Pastor Smith, God led us to the church where I am now pastoring.
What I believe I have not come to by reading commentaries or books by men (although they have been helpful in articulating my position). It was by reading the Bible that God brought me to a fuller understanding of His marvelous grace. This took place over a period of about 5 years as God opened my eyes to the truth of God’s marvelous Sovereignty.
The following is a list of passages that may be helpful if you are interested in a further study of this subject (and I am also available for email or phone conversation):
Isaiah 53 (vs. 10-11)
Romans 8:28-chapter 9