God, John Calvin, and The Israelites

March 3, 2007 — Leave a comment

I’ve really enjoyed the recent articles in the Christian Standard on Calvinism.

Jack Cottrell does an excellent job in tracing the roots of Calvinism in his article from February 25th’s issue of the Christian Standard.

Dr. Cottrell writes, “Calvinism did not originate from John Calvin (1509–1564), nor did its alternative, Arminianism, originate from James Arminius (1560–1609). These two terms have come to be used for opposite views (whenever held) of whether or not a sinner has the free will to believe in Jesus when he hears the gospel. Other things are involved, but this is the watershed between the two positions. Basically, Calvinism says the sinner does not have such free will; the Arminian says he does.”

This series of articles, and some recent conversations with some Calvinists, have gotten me to thinking . . .

Because Calvinists believe that God is sovereign they teach that he controls everything–even human will. They believe that it somehow makes God less amazing to believe that he doesn’t control all human choices.

Because I believe that God is sovereign I teach that he is powerful enough to create us with the ability to not love him back. I think giving humans free will makes God even more amazing.

God wants to be truly loved, so–in true love–he put a tree in the garden of Eden and gave Adam and Eve a choice. Without free will it’s impossible to have true love.

I believe the Bible clearly teaches that we have a choice: we can choose to be faithful to God and spend eternity with him, or we can choose to reject him and spend eternity separated from him. I believe that once faithful followers can choose to walk away from God and–in choosing to reject God–walk away from salvation. (If you’d like to read a few scriptures that teach that Christians must be faithful until the day we die, I’d direct you to Romans 1:1-Revelation 22:21.)

Recently, in a conversation with a Calvinist, who deeply loves God, but who believes that those whom God chooses for salvation can never “lose” their salvation and those who appear to have “fallen away” were never really saved in the first place, I thought about the children of Israel.

Because God loved his children–the Israelites–he created a promised land for them and promised them that they were all going to that promised land.

In Exodus 3:17 God said:

And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

Sovereign God chose the Israelites for salvation, but at ten specific places along the way, they chose to reject God and chose to reject his appeals toward the contrary. Through Moses and Aaron God expressed his love for them and warned them not to reject his commands, but to obey his commands, but they chose poorly.

In Numbers 14:20-23 the Lord says:

20 The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.

It was God’s will for the Children of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. It was their destiny.

It belonged to them. God promised “on oath” to give it to them, but they chose to reject him, so they died in the wilderness.

Of “Christians” who apparently “fall away” the Calvinists I’ve spoken with over the years typically say, “Well, that proves that they were never really saved in the first place.”

This claim–in my opinion–is both convenient and presumptuous.

Because I believe God is sovereign, I’m uncomfortable speaking for Him as to whether, or not, someone who called himself/herself a “Christian” and who bore obvious fruit for God, but who–for some reason–chose a life that embraces every sin for which Jesus died and who chose to disobey God without fear, was ever really saved in the first place, or is incapable of choosing to come back to his/her “first love” (Rev. 2:4) ever again.

I choose to believe that in Christ we are eternally secure, but I also believe that, if we choose to walk away from Christ, we may be putting our eternal salvation at risk.

But, what if we applied that line of reasoning (i.e. “Well, that proves that they were never really saved in the first place”) to the Children of Israel?

Here are the facts:
1. God chose the Children of Israel.
2. God’s will was for them to enter the Promised Land.
3. God “promised on oath” to give it to the Israelites who had been in Egyptian bondage.
4. That first generation of Israelites chose to disobey God.
5. Those Israelites who rejected God were forgiven, but did not enter the land that God had promised to give them.

How could anyone say, “Well, that proves that they were never really God’s chosen people in the first place”?

Of course they were God’s chosen people! But that first generation of Israelites–who were undeniably chosen by God–chose to disobey and–in choosing to not follow God wholeheartedly–they lost the opportunity to drink the milk and taste the honey.

Which is why I preach the Gospel.

I preach the Gospel because I want lost people to choose to make Jesus their Lord and because I want Christians to choose to “be faithful, even to the point of death” (Rev. 2:10) because I don’t want anyone to miss the opportunity to enter the land that flows with milk, honey, and eternal life.

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