The Books I Read in 2016

A Christian's Pocket Guide to Loving The Old Testament: One Book, One God, One Story

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer

As a pastor and expositor, I lament how little the Old Testament (OT) is preached in so many evangelical churches today. That explains why so many professing Christians today have so little understanding about the OT, how the New Testament (NT) is connected to the Old, how the gospel does not start with Jesus in the NT but in the Old, and most of all, how so many fail to see Jesus or make Christological connections in the OT.

This 130-page pocket sized book provides solutions to some of those issues. It is a fairly easy reading with short chapters. Definitely recommend this book.

Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray

In his preface, the author writes, “If it is true that Christians don’t get depressed, it must mean either that the Christian suffering from depression is not truly depressed, or he is not a true Christian. But if this notion is false, what extra and unnecessary pain and guilt are heaped upon an already darkened mind and broken heart!”

The 112-page pocket sized is not an academic writing as the author admits (though the author is a seminary professor and pastor). Rather, the book is immensely pastoral and practical. The author interacts with some of the conservative counseling movements (e.g. CCEF) and other notable writers, offering both positive and negative critiques. As already implied, this is an easy reading and a very helpful resource.

New Life in the Wasteland: 2 Corinthians on the Cost and Glory of Christian Ministry by Douglas F. Kelly

Christian ministers need to be reminded time to time what Christian ministry is all about. To help with that, I would recommend this book. This is not a typical Bible commentary (technical, exegetical, or scholarly). But it is a helpful one with much warm and devotional tone as the author helps the reader to consider the cost and glory of Christian ministry.

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav Volf

This book offers several implications and applications to Ephesians 2:10. It is an important work though caution and discernment should be given. (But again that should apply to all reading.)

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The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn

Perhaps one of the better books for someone who is new or interested in the subject. It is always refreshing to read it again. I often assigned this as a require reading for Sunday School.

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The Five Points of Calvinism by Herman Hanko and David J. Engelsma

The book is very polemic, especially, critical of the doctrine of common grace and other Reformed denominations. Other than that, it is a good read.

TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture by Duane Edward Spencer

A much shorter reading than Steele, Thomas, and Quinn’s The Five Points of Calvinism, but helpful nonetheless.

The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide by Edwin H. Palmer

Besides Steele, Thomas and Quinn’s work, this work by Palmer would be my next recommendation on the subject.

The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship by Gerard Berghoef and Lester De Koster

I recommend this book for three reasons: 1) books on the ministry of diaconate rarely focuses on stewardship as this one does, 2) helps to see the ministry as a means of evangelistic and outreach ministries, 3) offers myriads of practical implications, and 4) it is written in the Reformed tradition.

Deuteronomy (Tyndale Commentaries)

Deuteronomy by Edward J. Woods

Like many of books in the TOTC series (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), this one will not (overly) burden the readers with many technical terms and academic language, and cause to be bogged down by many details. It is concise and readable.

Deuteronomy (NICOT)

The Book of Deuteronomy by Peter C. Craigie

Although it is one of the older technical commentaries on the last book of the Pentateuch (1976), it is considered one of the bests.

Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington

I wish this book was available when I was preaching Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John many years ago. It is possible that one can preach the Gospels but not preach the gospel.

This book is perhaps one of the best books on how to read, interpret, and preach and teach on the Gospels. For a detailed review, you can read Dane Ortlund’s.

 

Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians by Bruce Riley Ashford

Written by a theology prof for laymen in regards to Kuyperian Christian life. If you need clarity on Christians engaging the culture via work, entertainment, education, or what have you, this book is a good start.

Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith

Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

This is perhaps the best commentary on the WCF. I already gave a brief comment on this book back in 2014 when it came out. If interested, you can click here.

Harmony of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms by Morton H. Smith

“The Westminster Standards are unsurpassed among confessional statements in precision and comprehensiveness and few would deny that they deserve close reading and careful study.” Yet many Christians today have little or no exposure to the Standards. Hence, to combat against such shame, this work offers helpful guide by dissecting each section, chapter, question, and points.

Church Dogmatics, Volume 1 by Karl Barth

This massive volume (500 pages in the first volume alone) tackles the subject “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” which contains the prolegomena, the criterion of dogmatics, and the doctrine of trinity in relation to the revelation of God. Since this particular volume is highly technical and academic, it is not recommended for average laymen or beginners of theology.

The Influence of John Calvin on Today’s Churches

Last night on Reformation Sunday, I gave the Second Annual Reformation Address to our congregation, entitled “The Influence of John Calvin on Today’s Churches.” The following is my sermon transcript.

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THE INFLUENCE OF JOHN CALVIN ON TODAY’S CHURCHES

INTRODUCTION

Although the month of October is notoriously celebrated for a pagan holiday, October 31st is the day that all Christians should also celebrate, not because of Halloween, but because it is the 491st anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95-Theses he posted on the door of CastleChurch in Wittenberg, Germany, which helped fuel the Protestant Reformation.

So around this time of last year, I gave our first Reformation Address on the life of Martin Luther and the role that he played. One of my reasons for the Reformation Address is for our church to have a better and deeper appreciation and understanding for our historical faith and our heroes of faith. It is always a troubling sign if Christians or churches have no historical connection or no historical understanding of church history. It is often said that without knowing the past, we cannot know our present, and certainly, we would not know what to do tomorrow.

With all the resources that are available for us today, this generation is perhaps the most ignorant generation when it comes to having some working knowledge of biblical truths and historical theology. That is why I feel the greater need for me to give the Annual Reformation Address, and hopefully, some of these heroes of faith can become your heroes of faith as well. Here, let me just quickly insert a pastoral advice. If you don’t have any spiritual heroes or heroes of faith in your life, then get some. And one way is to do some biographical readings.

In the past 12 months, how many biographical readings have you done? You may have read something on theology, biblical study, and Christian living, but how about a biographical reading on one of our heroes of faith?

I want to encourage you to read at least one book on or by one of our heroes of faith in a year. Do you know who Augustine is? Or, Martin Luther? Or, any of the Puritans? Are you familiar with Charles Spurgeon? J. Gresham Machen? Or, Martyn Lloyd-Jones? We cannot remain ignorant to church history. You would not understand why or how today’s churches are so impotent if you don’t understand our past. We are here today as a result of yesterday; and where we would be tomorrow is based on the decision we make today. And based on what I know of today’s churches, I’m very concerned about where our churches would be tomorrow. Again, do some readings on the past, so that you would have a better grasp of our present condition, if you genuinely care about where you would like to be tomorrow. Granted, these heroes are not perfect and we do not elevate them in a cultic sense by any means. But we can learn tremendous things from these people that God sovereignly chose to do mighty things.

One of my favorite encouraging words on this regard comes from Don Whitney and his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, which he encourages his readers to imitate spiritual heroes because “we would be encouraged by their love for Christ, their devotion to prayer, and their passion for the gospel and the things of God.”[1] He also argues for another strong advantage for imitating spiritual heroes. He writes:

Having the right heroes also helps to protect us from spiritual and theological error. As the following verse warns, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines” [Hebrew 13:9]. All human heroes will lead us into error if we follow them uncritically and without discernment. But to have no heroes for fear of being spiritually polluted is to overreact. The right heroes are right almost all the time. By speaking the Word of God to us, sharing insights we haven’t been given, using analogies and illustrations we haven’t considered, and formulating truth in ways that make things clear to us, the right heroes will protect us from far more error than they may give us.[2]

In this Second Annual Reformation Address, the man that I have chosen for the hour is John Calvin, or Jean Calvun in French. Some have said that between Paul the Apostle and Luther the Reformer, Augustine was the greatest man God gave his church. If that is the case, according to B.B. Warfield, then between Luther the Reformer to our day, the greatest man God gave his church is none other than John Calvin.[3]

With that in mind, let me simply tell you at the onset of this message what you are about to hear. I will not merely load you with a bunch of historical facts. You can get those facts by simply reading books. For me, historical facts are nothing if they do not have any bearing on me today. Therefore, the bulk of my address is to show you what type of influences Calvin has on today’s churches. In fact, that is the thesis for this talk. I will attempt to show you that many Bible-driven churches since the Reformation follow the same set of convictions that Calvin used to reform the churches in his days, as well as ours. But before I go any further, let me briefly share his background.

Prior to His Conversion

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 at Noyon, in Picardy, which is the northern providence of France, located 60 miles northeast of Paris. If you do the math, next July of 2009 the Christendom would celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Calvin, which many Bible conferences around the world are already preparing for next year.

Calvin entered the University of Paris at the age of 14, and mastered almost everything he turned his attention to, including a brilliant writing style and masterful skill in logic and logical argument. At the age of 19, he graduated with his Master of Arts degree. And at the age of 22, he mastered a classical literature and published his first literary commentary. It was no brainer that classical literature was his passion and he already established himself as a respectful scholar in classical literature. However, all that changed when God called him with his effectual call.

His Conversion

No one really knows when Calvin was converted, other than sometime between when he was 22 to 24. Although I have not discovered many detailed accounts of Calvin’s conversion, what is clear is that he left the promising career as a classical literary scholar for the Reformation cause. Perhaps there is nothing more worthy of the Reformation cause than the contribution of his published works.

His Published Works

In the spring of 1536, he published his first and famous Protestant literature – the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which basically was a short theology book to instruct Christians what they should believe. He wrote the Institutes because he felt that there was no helpful doctrinal literature available for Christians and churches at the time. What began as a short little treatise on Christian doctrine in 1536 went through several revisions by Calvin, and ultimately, published its final and definitive edition in 1559 as a bulky systematized theology book. In fact, by this time the Institutes have divided into four major theological sections or “books.” And they are as follows: Book One “The Knowledge of God the Creator,” which includes a thorough treatment on both natural and special revelations; Book Two “The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First Disclosed to the Fathers Under the Law, and Then to Us in the Gospel”; Book Three “The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow”; and finally, Book Four “The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein.”

There are different translations of the Institutes available today. If you are interested in purchasing a copy for yourself, I would highly recommend you get Ford Lewis Battles’ edition, edited by John T. McNeill, which is considered the standard work. Recently, in 2006 this work was reprinted in two volumes by Westminster John Knox Press.

However, Calvin’s contribution to the Reformation cause did not end with the Institutes alone. He is, perhaps, better known for his another mammoth-lifetime work, namely, his Bible expositional commentaries on the whole Bible, though there are some biblical books that he did not work on. It is amazing that though he has been dead for almost five centuries, he still speaks. Personally, I frequently use his commentaries when I am working through a particular text of Scripture, and I have found him to be very helpful as one of my teachers.

Now to the remaining of our time, let me talk to you about what I really want to address, namely, to show you what influences Calvin has on today’s churches. I think this would better help you get to know who Calvin was and how he shapes our churches. With that in mind, let me point out Calvin’s four influences.

1. Calvin was a true biblical exegete.

That is very obvious when you read through his expositional commentaries on the Bible. However, for many centuries prior to the Reformation, the typical hermeneutical methods were allegorizing and spiritualizing the text. Having such methods, the church can say about anything she wants to believe what the Bible says and means. Such hermeneutical gymnastics were a license for much of ecclesiastical abuses.

But for Calvin, the meaning of the text was the meaning of the text. What drove him to handle the Word with such precision was due to his commitment to biblical exegesis. In fact, he is considered the father of the modern day grammatico-historical method of hermeneutics. To answer what grammatico-historical hermeneutics is, it is simply an interpreting rule in which the interpreter considers the historical context and grammatical structure for the specific text that he wishes to understand in the way that the biblical author originally intended to convey.[4]

Calvin understood that without the proper exegesis of Scripture, there is no expositional preaching. In other words, biblical exegesis is the foundational work for proper expository preaching. That is why he often worked from the biblical texts, usually from Hebrew or Greek, so that he can understand the way the original writer intended to mean.

It is also important to note that what influenced Calvin to such a high commitment to biblical exegesis is due to his commitment to God’s glory. One researcher said, “When he (Calvin) studied, it was to behold the majesty of God. Thus his sermon preparation was not primarily for others; it was first and foremost for his own heart.”[5]

2. Calvin helped define what a true church is.

If Luther helped rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, Calvin helped rediscover how to dispense such truth, namely through a God-ordained church. I believe Calvin took the Reformation further than Luther did. Many historians believe that Luther was satisfied with a church as long as the gospel was preached. But Calvin could not be content with what seemed to be a lackadaisical attitude. He said, “We cannot think so narrowly of our office that when preaching is done our task is fulfilled, and we may take our rest.” For Calvin, a mark of a true church is not merely that the gospel is preached, but that it is obeyed and followed. It is from this notion that Calvin helped rediscover for the church to exercise church discipline on members who refuse to obey the word. As I mentioned earlier, Calvin helped rediscover, not discover, because the mandate for the church to exercise church discipline is already stated in Scripture. In other words, it wasn’t Calvin who came up with the doctrine and practice of church discipline; he simply reiterated what Jesus already commanded.

When we hear the notion of the marks of true church, there are many people who actually and ridiculously believe that this is an invention by some modern day ultraconservatives, such as John MacArthur and his book The Master’s Plan for the Church, or Mark Dever and his book The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Such statement is a reflection of their ignorance to the Bible and historical theology.

Many believe that the Bible contains the truths of God and that the Bible is the word of God. This is true for many people today and it was certainly true with many people even prior to the Reformation. But as you know, there is a huge difference between saying that you believe the Bible and actually knowing what it says, and this is where Calvin came to help. What Calvin did was to systematize all that the Bible says about various topics, including the marks of true church.

So, what are the marks of a true church? According to Calvin, the church is constituted by 1) the preaching of the word, 2) the right administration of the sacraments or ordinances, namely, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and 3) exercise of the church discipline. Eventually, those marks became the marks of the Reformed churches. We owe Calvin for his unflinching commitment to the purity of the gospel and the purity of the church. For Calvin, the issue was not either or (meaning, the gospel or the church), but both – because you cannot have the one and not the other. He believed that the true gospel would be preached in the true church, and anything less would be impossible. For example, a false church would not preach the true gospel, and a true church would not preach the false gospel.

For Calvin, any church that would ignore or refuse to exercise church discipline is disqualified categorically as a church. But the issue is much deeper than what may appear at surface, because this involves what is implied or does not implied at a church. Let me explain what I mean. When a church does not practice church discipline, what does that imply about the church? It implies that the church is not concerned about sin, holiness, and many other things. And if sin and holiness are not taken seriously, what do you think their view of the gospel would be? I can assure you, it would very much be characterized as an easy-believism, which is not the true gospel. Also, when a church does not have the proper view of the gospel, sin and holiness, the church would more likely have erroneous views of God, which now attacks the very core of who God is, which is what blasphemy is.

When it comes to the subject of church discipline, a question frequently comes up, that is, how to do it properly? I think what Calvin taught and practiced in his day are simply brilliant. In fact, many Bible-driven churches have followed his advice ever since then. Let me quickly share what they are with you.

In order for a local church to properly exercise church discipline, the church must, first and foremost, teach on the subject. How can a church practice church discipline if they don’t know what it is? This can be done regularly from the pulpit and during a catechism class (the teaching/equipping ministry). In fact, Calvin seemed to imply that this topic, along with other crucial doctrines, should be included in the church’s doctrinal statement (4.8.1).[6] That is why in many Bible-preaching churches, the subject of church discipline, is included in their statement of faith.

Biblically, the purpose of church discipline is twofold: first, to lovingly restore a member from sin to repentance, and two, to protect the unity and purity of the church. The attitude in which the Bible teaches to do so is not out of self-righteousness like that of the Pharisees, but having the best interests for the individual we want to restore. So, next time when you are approached by a brother, a sister, or a leader with a loving rebuke or correction, please be quick to hear and slow to speak (and even slow to anger). A self-centered tendency is for you to automatically put up a wall or be defensive, but in all reality, such attitude and action reveals more about your prideful heart than anything else. Keep in mind that when you are approached, he or she has the best interests for you as your brother or sister, and more likely, that person may feel more awkward than you are. Always be respectful when you receive a rebuke or a correction. More likely, the brother or sister that has approached you, have already gone through Galatians 6:1 principle before confronting you, so be respectful and mindful that such person has nothing but the best interests for you.

3. Calvin exemplified expositional preaching and preacher.

To me there is nothing more our churches today are so desperately in need of than expository preaching and expository preachers. In our churches today, exposition has replaced entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics.[7] For Calvin, preaching was job number one. In fact, he constantly urged the pastors of all Christian churches to devote their primary duty to preaching the word. According to Steve Lawson,

The church is always looking for better methods in order to reach the world. But God is always looking for better men who will devote themselves to His biblically mandated method for advancing His kingdom, namely, preaching – and not just any kind of preaching, but expository preaching (emphasis his).[8]

The reason why he had such unflinching commitment to expository preaching was due to his utter conviction for the sufficiency of Scripture. Calvin believed that though there are parts of Scripture that may appear to be obscure, the parts that are not obscure are powerfully sufficient to convict the conscience and bring the person’s knees to the lordship of Christ. He said, “However much obscurity there may be in the Word, there is still always enough light to convict the conscience of the wicked” (3.24.13).[9]

One writer concludes:

Every preacher who expounds God’s Word brings a body of core values with him into the pulpit. These foundational commitments inevitably shape his preaching. His pulpit ministry is governed by what he believes Scripture to be, what place he assigns to preaching, and how he believes his preaching ought to be conducted.[10]

What was so unique about Calvin’s preaching at his time was that he took his congregation through a regular, systematic, verse-by-verse fashion through various books of the Bible. That was almost unheard of at his day. Hence, his church in Geneva became the center of ongoing biblical expositions during the Reformation, where many Protestants in Europe sought the shelter there to eat and drink from the word and go back to their countries and replicate such style of preaching.

Not only Calvin had a high view of preaching, but he also encouraged Christians to have a high regard for those who are called to preach. You can imagine if you would to sit under the ministry of Calvin for many years, not only you would develop a deep appreciation and affection for the word, but also to those who are called to preach the word. In fact, Calvin alluded the preachers to be “the very mouth of God.” He said:

Those who think the authority of the Word is dragged down by the baseness of the men called to teach it disclose their own ungratefulness.For, among the many excellent gifts with which God has adored thehuman race, it is a singular privilege that he deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them (4.1.5).[11]

4. Calvin balanced the need for theologian-pastor and pastor-theologian, and scholar-pastor and pastor-scholar.

Without a doubt, Calvin was no average Joe. His exceptional God-given gifts are evidenced in his works. What I appreciate so much about Calvin is though he possessed incredible scholarly mind, he was an under-shepherd to a local church. And I believe he wonderfully balanced the need for theologian-pastor and pastor-theologian, and scholar-pastor and pastor-scholar. Let me explain what I mean.

There is no doubt a difference between someone who is theologian-pastor and pastor-theologian, and scholar-pastor and pastor-scholar. A theologian-pastor or scholar-pastor is a pastor who thinks theologically and is trained to read scholarly works. Hence, he is trained to think and teach theologically and even produce some scholarly works, but nonetheless, he is a pastor first and foremost. When I think of theologian-pastor or scholar-pastor, I think of notable men like R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and others. Perhaps many pastors may not have the same caliber like that of those notable men, but at least, they need to be trained to read and be engaged in theological and scholarly works. If not, how are the churches going to be informed and combat against aberrant movements like the Emergent Churches, Open-Theism, and New Perspectives of Paul?

Then there are those who are pastor-theologians and pastor-scholars. These men may not be called to pastor a church, but they are called to teach and train future pastors. They have exceptional theological and scholarly trainings to equip men in colleges and seminaries, but they do so not only to dump facts and theories on their students, but also interested in heart-transformations. These are theologians and scholars first, but they do so with a shepherd’s heart. In this realm, I think of notable men like D.A. Carson and others.

You see, all these men are needed in our churches. Again, it’s not either or, but both. There may be possible debates as to where Calvin would fit in, but what is important is that Calvin wonderfully modeled the balance.

CONCLUSION

The goal of this message is not to exalt John Calvin. But it is to celebrate God’s sovereign choice in using this particular servant to equip and edify his church for the glory of God. I would be happy, as a result of this message, that next time you hear your pastor talking about Calvin and Reformation or Calvin and Reformed theology you would now discern that he’s not talking about the Calvin from Calvin and Hobbs, but John Calvin.

SOME HELPFUL READINGS ON CALVIN

  • Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin.
  • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Volumes, translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles.
  • David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback, A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes.
  • Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin.
  • John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy.
  • Benjamin B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism.

SOME HELPFUL READINGS ON CALVINISM

  • James M. Boice and Philip G. Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel.
  • Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace.
  • David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented.

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2003), 117.

[2] Ibid., 118.

[3] Benjamin B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 26.

[4] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 70.

[5] Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Lake Mary: Reformation Trust, 2007), 40.

[6] John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, 2 volumes, translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles, edited by John T. McNeill (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 2:1149-50.

[7] Lawson, xi.

[8] Lawson, 18-19.

[9] Calvin, 2:980-1.

[10] Lawson, 24.

[11] Calvin, 2:1018.

Praying and Calvinism/Evangelism

Philip Graham Ryken on praying and Calvinistic evangelism:

One way to test the claim that every Christian is a Calvinist at prayer is to consider how believers pray for the unconverted. Imagine for a moment that God is not sovereign in grace, but that salvation ultimately depends on the sinner’s own choice. How then should we pray? Do we say: “Dear Lord, I realize that there may not be much that you can do about this, but if there is, please help my friend somehow to become a Christian”? Of course no one actually prays this way; the very idea is absurd. But what makes it so absurd is that, deep down, every Christian believes in the sovereignty of God’s grace. When we pray for sinners to be converted, therefore, we ask God to do something for them that we know they are utterly incapable of doing for themselves. We ask God to invade their minds, change their hearts, and bend their wills so that they will come to him in faith and repentance. In short, in our intercession we depend on God to save them. This attitude of dependence ought to characterize the Christian’s entire approach to evangelism. True evangelism is entirely dependent on God for its success: the regeneration of the sinner’s mind and heart is the work of God’s Spirit. It does not depend on the Christian’s saying the right words or using the most effective technique. The true Calvinist surrenders to God’s will in sharing the gospel because God’s sovereignty in grace gives the only hope of success [What is a True Calvinist? (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 20].

The Doctrine of Election – Part 4

What about Adam & Eve, and their freedom to choose?

This is not a difficult question to answer. The problem that many people have about this question is that they confuse between the Pre-fallen stage and the Fallen stage. I completely agree that Adam and Eve were not created like robots. And I also agree that Adam and Eve had the freedom and the ability to choose. How? Because before the Fall, they were created perfect and sinless. But that’s the key: before the Fall, they were perfect and sinless. Their whole faculty of beings, such as knowledge, emotion, and will have not been contaminated by sin. Thus their knowledge, emotion, and will were absolutely perfect and absolutely free. And they had the ability and the freedom to choose.

But that all changed when they chose to sin. After the Fall, all human beings no longer have this freedom or the ability. It is a great mistake to think that you and I have the freedom or the ability to choose because we do not live in the Pre-fallen stage, but rather, in the Fallen stage. The Bible says that by one man’s disobedience we all have been infected with sin. Hence as fallen sinners, people are dominated and controlled by their sin and they are slaves (not free) to sin.

The doctrine regarding the total depravity of sin or the total inability is the foundation to understand the gospel message. That is why when people have trouble with the doctrine of election, their real problem is not with the doctrine of election, but it is with the doctrine of total depravity or the inability of the will. How deprave is depraved man?

Let God Be True and Every Man Liar

I now want to take you through some of the biblical texts to have you see for yourself what the Bible says. I want to begin with the Gospel of John.

  • NAU John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

It is not by the will of the flesh or the will of man that salvation is granted, but is because of the will of God. Also:

  • NAU John 6:44“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • NAU John 6:65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

Apostle Paul echoes that same truth in Ephesians 1:4-5:

  • NAU Ephesians 1:4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.

Again, it is not by the will of the flesh or the will of man that salvation is granted, but is because of the good pleasure of God’s will. Thus the only way that anybody can be saved is by the sovereign grace of God by which He first chooses some for salvation and then leads them to faith. The doctrine of election teaches that we are too hopelessly depraved in sin to ever earn God’s blessings on our own. Instead, God in his mercy chose us and then made his choice effectual (in theology, the effectual calling). First he made our salvation possible by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for our sin. Then he sent his Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth and the gospel, and we were deeply convicted of our sin and became regenerate by the mercy of God.

Paul echoes this truth in Titus 3:5-7, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit: Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Thus all the blessings we enjoy from God must be traced back to this sovereign electing purpose of God toward us in Jesus Christ. And that’s exactly how Paul opens his letter to Ephesians.

Implications on the Doctrine of Election

1. Election eliminates all human boasting.

  • NAU Romans 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus… 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded.
  • NAU 1 Corinthians 1:28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.
  • NAU Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

2. Election gives the real assurance of salvation.

John Calvin said, “If…our faith were not grounded in God’s eternal election, it is certain that Satan might pluck it from us every minute.”

3. Election leads to holiness.

A person may say, “If I am elect, then I’ll be saved regardless of what I do. So I’m going to enjoy myself and sin all I please.” But those who say that clearly demonstrates that they are not God’s elect. According to Scripture the purpose of election is to holiness. To quote the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he said, “Being chosen and being holy are inseparable. It is possible to be intellectually orthodox and yet not be a Christian. The man who is chosen, is chosen to holiness; and if there is no evidence of holiness in his life it is proof that he has never been chosen” (God’s Ultimate Purpose, 103).

4. Election promotes real evangelism.

Since salvation is the work of God, and God is saving people on the basis of his prior election, then this helps us to speak the Word of God more boldly, knowing that all whom God has previously determined to come to faith will come to him. We do not know who the God’s elect are. The only way we can find them out is by their response to the gospel and by their desire to be holy. Thus the doctrine of election strongly encourages me to preach the Gospel more boldly, because although I may not know who are the God’s elect, but I do know that to those whom God has already called will come to him. And I can observe who the God’s elect are by examining their desire to be holy and to live a sanctified life.

The Doctrine of Election – Part 3

Here’s a bit lengthy but worthy quote:

Why don’t people come to Jesus? At one level the answer is because they “refuse to come.” In other words, people do not want to come. Some call this the choice of free will. Jesus would probably say it is the choice of a will enslaved to sin. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Jesus would say that people do not come to him because they are enslaved to their supreme preference for other things. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light…everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light” (John 3:19-20).

How then has anyone ever come, since we are all enslaved to sin and spiritually dead? Jesus’ answer was that God, in his great mercy, overcomes our resistence and draws us: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65). God grants the gift of new birth and repentance, which opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to the truth and beauty of Jesus. When this happens, all suicidal objections fall. We are finally free. And, finally free from slavery, we come.

When you come to Jesus like this, you will never cease to praise and thank him for his sovereign grace [John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 46-47].