Dear Guests of IDOTG: Today, I welcome back Kevin Lane with his new article for your consideration. Kevin will be available to interact with you in the discussion thread.
We are especially subject to believing we can become like God through effort and religion so as to be acceptable in His sight. It was exactly this that the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve with in the Garden and so also the very delusion man’s fallen sinful nature tries sell each of us even to this day. Our pride has a mantra that progresses from false hope to true destruction: You can be like God; you are like God; you don’t need God to save you.
The Serpent cloaks his diabolic plot to use our effort and religion against us with partial truths and logical arguments built on false premises. The plot is truly terrifying because while it strokes our deluded egos it sets us up against God’s true goodness and justice. Do not be deceived, the plot is so complex and pervasive that God spends most of the Bible exposing it, and showing how He alone has defeated it. Even in defeat though, we have a faithful enemy; he is always on the prowl for who he can share his defeat with. He is much too cunning to try to drag us to Hell, instead he baits us to walk along with him to destruction.
When Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness they covered themselves, like the Seraphim do. (Isaiah 6) One might think they were doing well because they covered themselves out of humility. Yet God showed them that He Himself must cover them if it is to be meaningful. The Jews found that they could achieve the appearance of godliness through obeying the 613 rules, regulations and commands found in the Law & the Prophets. Yet God called them white washed tombs. They looked clean on the outside but inwardly they were desperately wicked (Matt. 23:27). A Tax Collector and a Pharisee each went to the Temple to pray. The Tax Collector saw his desperate need of God to have mercy on him, but the Pharisee had confidence in how good he was, and even thanked God for this goodness. The Tax Collector went home justified, but the Pharisee remained in his sin (Luke 18:9-14). The Church at Galatia began to feel that the righteousness received by faith was not enough. They thought they had to add effort to ensure God’s acceptance. They were warned to account any who teach this foolish false gospel as deserving severe judgment, as if any such wretched preacher is cursed. The Church at Laodicea believed they were rich and needed nothing. Yet the Lord wrote to them explaining their great need of the riches only He can provide. The Lord told them that He stands at the door knocking (even knocking Beloved do you hear?) desiring to come in to that assembly to dine with those who would receive from Him (Rev 3:14-22).
In each recorded instance the people were trying to honor God through effort and while they had an appearance of godliness they actually ended up worldly in ways they may not have even been aware of. Instead of experiencing God’s acceptance they suffered rebuke and correction. Please let this sink in; all of these people were trying to do the right thing toward God. They all feared Him, loved Him and wanted to honor Him. They all thought their religion and effort would mean they could be like God, some of them thought they were like God, and some of them didn’t think they needed His mercy anymore.
Calvinism, as expressed by the acrostic TULIP* and as espoused by modern preachers such as Dr. John Piper is born out of these same good things: a fear of God, a love of God and the desire to honor God. Even so, it fails as miserably as all the efforts we read about in the Bible did. It actually builds a system of religion and effort that ultimately leads away from godliness instead of toward it.
Let’s consider that Calvinism, in its practical sense, is fundamentally concerned with how people bring God glory. God is said to be orchestrating every instance of history to bring Himself glory and we have no actual say in our part of His sovereign plan. It is explained that any choice made by a person to serve God would violate His sovereignty, because all things are by His decree alone. Decree is actually a very accurate rendering for the word grace in the Calvinistic understanding that salvation is “by grace.” It is said the sinner is used to bring God glory through his/her judgment and subsequent eternal punishment while the saint is used through obedience and good works. Logically, since God is orchestrating every instance of history, it is said that one can evaluate which part of God’s program one is on through evaluating how one is bringing glory to God. Are you characterized by sin that will be judged and punished, or are you characterized by righteousness? This is how Calvinism is practically applied in the lives of those who are taught it: look at yourself and evaluate.
Space here, and time to write fail to give me opportunity to demonstrate fully the worldliness that this leads to but I can point to three things immediately. These ought inform our understanding, and demonstrate the fact of Calvinism leading to worldliness:
1. The un-Christ-like dialogue from Calvinists. Instead of discussion leading to edification, Calvinists seem most concerned with how everyone “misrepresents” Calvinism. Google returns about 225,000 results for searching the terms “Calvinism/Misrepresent” at the time of this writing;The fact established (as much as space allows), we are left with the question: “Why?” Why did all these people who desired to honor God in the Bible only end up more worldly through practicing a religion designed to honor God? Why does Calvinism, a theological system most concerned with God’s glory, actually tend to make so many who follow it more worldly?
2. The overt, and uncorrected worldly nature of the so-called Young Restless and Reformed; 1and
3. The continued examples of lacking desire to be absolutely sure of what the Scriptures truly say, vss. what one’s current theology says.
Because, the eyes of the follower are turned toward his or her own self in religious exercises. Even though the person is honestly seeking to honor God, they are looking at their own self in a continuous practice.
Consider that the Gospel, as presented in the Scriptures, has us look at and examine Christ’s work on the Cross on our behalf (1 Cor. 15:1-11). The Lord explained this truth in detail to Nicodemus. The Lord told him that one must look toward the Cross, our sin judged and paid for, just like Israel in the wilderness had to look at the serpent raised up in order for them to be saved. As we will see, this is to be the Christian’s continuous practice; not inward looking but looking toward the Cross.
In Fail-Safe for Fallacy2 I used the example of how learning to perform a challenging figure-8 maneuver on a motorcycle by looking over my shoulder to where I wanted the bike to go as an illustration to help explain the Christian walk. So long as I tried to steer through the maneuver I would fail every time, just like everyone else on the same safety course did. When I was taught to simply look where I needed to go, then it just worked without effort. The truth of what I was taught is played out in accident avoidance, and sadly non-avoidance every day. Those who stare at pot-holes and light poles end up hitting them… while those who look toward safety do not.
Various teachings from Calvinists will have the believer look for signs of or tendencies toward goodness in his or her self. This goodness is then used to give assurance of salvation. It is commonly explained that this goodness does not earn one’s salvation, but it does give assurance that we are on God’s program for saints, not his program for sinners. We are told if it can’t be seen the salvation does not exist.
Yet if we look for goodness in ourselves we will find what we think is goodness. Not only is this how man’s pride works (Prov. 20:6) it is also a symptom of Confirmation Bias.3 We will take confidence in our false view of ourselves, and such will become the foundation of our faith – see I’m on God’s good plan! Anytime the reality of who we are sneaks into view and we fear, we look again to see if we can see any sign of “God working in our lives,” and when we think we do our fears are quelled again, at least for a little while. All the time we will spend looking at our selves and each time we find the goodness we are looking for we will thank God for that goodness and feel confident.
Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like the Tax Collector or the Pharisee to you?
When we focus on our performance we get dull in our sight and thinking through studying the counterfeit instead of the Original. We lose proper perspective and so lower our standards from perfection that is Christ to some “tendency towards goodness” or “desire for goodness.” I’ve heard it preached many times “People, it’s not about perfection it’s about direction! Are you going in the right direction?” Are you kidding me? Beloved, it IS about perfection. We are without hope except we have the perfect righteousness of Christ, no matter how good we think we perform and that perfection is only attainable by faith alone. (Philippians 3)
This is the root of why religious systems like Calvinism do not lead people toward godliness. A person believes that Christ’s provision can save them, but the actual foundation for their life is how they perceive God working in their lives. This is where they get their assurance. Not that He faithfully will accept all who depend on His provision on the Cross, but that He will only accept those who persevere to the end of their life.
“There is no doubt that Jesus saw a measure of real, lived-out obedience to the will of God as necessary for final salvation.... What God will require at the judgment is not our perfection, but sufficient fruit to show that the tree had life-in our case, divine life.” (John Piper, What Jesus Demands From the World, pp. 160, 221.)It would seem that this would inspire a godly life, but what it does is force a person to continuously re-define what righteousness is, and how it is manifest in order that one can find a spurious assurance. Calvinism becomes the person’s identity, and hope and then they are trapped and the true downward spiral begins. Effort spent in endless arguments with anyone who dares to question Calvinism is only matched by deeper and deeper studying of the theology and refusal to consider any attempted correction. Instead of becoming more Christ-like, the person becomes combative, harsh, and often resorts to hero worship of various popular Calvinist preachers.
“Endurance in faith is a condition for future salvation. Only those who endure in faith will be saved for eternity.” R. C. Sproul, Grace Unknown, p. 198.)
The fallen nature’s mantra resounds as they find confidence in things other than the Cross alone: You can be like God, you are like God, you don’t need God’s mercy.
However, when we instead of looking at ourselves look upon the Christ crucified for our sins we behold absolute pure perfection. There is no level of performance that can offer assurance when compared with His perfect standard, leaving us to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we need His mercy and grace. When the Apostle Paul went to the most worldly assembly of truly saved people noted in the Bible, the Church at Corinth, he set out to know NOTHING among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2). It was his solution to get them to look again at the Cross, not themselves. Their doubts about a future hope, their worldliness, their religion - all of it, was to be solved by looking at the Cross. Their only instruction to look at themselves was in defense of Paul’s apostleship, not their salvation and growth.
Beloved the whole of Scripture tells us to surrender the struggle to become good enough for God to accept us and to instead be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46). We are told not to be like the work animal that must be bridled and bound but instead willingly come sit and learn from God (Psalm 32). We are told to have assurance because God said it, not because we have responded in a particular way (Gen. 15:6). We are told that we ungodly sinners are justified through faith apart from any works (Romans 4, Eph 2:8-9).
Calvinism would have you find assurance in your submission to the Lordship of Christ and by seeing that you have continued in good works. An entire religious system of outward performance and effort is laid on the believer’s shoulders. (Of course the performance is said to be God’s work, so any who tire of keeping up with expectations feel shame for it.) We are however warned that on the day of Judgment many will approach God confidently, assured of their salvation, because they have emphatically called Him “Lord, Lord” and done wondrous works in His name.
The Lord sends such people away to the Lake of Fire. They didn’t have assurance in His finished work alone, they found it in their continued works; their religion, their efforts to please Him. He will call their religion the practice of lawlessness. I wonder how worldly these people will have been, having found confidence by looking at their performance? Can one look at himself, see that he is going the right direction, and not be satisfied that at least to some extent he is “good enough”?
Beloved, look toward the splendor of the Cross where God demonstrated His love for us. It is through the Cross we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. If you must look at yourself; judge yourself guilty and trust that guilt is paid for at the Cross, then get on with it. Any other practice leads to religion that leads to worldliness and judgment.
On My Walk
*TULIP: T- Total Inability; U- Unconditional Election; L- Limited Atonement; I- Irresistible Grace; P- Perseverance of the Saints
1) Young, Restless and Reformed
2) Fail-Safe for Fallacy (Kindle edition for $0.99)
3) Confirmation Bias