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Is Calvinism Good for the Church?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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November 30, 2021 12:01 am

Is Calvinism Good for the Church?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 30, 2021 12:01 am

Calvinist convictions should not make us contentious; they should make us more like Christ. Today, Burk Parsons corrects common misconceptions about Reformed theology.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind, is Calvinism good for the church? Our Calvinism will be a thorough, ever-deepening knowledge, understanding, and love of the God whom we worship. And if your version of Calvinism doesn't do that, then your Calvinism is not the Bible's Calvinism. Calvinists care deeply about theological precision, and that has prompted some to label us as arrogant and contentious.

Perhaps you've been the target of such criticism, fairly or unfairly. Today on Renewing Your Mind, Ligonier teaching fellow Dr. Burke Parsons addresses this issue head on and issues a challenge for those of us in the Reformed camp. Now it's never really been my habit to call myself a Calvinist.

And I know that may sound strange. Here I work for probably the world's foremost known Calvinist, Dr. Sproul. I have the great privilege of editing the world's probably most well-known Reformed magazine that is thoroughly Calvinistic. But the reason I've never really referred to myself as a Calvinist is primarily for the reason I don't think Calvin would like it, and foremost because I don't think the Lord would like it.

Now I realize that in saying that I'm offending a whole host of you, and that's not my intention. My intention is for us to rethink not only our language but to rethink so much of the Calvinism that has been bantered about, so much of the Calvinism that we see on display not only in our churches but throughout the world and so that we would come away from this conference not with a bold, brazen, gunslinging cowboy Calvinism that takes every dissenter onto the streets and shoots them down with our five-shot revolvers, but that we would be a people who come away from this conference with a more thoroughly biblical Calvinism, knowing God's truth and defending His truth in the name of Christ so that we would not come away from this time and this conference promoting a man but the only God-man, Jesus Christ, our Savior. Simply put, Calvinism is the belief that God saves sinners. And whether we think we are thoroughly equipped in these doctrines, what we need is the Word of God. We need a Bible Calvinism. We need a Calvinism that emanates from Scriptures, not from our own minds. We need a theology that drives us to our knees. It's been said that Calvinism is Christianity on its knees.

But it doesn't begin there. It begins a Calvinism with Christ on His knees. So I want you to turn with me to John chapter 17 and read along with me as we make our way through this glorious prayer of our Lord. Jesus, in this upper room discourse, in His final farewell discourse, ends chapter 16 as we have it here in our New Testament Scriptures, saying to His disciples very plainly, but be of good cheer. You'll have tribulation in your life and in the ministry that I will send you out to into this world, but be of good cheer.

Why? For this very reason, Jesus said, because I have overcome the world. So He spoke these words, and He lifted His eyes up to heaven, John 17 verse 1, and said, Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son may also glorify You as You have given Him authority over all flesh.

Now we're familiar with this language, aren't we? From the Great Commission, Jesus said very plainly, all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth, and therefore we are to do what? Go. Because Jesus has authority over all the earth, because He has the power, not we ourselves, not we as His emissaries, not we as those whom He's called to go out into all the world, but because He has power, because He has authority, and because He has sent that second Comforter to help us and to be our advocate and to go before us, preparing hearts and minds.

He says, go. Jesus says very plainly to the Father, acknowledging to the Father in the third person, this is the Son about whom I'm speaking. And the Son has authority over all flesh.

It's a Hebraism for all people. You've given Him authority over all flesh that He should give or grant or bestow eternal life to as many as you have given Him. Now this is the language of the gospel. The language of John throughout from John chapter 6, John chapter 10, over and over and over again, every time we see Jesus talking about the people that the Father has given Him the Son, Jesus is speaking about a particular group of people. He's saying, Father, You have given Me a people. I have authority over all the flesh, over all the world, over all creation, but You've given Me a people out of this creation. It's made so many of His followers, although nominal, steamed as they left Him in droves in John chapter 6. And then He even pressed them further in John chapter 6, saying, Do not murmur amongst yourselves. Know this, that only the Father who sent Me, who will draw His people, this group of people out of the world, that it's only the Father's doing, it's only the Father's drawing, not the Father's wooing, not the Father's hoping and wishing, but the Father's drawing.

It's only that the Father in His work through the Spirit drawing out sinners from this miserable dark and sad world, it's the only means by which any sinner can come to Christ. Dear ones, so often we really have a most unfortunate view of ourselves. We don't have a high enough regard for our depravity. We don't properly understand just how dead we are. And you can't even qualify deadness, as you know. We are a dead people.

We come into this world dead on arrival. And we need to understand and we need to remember regularly that in our natural states, we're not seeking God. We're not running after Him.

In fact, we're doing just the opposite. We're going and running away from Him and hiding from Him behind trees and gardens. We don't want Him to come and see us. We don't want to see His face.

That One who came down and accommodated Himself to us, and if you will, came down out of the heavenlies in the beautiful picture that Genesis gives us in Genesis 2.7, wherein the God of all creation comes down and breathes into man's nostrils the breath of life. And this God with whom we were face to face is the same God that we're running away from. We're not only running away from Him, but we hate Him. Not only do we hate Him, but if He came down here, we would kill Him.

That's precisely what we did. But Jesus said, I have come to take and to save and to reveal to the people whom you have given Me for your glory that I should give eternal life, John 17 verse 2, that I should give eternal life to as many as you have given Me, Jesus said. Verse 3, and this is eternal life. We have so many poor understandings and misconceptions about what eternal life will be like, dear friends. We don't know the Scriptures well enough. Jesus here defines in His prayer to the Father as the disciples listen in, and as we listen in here now two thousand years later, to what Jesus says what eternal life is.

Listen to what He says. This is eternal life. Definition very plainly, the most simple way He could possibly say it, that they may know you. Not that they might simply think nice thoughts about you. Not so that they might simply have happy lives or their best life now. Not so that they might simply have a certain direction in their life or a certain amount of purpose in their life, but that they might know God. And if, dear ones, we are not going about our entire lives helping others know God, parents, your children, husbands, your wives, pastors, your people, then you are failing them miserably and sending a whole host right to hell. Jesus said very plainly, this is eternal life, that they may know you, that they may be face to face with you again, and that they might have an intimate, personal love and knowledge and experience eternally forever and ever, not just living forever and ever in this body and in this means and in this way that we're so used to, but living in an entirely different way, in an entirely different form, that they might know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Verse 4, I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me together with yourself with the glory which I had with you before the world was. Verse 6, Jesus moves on from praying regarding Himself in the third person to the Father and praying for those whom God the Father had given to the Son, most particularly, perhaps just speaking of the eleven, perhaps speaking of the seventy-two, perhaps speaking of those who are right around Him, His followers who had not left Him and deserted Him, perhaps speaking to all those whom the Father had given to the Son who were presently in real time, in real space, His. And Jesus said, I have manifested.

Now, stop there. Jesus said, I have manifested. I have revealed.

I have made plain. Now, usually when we read this language here in John 17, we come away thinking, well, it's simply a matter of, well, Jesus spoke the truth. He preached the truth.

Well, He did that to everybody, and many left, and many rejected Him, and many went away. Jesus said very plainly, I have manifested Your Word to them. I have revealed Your Word to them. I have opened their eyes, and I have enlightened their minds to Your Word. These whom You have given Me, by the Spirit's work, have had Your truth and Your Word revealed to them. As they're listening in, and Jesus is praying these prayers so that they can hear, He continues and says, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.

They were Yours. Why didn't Jesus pray they are Yours? Why does He use a past tense verb in speaking to the Father? And mind you, Jesus spoke every word as He meant it.

But why does He use the past tense? For so many, when it comes to the doctrines of grace, when it comes to this whole business of Calvinism, when it comes to the whole matter of election and reprobation, the hangup for so many is that they have come to a point where they have relaxed in a doctrine that suggests that God, before the foundations of the earth, didn't choose a people but instead looked down the corridor of time and peered down that tunnel of time and said, ah, I see that John or Bob or Suzanne, I see that he's going to muster up enough strength, and I see that he had just the right parents. I see that he was in just the right place.

I see that he was really smart, and he figured it out. Or I see that he had nothing and had nothing else on which to depend, and I see something in him, and then I see in a future point on this timeline that he repents of his sins and recognizes that there is a God and recognizes that he needs salvation, and I see that he's going to believe on me. And because he repented of his own volition, because he came to me, and because he had faith of his own will and of his own natural instincts, that one I'm going to choose. If you believe that, friends, you don't know the gospel because you've never come to a point. You've never come to a point in your lives when you've thrown up your hands in the air and said, Lord, why me? And when we get to heaven and the angels are…well, I should rather say when heaven comes to us and the new heavens and new earth as Revelation 21 describes it, but when we get there and the angels are all gathered around us and they look at us and they say, you know, we've been examining this whole matter of redemption. We've looked into it deeply and intensely, our entire existence. Could you tell us why are you here? And we look at these angels that are gathered about and we say, well, angels, let me tell you, it's very simple.

I believed. You say, okay, well, that's what we've heard is the way you get here, and we've heard the Westminster Confession of Faith that says this is the sole instrument of our salvation, faith. But why isn't your neighbor here? Why isn't your child here?

Why isn't your spouse here? It's at that point when we will immediately turn to the grace of God. It's at that point when we say, well, the reason I believed is because of God's grace. The reason I believed is because He worked in me belief, that He overcame my will, that He overcame my stubborn, hardened way against Him that wanted to kill Him. And He took a hold of my stony heart by the Holy Spirit. He took me and He dragged me to my knees, and He said, you're mine.

You're mine from all eternity, and I love you. And at the end of the day, angels, the only answer I really have is that the reason I'm here is by the grace of God. Now the obvious question that we have here that I really haven't answered is, is Calvinism good for the church? Of course, it's a plain thing if we answer the question to say, well, it's good for the church if it's biblical, right? The Bible says that it must be good for the church, and here we have Jesus on His knees before the Father at a most significant point in His life and ministry. Before those, He's about to leave and praying a prayer that is thoroughly dyed-in-the-wool Calvinistic. But we really still haven't answered the practical question, and that question is, how is Calvinism good for the church? Paul lays it out plainly in Ephesians 4.

Look with me there. After chapters 1 through 3, as Paul has laid out very plainly the mystery of God from all eternity about the way in which God has saved a people. So many of us, when we concern ourselves with these doctrines of grace and Calvinism, we look at this matter and we look at these questions, and as I concluded my freshman year of college writing for my English professor a paper entitled Calvinism and Arminianism, a controversy that shouldn't exist, not knowing that she was a Calvinist at the time, I wrote this paper thinking, well, this is a mystery. We can't know it. Having you read in my theme verse, of course, was Romans 11, the mind of God, His ways are far beyond our understanding, far beyond our knowing. His ways are beyond us searching. We need to settle that this is a mystery to us, and that's where many of you are today even. You think, well, this is a mystery.

We can't understand that. Look at the use of mystery in the New Testament. Paul here in Ephesians over and over again says, I'm explaining to you, dear friends, the mystery of God.

Listen. And if you go away saying, well, it's a mystery, I still can understand, then you're not being faithful to Scripture. Paul's saying, I'm giving this to you, Ephesians. This is the mystery of God unfolded. And so after he's done all this in chapters 1 through 3, ending it very plainly at the end of chapter 3 verse 21 with this amen, he begins, therefore, in chapter 4, I the prisoner of the Lord, I beseech you, I urge you, I call to you with this great admonition to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.

What is he talking about here? He just spent three chapters talking about our calling, being called out of this dark, sad world into His marvelous light and made able to stand by His power and His spiritual invigoration every day of our lives through eternity. So He's called us out of darkness and into His light, not so that we might simply bask in the light, but so that we might go back into the world, shining as His lights, into this dark world, illumining this sad and dark world with people whose eyes are closed and blinded by the God of this world, as Paul says in Corinthians. I'm a prisoner, and I beseech you to walk worthy of that calling, that electing grace by which you are called out of this world.

Walk in this way, dear friends. And for most of us, this is where we stop. It's where we put down our Bibles. We say, that's enough. I've heard it.

It sounds nice. And I would rather just walk away from this conference thinking nice thoughts about God, thinking nice thoughts about myself. Paul never stops there. God never stops there, and nor should we. Paul says very plainly, this electing grace that I've now explained to you, this whole matter of the doctrines of grace, this whole business about Calvinism that I've just explained to you in chapters 1 through 3, this is what it does.

Listen. Walk worthy of the calling with which you are called with all lowliness. Not arrogance and audacity and a brazen boldness that is elitist and makes us think and even sometimes say that we're better than all other true children of God, that we are somehow more loved by God than our neighbor who trusts Christ and loves Him with all His breath and preaches the gospel and knows God but is saved by a happy inconsistency and not yet understanding these things and not yet setting Scripture in its depths as were most of us at some point. With all lowliness, with all humility and a word to my friends, and you are my friends who are among this young, restless, and Reformed, I guess I'm still kind of young, but to those who are just coming to these things, dear ones, these doctrines should not make you more bold and more brazen but more humble. We walk in lowliness as God's people. We walk, Paul says, continuing on in chapter 4, we walk with gentleness. Paul understands, friends, he understands what these doctrines can do.

He understands that we all think we've got it now. We now understand the mystery of God, which we do. But in understanding it, it makes us and should rightly make us fall on our knees. It should rightly make us come to our faces with God every day of our lives saying, Lord, why me?

Use me, although I don't deserve to be used. True biblical Calvinism is in fact good for the church for this precise reason. I've taught you these things, Paul says. All of these things that I've laid out before you is not to make you more arrogant. It's to make you more lowly in your walk. It's to make you more gentle. It's to make you bear up one another's burdens so that you might know God and in knowing God make Him known, that you might love God and in loving God, loving your neighbors as yourselves, so that you might walk every day as a gospel child of God, trusting that promise in the God who is a covenantal God who keeps His promises that we as the people of God, that we as His church might grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share causes growth of the body.

For the body edifies itself in love. Our Calvinism, if it is biblical Calvinism, will be a thorough, ever deepening knowledge, understanding and love of the God whom we worship. And if your version of Calvinism doesn't do that, then your Calvinism is not the Bible's Calvinism, and it certainly, friend, isn't good for the church. Our Calvinism is not to be a Calvinism that we wear on a t-shirt, on a bumper sticker. It's not a Calvinism we wear on our sleeves.

It's not a badge that we put on and say, I've been to a Ligonier conference. See, I truly am a Calvinist. It's a gospel religion in which we clothe ourselves and drape ourselves with His Word daily so that when we walk, what the world sees and what the church sees and what your spouse sees and what your children see is your love in heart, soul, mind and strength of your God who has saved you. Because, friends, God saves sinners, and by His grace He saved us.

That's Dr. Burke Parsons with a timely reminder. Our theology should give us, yes, a zeal to stand for truth, but in a way that always reflects the fruit of the Spirit, which includes kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind and Dr. Parsons' message, Is Calvinism Good for the Church? It's true that Calvinism is widely misunderstood.

In fact, Dr. R.C. Sproul said, The truth is that Calvin's writings have helped Christians for centuries, particularly one small volume that we'd like to send to you today. It's called A Little Book on the Christian Life. In a little more than 100 pages, Calvin encourages his readers to pursue Christ in every area of our lives. We'll send you a copy when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

You can make your request online at, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. I think you'll come away pleasantly surprised that Calvin's critics are wrong in portraying him as a dour ivory tower theologian. Dr. Sproul said that this little book reveals not only the warm heart, but the brilliant mind and biblical insight that Calvin had. It really is a treasure and a wonderful resource for discipling new believers. So request A Little Book on the Christian Life when you contact us today with your donation of any amount. Our number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address is While we're going to change gears tomorrow, Dr. Sproul's children's books are always a treat to hear, and tomorrow we'll feature his story about people who were afraid of the dark and the peace they found when they allowed light to shine on them. We hope you'll gather the family and join us as R.C. reads The Lightlings, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-16 05:48:54 / 2023-07-16 05:58:26 / 10

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