I recently received an offer from Ligonier Ministries for a special 25th anniversary edition of R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God. If ever there was a book that helped solidify my understanding and belief in Calvinism, this was the book. Reading John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion was a big bonus as well. But Sproul really helped me understand predestination, human free will and God’s sovereignty in our salvation.These three doctrines are extremely important, which explains why there is so much debate concerning these truths. As the questions go, who does what in our salvation and who gets the glory? The answer is one and the same: God does.
But lo, the Arminians love to put forth that idolatry known as free will, saying that salvation is all our decision. From their point of view, they think God provided the way and it’s up to us to get on down the road. This view is really humanism (which harkens back to the temptation by Satan in the Garden of Eden) mixed with some misapplied bible passages.
The problem with free will is that the Bible doesn’t speak to the issue very often, and when it does, it doesn’t bode well for the Arminian camp. For instance, when the Bible says, “Repent and be baptized” the Arminians believe this command implies free will, or the ability to repent. But this is reading their belief into Scripture, for simply because we are all obligated to believe in Christ to be saved, does not imply that we have the ability to do so.
The Bible speaks far more of the heart as the governing agent within our beings. It is our heart that guides our decisions and the heart is wicked beyond belief. This is why it so silly to say such things as: “Follow your heart.” Our fallen hearts govern our actions and our hearts are in bondage to sin. So we have no freedom at all. We are bound and enslaved to our fallen hearts.
When the Bible does speak of man’s will, it shows that our election by the Father is not guided upon by our decision making ability, but based on His decision alone. In Paul’s account of God choosing Jacob over Esau he writes: For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will .” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. This is monumental truth in the debate for it speaks to our wills and our works. Election or predestination is up to God, not us. Since this is true, salvation is of the LORD and He bestows it on whom He pleases.
This is not what Arminians teach. They teach that God gives us road and we have to travel it to be saved… sort of like what the Roman Catholics teach.
The irony is that Sproul’s book was recommended to me by Dr. Robert Pyne while I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. During one of our courses, Dr. Pyne had us reading books outside of our tradition for extra credit. I was interested in the topic of limited atonement so I chose John Owen’s The Death of Death and The Death of Christ. For anyone who has tried to read this particular book, it is well worth the attempt. But given my understanding of things at the time, it was way over my head.
I went to see Dr. Pyne after class and told him of my problem. He quickly recommended Dr. Sproul’s book which I joyfully bought the next day. I wasn’t joyful because it was going to answer all my questions, or because I came across an excuse to buy another book. I was joyful because I was going to receive extra credit for a book that was only 211 pages compared to Owen’s monstrous and laborious 340 pages. That is a huge difference when you see Sproul is using 12 pt. font compared to Mr. Owen’s 9 pt. font.
I know that my joy was not spurred on by the purest or most noble motives. But God will use those too for my good and His glory.
Reading Sproul’s book was a breath of fresh air in my theological training. He really began to bring together what the Bible said with clarity. When he began to explain that the cardinal point of Reformed theology is that regeneration proceeds faith, it was eye opening. Not only because that is what Scripture pointed to with clarity, but it also reflected my experience as well. I knew when I came to know Christ, it wasn’t because I made a decision or said some prayer. There were too many lights that were turned on when it came to Scripture for me to believe that it was my doing.
“Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin is so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ. We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order that we may believe.”
This was not what I was hearing in a lot of my seminary classes, but it was what I believed Scripture to be saying. I can vividly remember one professor telling us that the moment we said the sinners prayer is the moment that God was duty bound to cause us to be born again. I didn’t like the sound of that. God is duty bound to mankind? If that is the case, He is not God but our slave. I knew that not to be the case.
Sproul laid it out clearly. God was God. We were dead spiritually because of sin. He had to create a new heart in us in order to believe. Our salvation was His work upon us. We were the happy recipients of His grace and He is only bound to us by His love that He chooses to show us, not because we said some formulaic prayer.
I was quickly becoming a Calvinist after this point. There are others who helped along the road, but this is where it began to click for me while I was a student at DTS. It wouldn’t be long before I became completely Reformed in my convictions. It was also about this time that I quit entering into the discussions at DTS. It makes me laugh now, but I quickly realized that once some of my fellow students realized I was a Calvinist or Reformed, the attack was on! Don’t worry, I still count them as my dear brothers in the LORD. They were just doing what they thought best for me… convince me that I was wrong in my understanding and beliefs. We will all laugh about it in heaven someday.
As for Sproul’s book, I highly recommend it. You might even try to get the 25th anniversary edition because it is in hardback.