Redeemer Church: TULIP Q&A
Do we have free will?
Response by Donovan Santamaria
At the root of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate is the question of free will. Do we have it? What is it?
To begin with it is necessary to define some terms. There are generally two views of free will, Libertarian and Augustinian.
- Libertarian free will teaches that the human will is free to make moral choices without any constraint.
- Augustinian free will teaches that the human will is constrained by our nature/condition/desires/appetites.
Redeemer believes that the Bible teaches the Augustinian view of free will. We certainly are called to make choices and we certainly do make choices. But those choices are always made in the context of our desires and affections. Because our nature/essence is sinful and corrupt, we will never truly choose God. We will choose. We just won’t choose God.
It is this connection between the desires and the choices that is necessary to grasp in order to understand Calvinist theology, the Bible, and ultimately what we need from God.
The bad news is that we are born with darkened hearts, blind to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:4), unable to choose him (Rom 8:7). The good news is that God heals us, opens our eyes (2 Cor 4:6), calls to be born again to a living hope (1 Pet 1:3), and out of that new nature, we truly choose him.
One of my favorite sermons, a biography on St. Augustine, explores this issue further:
Does God force us to love him?
Response by Donovan Santamaria
One of the objections to Calvinism is that the idea of God conquering our wills seems to fly in the face of love as we understand it. We imagine a caveman dragging a woman off into a cave and forcing her to love him. We know intuitively that this is not love.
I affirm this objection, insofar as I agree that this picture of love is not love at all. However, this is not a helpful picture. This is not how the Bible explains salvation. Our essential problem as human beings is that we are blind to the glory of God. He is objectively lovely; he is actually delightful. Any disagreement regarding the beauty of God is not owing to any lack in his beauty, but in human inability to perceive it.
In the biblical picture of salvation, mankind is not a woman being dragged off to a cave. Nor is mankind a woman trying to be convinced to freely go to the cave. Mankind is a blind person unable to see the glorious light. God is the healer who opens the eyes of the blind to his glory. It is within the context of that former blindness and current healing that mankind now delights in and loves God.
Was that love forced? That’s probably not a helpful word. But I would say that love was caused.
- 2 Cor 4:4, 6 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
- 1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
Why does the Bible call us to choose/act?
Response by Donovan Santamaria
It is clear from the Scriptures that God calls man into all kinds of action:
- Joshua 24:15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve,
- Matthew 3:2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
- Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
I could go on and on and on with biblical exhortations to pray, to share the gospel, to love one another to serve the poor, to preach and teach, to make disciples, to gather together, etc… The point is, the Bible is filled with ehxortations.
Calvinism teaches that ultimately God is in control of everything, and the realization of this truth can have the effect of making us wonder why we should even act at all. The classic Reformed response to this is that God ordains the means as well as the ends. In other words, not only has God planned the results, he has planned the process. He has ordained that the way He will accomplish his will is (in part) through the actions of men. As an example, I believe that if you are on a burning bus, it has been determined whether or not you get off. But if it has been determined that you will get off, YOU WILL GET OFF!
Calvinism does not teach that man has no need to act; it merely affirms the biblical truth that man is called to act and that God will provide the power and determine the outcomes. Consider the following passages that put man’s action in relation to God’s power.
- 1 Cor 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
Here, Paul is explaining that he and Apollos certainly did much work, but the outcome was up to God. A friend recently pointed out to me that to ask, “If God is sovereign, then why do anything?” is akin to asking “If God germinates the seed, then why plant it?” I trust that doesn’t need much explanation.
- Col 1:29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Here, we see Paul describing his ministry as “toil”. He is laboring, working, preaching, teaching. But it is God who is providing the power and energy to act.
- Phil 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Here we see that Christian exhorted to work out his salvation. He is called to action. And yet we see that beneath the surface, the ultimate cause of these good works is the sovereign God who provides the willingness and the working.
Jonathan Edwards sums it up this way:
In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what he produces, viz. [namely] our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.
(The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, p. 557)
Let me add one final point. Often, the question “If God is sovereign then why act?” may reveal a distorted view of our relationship with God. In other words, there is a confession behind the question. The confession is that we don’t see a reason to relate to God outside of our ultimate causality. Take prayer for an example. We may think, “If God has determined what will happen anyway, then why pray?” I would suggest to you that there are reasons to pray other than to get God to do things. Prayer is an opportunity to commune with God, to be shaped by him, to find rest for our souls, and much more.
Likewise with everything God is calling us to do. He is not calling us to be God, to have ultimate causality, but to know that he is God and he has causality. He is calling us to know him, not to get things done.
How can a good God ordain evil? Why?
Response by John Piper
Why did God choose me?
Response by Dirk Wiese
One of the most common questions that arises in the discussion of the TULIP and, quite frankly, the Christian life is, “Why did God choose me?” “What did He see in me?” The greatest theologians and everyday normal Christians have pondered and wrestled with this time and time again. I sit across from college students, parents, and people from all walks of life who ask themselves this kind of question. To be honest, I have often asked that question myself. We all know and can easily see in scripture that we have no righteousness of our own that God saw that merited our salvation. We are also faced with the fact that those of us who profess Christ are saved by the grace of God alone. God acted to change our hearts and we responded with worship. We can still struggle with the reality that God did that to us individually. He chose us, but why? I usually ask this in two kinds of situations.
In the first situation, the question emerges after I have given into temptation and fallen into sin. The fleeting pleasures are long gone and I find myself bearing guilt and shame from what I had done. As I wrestle with the lies of the enemy, the world, and my flesh about my identity in Christ and how God sees me, I ask this as a defeating question followed by the onslaught of lies. “I’ve messed up too much. He can’t really forgive me this much. His grace has to have a limit when it comes to me.” I’m sure this sounds familiar to what we’ve all said at different times. We say it from a defeated and discouraged posture that doubts His word and His work.
The second situation happens when I am completely awestruck with who God is.
- Isaiah 40:15, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.”
A verse like this and many others can give me the right perspective of reality that I have nothing of my own and I have no control over the events of history. When I see that God does have that ownership as the Creator and control as the Sovereign Lord, I feel small. Not in a self-deprecating way, but in a place of humility. God is huge and I am small and that is good! Similarly, this comes when I clearly see the Son of God crucified in my place, dying my death, taking my punishment, and sealing my redemption in Him. I see something that I didn’t deserve one bit.
How do we accurately answer this question? Let’s look at what God says in His word.
- Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3-10 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
This is a monstrous passage that gives us plenty to chew on. We see that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing, chosen us to become holy and blameless, predestined us for adoption, redeemed us, forgiven us, lavished us with grace, made His will known to us, and much more! But, why has he done so? I believe that the answer rests in verse 6, “to the praise of His glorious grace”. God has done all of these things so that we would be completely satisfied in Him. A satisfaction that would manifest itself in the praise of who He is and what He has done!
Jesus says to us in John 15:11
- “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
I absolutely love that. Jesus has come in flesh to sinful people like us and has told us of the wonderful grace and love that comes from God to bring redemption to the world. He not only says it, but He delivers on His promises. He is worthy of our praise.
Simply put, the answer to the question of why God chose us is that He can and He did. He desires His name to be praised and His people to have joy. Regardless of our sin, Christ has come to cleanse us so that we would be satisfied in Him. We should see this as a truth that frees us from lies and enables us to live our lives wholly dedicated to God. John Piper writes, “My aim in explaining the mystery of election would be to awaken in both of us a greater sense of wonder that we are saved, and that we owe it all to God — that apart from him we can do nothing and, therefore, all of our lives should be lived in the constant amazement that we are saved and that he would die for us. My aim is humility in us and all glory to God.” What a great God we serve!
How can we be held responsible for sin if we ultimately don't have a choice?
Response by Donovan Santamaria
This is precisely the question Paul asks in Romans 9:19
- You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
Paul just finished teaching that ultimately God gives mercy to whoever he wants and hardens whoever he wants in verse 18. And he anticipates the response that it seems unjust to hold people responsible for what they are unable to control. Let me make two observations on this issue.
First, I would like to point out that the very fact that this question is being asked by people means that they have heard the truth. In other words, when Paul anticipated the question, it was explicitly because he had taught that none resist the will of God. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Paul to retract and say, “You misunderstand me, you can resist his will.” Just because a doctrine is an affront to our human sense of justice doesn’t mean we should reject it. In this case, it means that we are being presented with an opportunity to repent and be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Second, this question reveals that humans have a presupposition that responsibility requires the ability to choose. The Bible does not teach that. Theologically speaking, Compatibilism is the Christian doctrine that these two seemingly opposing truths, that man is constrained by his nature and that he is responsible for that nature, are a paradox that we must hold in tension because the Bible teaches them. I don’t think it is actually much of a paradox.
We know that people don’t have to be able to choose otherwise in order to hold them responsible. Think of a serial killer who is stuck in his frame of mind and can’t stop killing people. Would we say that he should not be held responsible because he can’t help himself? No, we would not. In fact, I would argue that it is this very inability to choose otherwise that heightens the responsibility.
Does God love everybody?
Response by Donovan Santamaria
Since Calvinism teaches that God chooses who will be saved, isn’t that in contradiction to John 3:16?
- John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Doesn’t this passage clearly teach that God loves everyone equally? I would say it does not. In consideration of other passages in Scripture, we see that God has at least two levels of ability to love. There is a general sense in which he loves his entire creation, and there is the specific sense in which he loves his church, his elect, his bride.
Consider the following passages that emphasize God’s unique love for his church:
- Rom 9:13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Here we see a strong distinction between how God feels about Jacob and Esau. It simply will not do to say that God loves all people equally.
- 1 Tim 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Here we see both God’s general posture toward the world as well as his special covenant love for believers.
- Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Here, Christ’s love for the church is used as the basis to model a man’s love for his wife. A man is not to love his wife and the world sin the same way. There is a unique covenant love reserved only for her.
- John 10:14-16 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
Christ did not die for the wolves and the robbers, he died for the sheep.
God’s general love for the world cannot be denied, ha gives life and rain to all. But he does not love all in the same way. God’s covenant, saving love is reserved for his elect.
Doesn’t the Bible teach that God wants all people to be saved?
Response by Dirk Wiese
- 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
- 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “ This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
These are perhaps some of the most common passages brought up to refute the TULIP. If God desires all to repent and to be saved then surely He cannot choose only a certain number to be saved. There are two interpretive options when dealing with these passages; the theological and the contextual.
As we look through God’s word I believe that we see that He has two kinds of wills. Some have distinguished them as His efficient will and his permissive will, sovereign will and moral will, or many others. This was new to me as I began to dig deeper into Calvinism and found myself trying to work through the above passages. While this subject is massive, I will try to be concise and clear so as to stir your desires for further investigation.
I believe that the clearest picture of God’s two divine wills can be seen at the crucifixion of Jesus. We must see all of this with the cross at the center of reality and of our perspective. As we look at the events leading up to the cross we see that Satan entered into Judas Iscariot leading him to betray Jesus and ultimately leading Him to his death. We can see Satan’s ability and how he can influence the world by reading Job (specifically 1-2:10). We can also see how God was sovereign over the events as Peter preaches in Acts 2:23-24
- “ this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
So it was God who planned the events leading up to the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself though He did not sin in any way to contradict His holiness. The sinful desires of Satan and man, the mocking, torture, and pain delivered to Jesus was all a part of God’s plan before the world began. Isaiah writes in 53:10a
- “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
This is astounding. God, who is perfectly holy and sovereign is able to have a moral will that decrees His law to the world to distinguish sin from holiness and a sovereign will that ordains that evil be in order that the ultimate goal of God should come to pass, namely, the raising up of the Son so that whoever would look upon Him would be saved (John 3:15).
In light of this, to now look at the verses in 2 Peter and 1 Timothy we can see that God does desire all to be saved, but does not save all. John Piper words this well,
“The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.” I believe what God wills more is the glorification of His sovereign grace in His saving of a sinful people who do not deserve it.
Contributed by Donovan Santamaria
Dirk has argued well that 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:3-4 make sense when considering the “two wills of God”. There is another approach to interpreting these passages, one that focuses more on immediate context, rather than broader theological consideration.
There are two critical contextual issues to consider when studying 1 Timothy 2:3-4. The first has to do with what Paul means when he says God desires “all people to be saved”. What does God mean by “all people”. Certainly, we don’t want to play fast and loose and just redefine words to suit our theological predispositions, but I believe there is good contextual evidence to believe when Paul says “all people” he doesn’t mean “every person who has ever lived, but rather “people of all types”. The contextual clue is found just a few verses earlier when Paul argues that prayers be made for “all people”. Immediately following this exhortation, Paul explains what he means by all people, namely “kings and all who are in high positions; that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life”. Paul is exhorting the church to not disregard their earthly authorities as worthy of prayer, but reminding them that God saves from all classes of people.
The second contextual issue impacting our study of 1 Tim 2:3-4 is its parallel passage in 2 Tim 2:24-26
- And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Look again at 1 Tim 2:3-4
- This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul wrote both of these letters to the same recipient, using the same language regarding God’s salvation of sinners: that they would come to a knowledge of the truth (the truth being the good news of the gospel). The reason this is significant is because , taking the two passges together, it is clear that Paul understands that the ultimate cause of people coming to a knowledge of the truth is not their choosing, or the exercising of repentance by their own will, but rather that God would grant them repentance.
In summary, Paul is not teaching that God is trying to save everyone, but they won’t repent. Paul is saying that God will save anyone he wants to, from any class of people, and he will do so by granting them repentance as we preach and pray for them.
Regarding 2 Pet 3:9 there is also a contextual issue to consider. When Peter says “any” does he mean “any human who has ever existed” or “any of you, the elect”? I believe it is quite clear in the context that Peter is referring to “any of the elect”. All throughout the book, Peter refers to “you” (the church he is addressing) and “they” (false teachers, unbelievers).
This is clearly seen in chapter 3:1-7
- This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
We clearly see the you/they distinction in Peter’s language. Now, look at verse 9
- The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The “any” of “not willing that any should perish” is a reference to the “you”, the elect. God is not willing that nay of his elect perish.
Peter is exhorting the church to remember God’s commitment to them in the face of mockery. They may scoff and laugh, saying “where is your God?” But you know that God is patient, bringing in the full number of the elect before bringing cataclysmic destruction to the world. In the meantime:
- 2 Pet 3:11-12 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
Doesn’t the Bible teach that we can lose our salvation?
Response by Joe Brinkmann
From the outset, I want us to see that the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints” implies a struggle in the life of a Jesus follower. The Scriptures speak to this struggle in real ways without casting doubt on the assurance of salvation in Christ. We need to be able to hold these two things together as we think through this question.
In terms of difficult passages which seem to suggest the possibility of losing salvation, we need to consider a broader context. Hebrews 6:4-6 says,
- For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
In order to better grasp this passage, we need to know some of the context of Hebrews. It is written specifically to Jews who have, at least, claimed to embrace Jesus as Messiah. However, in the face of pressures from others who reject Jesus as Messiah they are rethinking some things. The entire book is an amazing example of classical argumentation and debate. Whoever the author is, they are skillfully attempting to persuade these doubters to persevere. Chapter 6 is not so much a theological statement as much as it is a warning and persuasive argument. New Testament scholar, Ardel Caneday, says that some will, “…unintentionally alter the function of the passage by converting the warning against falling away into a declaration that it’s possible to fall away. Against this view, I would argue the passage is a warning, and as a warning it alerts us to lurking dangers that entice us to forsake Jesus. It does not announce faith’s possible failure.” It seems to be saying that, according to the nature of salvation in Jesus, you cannot simply come and go as you please. If these Jews are truly reconsidering things, they need to be reminded about the nature of their salvation. Verse 9 says, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.”
What is salvation?
This salvation is the assuring work of Jesus. The author goes on in verses 10-20 to describe such a salvation. It is based on God’s self-sufficiency. It does not ultimately depend on outside factors such as the will of an individual. It is his promise. It cannot fail. In fact, they say, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” So, it would seem that this passage is actually a strong argument for the assurance of salvation in Jesus. Whatever we think about salvation must take this into consideration. Verses 4-6 must be seen in light of this overarching message in Hebrews and the entire Bible. Consider John 10:27-29 where Jesus says,
- My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Many of us know someone (maybe yourself) who has felt like they just don’t believe anymore. We need to be careful to discern what is going on here. The Apostle Paul had deep struggles of belief during his ministry to the point of utter exhaustion and possible depression (see II Cor. 1:8). The flesh is weak, but the Spirit yearns in God’s elect. This is the fight for joy we often speak of at Redeemer. But, there are other situations where someone has utterly rejected Jesus after years of living what appeared to be the “Christian” life. In this case, they never had experienced true repentance and confession of faith in Jesus for their salvation. In other words, they implicitly rejected Jesus for a time, and now they explicitly reject him. This is not always easy to discern. I John 2:19 says,
- They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Summing It Up
These are challenging situations and passages to ponder, and they inevitably draw out deep questions regarding our salvation. As with anything, we need to first be reminded of the overarching message of salvation in Scripture. That is where we start. We believe that, if we start there, the subjective situations of life become both more clear and opportunities for the display of God’s amazing purpose in election.
Further resource on this question: