(This is simply an experiential, subjective argument for Calvinism, not so much a Scriptural defense).
I was raised in a Christian home with two parents who believed in Christ. I came to know the Lord at age five (though I’m still not sure about the sincerity of it looking back on my past). My mother, when she was growing up, was severely sexually abused by her mother. So needless to say, my mom, though a strong lover of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, had severe mental problems to say the least. Our family went through many very difficult times, because my mom’s problems resulted in multiple personalities. Some of these personalities were suicidal and my mother would cut on herself, thus getting admitted to psychiatric wards on many occasions.
As I grew up, my mom, dad and Sunday school teachers taught me the love of God in Christ, His mercy and grace, and that it was all brought about because of the cross of Christ. In addition, my mom and dad both taught me from the Scriptures of God’s sovereign rule over all things. When I became a teenager, going through some of the roughest times within our family, and knowing God was loving and sovereign, I began questioning why God would permit 1) my mother to be abused in that way, and 2) why He allowed our family to be affected by all of the repercussions of that abuse. My questioning turned into anger, anger into rage, and I became so upset with God because I knew in my heart He had sovereignly ordained all of those terrible events for His purposes, and I was not happy with it because it made no sense to me. I turned to sin: drugs, rage, goth venues, terrible friends that pulled me down, and all sorts of other things to run from God, while shaking my fist at Him, though at the same time knowing I could not successfully thwart any of His plans or turn from Him ultimately (mainly because I still had desires, conviction of my sin, and genuine love for Christ, I was an extremely confused, wicked sinner; I was/am a sinner of sinners). I was miserable. Utterly miserable, because I knew Christ personally, but was so angry and frustrated with Him for sovereignly permitting those things.
The reason I believe I was saved (though I still debate it to this day) even amidst all my sinning is that every time I did something wrong (i.e. drugs, etc), I felt a deep burden and weight in my soul because of the guilt of the sin and all my friends had no idea what I was talking about when I told them I felt terrible about what I was doing. In particular, there was a time I was on acid, and I had a bad trip because I knew I was sinning against God, felt terrible and remorseful about it, but could do nothing to stop the drugs’ influence on my mind. And so I freaked out. Later that night after coming down off of it, I prayed to God to have mercy on me for turning to that, but that was not the end of my anger against Him. However, I believe God’s Spirit hedged me from pursuing the depths of my wickedness. This pattern of sinning, being miserable, and then asking for mercy and forgiveness from God continued for a while, from about 7th grade until 10th grade.
And then something absolutely amazing happened. The prayers my mom and dad had prayed for years, that God would pour out a double-portion of His Holy Spirit upon me, were answered. Leading up to that point though, the Lord was slowly but surely drawing me to Himself, even in the midst of the drugs. Throughout the spring semester of my sophomore year, I found myself desiring to read the Scriptures for the first time in a long time. I began reading the Psalms and they were hitting me right between the eyes (spiritually speaking). This pattern of hanging out and smoking pot, then going home and reading the Psalms, continued into the summer until it all climaxed with a couple of amazing experiences.
First experience: when hanging out with all of my friends during the beginning of summer, smoking pot, I became stoned (i.e. very high) and started hallucinating. All my friends were playing a video game and in the game the character on the screen was in hell. Then the screen came out and became reality (in my mind of course). I was frozen in place because I was so scared. All my friends then became demons and all of them turned their frightening faces toward me and said synchronously, “You don’t belong here, you are God’s.” And then everything went back to “normal”. At that point, I was convinced (mainly because I was so friggin scared) that I was not supposed to be there and that was not my calling. And so I got up in the middle of hanging out (around 8 p.m., when usually I left around 2 a.m.), and went home. My friends were totally confused. That night I read the Psalms for hours on end and God was speaking to me in the most powerful ways through His Word.
Second experience: after having left the people I was hanging out with and ceasing to smoke pot or drink anymore, I began seeing how great the love of God was in Christ through reading His Scriptures. One night in late July, after having read the Scriptures for hours and praying to Him, I went out into the backyard around 2 a.m. and I cried out to God to have mercy on my in my sin and how I had been turning from Him and He poured out His Spirit in great measure. All of my burdens were lifted and the guilt removed instantaneously. At that moment, experiencing God’s Spirit in a way I had never experienced it made me feel like I had one foot on earth and one foot in the heaven with Christ. It was the best night of my life. I cried and cried and cried at the mercy I had been shown in Christ. I saw how incredible my debt was to Him and how in Christ, my whole debt was removed, and that I was at that moment given His righteousness. It was absolutely wonderful, the most satisfaction I had ever felt. I was literally changed over night. (I very may have been saved for the first time that night, but I cannot also discredit my experiences from the past that occurred in looking at my life, but I had no assurance I was saved). That night, literally, everything changed in my life. In a lot of ways, I guess you could say I was the prodigal son. I was the Lord’s sheep, I turned from Him and wallowed in the mud of sin, hit rock bottom, was convicted of my sin against Him (by Him), came back to Him asking for forgiveness for turning from Him, and He not only removed my guilt, but gave me His robe of righteousness, the robe He earned on the cross. Ever since, God radically transferred me from the domain of darkness to the domain of His glorious Son, I have never ceased to be in awe of His great power and sovereign rule over my life. And I finally came to understand that His purpose in my family’s trials were for God’s glory and our good (our eternal good).
You may be asking, “How does this relate to Calvinism?” Well, upon reading over my story about how God delivered me from the “pit” of sin, you may be saying, “You asked God for forgiveness and then He blessed you as a result.” Yes that’s true and I will not deny that, because Christ said, “Anyone who comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” I came to Christ and He forgave the guilt of my sin, true. But my question to you is, “Why did I come to Christ? Why did I go to Him in the first place?” You may respond by saying, “Well, I guess because you wanted to.” And that’s right on target. I respond, “But why did I want to at all? Why did I come back to Christ, while one of my good friends never came at all despite hearing the same call?” If you say I came because I made better use of the grace of God, then guess who has something to boast about before God and men? Me. Why is that? Because if I made better use of it, that means I was wiser or smarter or more spiritual than my friend, right? So God, in this scheme only gets part of the glory, but I get a little too, because man, I made that little leap. Well, frankly, that’s not true at all and that’s not what happened in my life at all. The fact of the matter is that I was running from God. I do debate back and forth on whether I was a true believer or not before that night in my backyard. But regardless, why is it that I came to Christ while all my friends thought that was foolishness? If I came because I was a better person, or smarter, or wiser, then I get the glory, not God. But God will not have it (just read Old Testament stories about how jealous God is for His own glory). This is where Calvinism comes in.
When I came back to Christ that summer, God opened my heart and mind to see the things spoken of in Scripture. I saw His character, His justice, love, mercy, all wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Christ. When I was later presented with the five points of Calvinism, I read through every doctrine and had absolutely no problem with it at all. Why is that? Because everything it talks about was exactly my experience. And I saw that ultimately, Calvinism points not just to God’s sovereignty and rule over all things including salvation, but to the cross of Christ. That’s the point of these doctrines, to point to the cross of Christ where He didn’t just make salvation possible, but He made it actual in His chosen children.
The doctrines of Calvinism go like this:
– Total Depravity
– Unconditional Election
– Limited Atonement (Definite Atonement, I prefer)
– Irresistible Grace
– Perseverance of the Saints (Preservation of the Saints, I prefer)
Total Depravity – From my experience and story, I was a sinner running hard from God, i.e. I was not seeking Him in any manner. (even debating to this day whether or not I was a genuine believer during those times, mainly because there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence in my favor within my life, but I also know what I believed in my heart at that time too). Regardless, I was absolutely defiant and wicked (i.e. totally depraved: meaning every facet of my existence was affected by sin and corrupted: my will, emotions, thoughts, everything was corrupted by sin). I was unable and unwilling to submit to God’s will over mine because sin had grown its root so deep within my heart. When I consider my total depravity, I know that I’m not as bad as I possibly could be, but I do know that my entire being is affected by sin, and nothing has escaped its grasp. I was in bondage to sin and could do nothing but sin prior to Christ changing me. This doctrine was very much proved in my life.
Irresistible Grace – But then that summer, I began to desire God like never before, however, I desired Him only because the Spirit was opening my heart and my mind to see and hear what He was saying in His word because I was totally depraved (I could definitely and did successfully resist God, but when He choose He overcame all of my resistance and changed me from the inside out, effectually removing my resistance to Him). There was no doubt, even at that time, that I was being drawn to God by His Spirit working in me. And the Holy Spirit’s work in my life was a result of the cross of Christ, the atonement then being applied in my heart, and the result being that I was effectually drawn to Christ and made willing.
Definite Atonement – After God’s Spirit changed me and drew me closer to Himself, I spiritually saw what Christ died on the cross and that He had me in mind in particular when He was shedding His blood for my sins. And in fact, the night the Holy Spirit came upon me in power, I saw that Jesus’ death on the cross was the very thing that bought everything in my life leading up to that point (namely faith and repentance, resulting in salvation, whether it was when I was five or 17; what God demanded from me, He freely gave me in Christ as a result of the cross). This is definite atonement (or limited atonement, limited only in scope of who its applied to, not having anything to do with the sufficiency of the atonement). Christ did not potentially die for me on the cross, He effectually died for me and bought everything for me pertaining to salvation, from Alpha to Omega, beginning to end. On the cross 2000 years ago, before I was even born, He secured me and saved me with His precious blood, making my salvation sure, not just potential or possible. Jesus Christ made it actual.
Unconditional Election – And being presented from Scripture with the Biblical words “predestination” and “election,” I saw and agreed that if God effectually came and regenerated me which then gave rise to my faith in Him, that He must have chosen to do so of His own will, not based on my will in any way. My will was in opposition to His, I was an enemy, held in chains by my sin (total depravity). And He changed me from the inside out to where I desired to be His, as a result of the cross of Christ. The cause of my salvation was the cross of Christ; the effect was my faith in Christ’s sufficiency, that He had indeed paid my debt against God on that cross. He freed my will from sin at the cross, in order that I would definitely believe in Him. But when did He make that choice to deliver me? Ephesians 1 gave me the answer loud and clear: before the foundation of the world I was chosen in Christ, or in relation to Christ’s death and resurrection; before anything was even made, God fore-loved (foreknew) me. Wow! What cause for rejoicing! Did He choose me because I was better than anyone else or because He liked me more? No way! I still have no idea why He chose me to inherit salvation, (there was nothing in me worth saving) to which I praise Him and thank Him for His good, divine, secret reasons that cannot be fathomed and are not revealed in Scripture. I was the least of all because I knew the truth and still ran from Him! What a sinner! And yet He chose to deliver me and free me from my wickedness in great, great mercy through the cross … to which I find myself still weeping to this day thinking about such great love that made my salvation sure at the cross! And to think that the cords of that salvation go down into the depths of eternity, into God’s infinite, eternal counsel and purpose!
Preservation of the Saints – And I know that based on the cross of Christ, He has me secured and will never let me go. He will never let me drift so far away into sin that I abandon Him and fall into the pit of hell. His Holy Spirit is sufficient and efficient, in order that His people will never fall away. At the cross, Jesus secured everything pertaining to salvation; He secured the beginning, the end, as well as all the means to save me. How wonderful!
Calvinism is about the love of God in Christ’s death and resurrection for desperately wicked sinners like me. These doctrines are meant to point to the cross of Christ and nothing more. If we lose sight of the cross, where all of God’s attributes are so wondrously displyed, we’ve lost everything. These doctrines are meant to maximize the glory of God and to put man in His proper place, at His feet in submission to Him as a servant of the Most High God. They are humbling to say the least and flatten any amount of pride we may have. We are not to elevate this system of theology above the Scriptures, but I believe with all my heart that these doctrines do indeed outline the things spoken of in Scripture. I am a Calvinist because God chose to save me with everlasting cords of love, appropriated through the cross of Christ, in infinite self-sacrifice through the shedding of His precious blood.
I echo the words of Jonathan Edwards when he says: “I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in every thing just as he taught.”
Resources pertaining to Calvinism:
Five Points of Calvinism (MP3’s) – John Piper > EXCELLENT!
What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism – Bethlehem Baptist Church and John Piper
A Defense of Calvinism – C.H. Spurgeon
Some Things Non-Calvinists Should Know About Calvinism
Calvinist Rejections of Hyper-Calvinist Beliefs – Monergism.com
A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism – Phil Johnson
Predestination and the Love of God – Matt Perman
Misunderstandings of the Doctrine of Election – Wayne Grudem