The very mention of “Calvinism” often stirs discomfort and even anger among many who are believers and those who are not part of the kingdom of heaven. Many view, incorrectly, that the doctrine of Calvinism is narrow-minded, oppressive, and contrary to the American notion of freedom. Given how the writings of John Calvin are often presented, this is hardly surprising. Then again, many of the fundamental concepts of the Christian faith seem contrary to what many perceive as their freedom of choice or freedom of will that our society so proudly proclaims.
In truth, the doctrine known as Calvinism, so named after its author, John Calvin, is an accurate understanding of Biblical doctrine, despite the opposition of many – both within the kingdom of heaven and outside. The presentation of John Calvin, in response to an incorrect interpretation of Scripture, contains five major points and is solidly based in Scripture. We can trace the genesis of Calvinism to the nation of Holland and the teachings of a seminary professor in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. The teachings of this professor, named Arminius, garnered sufficient support among his followers that after his death in 1609, they presented these teachings in the form of a protest, or remonstrance to the state of Holland, in an attempt to change the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession of faith to their interpretation of Scripture.
Their protest contained on five points; those being divine sovereignty, human inability, election or predestination, grace, and eternal salvation. The church thought the protest serious enough to convene a convention in 1618, known as the Synod of Dort. Scholars from across Europe convened to evaluate the presentation of the followers of Arminius and came to the conclusion the positions presented by the students were, in fact, incorrect and false interpretation of Scripture. After examining the positions of the Arminians as the protestors came to be known, the gathering of theologians and church leaders came to the conclusion that the points raised by the followers of Arminius, were incorrect interpretation and application of Scripture, in fact was heretical, and that a formal response was necessary. Because of the nature of this heresy, they turned to John Calvin, a Frenchman, to draft a comprehensive and Biblically-based reply to the Arminians. In direct opposition to the five points of the protest, John Calvin constructed his response to also contain five points. Interestingly, the first letter of each of Calvin’s responses had the beginning letters of T, U. L, I, P that was quickly given the moniker of “tulip” which how some refer to the five points in John Calvin’s response. If you hear the expression, “five point Calvinist”, this refers to all the points of this doctrine. Occasionally, someone will claim to be a “four-point Calvinist” and typically, this means the person disagrees with the last point in Calvin’s argument, that being eternal salvation or preservation of believers. However, all five tenets of this doctrine are intimately interconnected and support each of the other points, and to deny one of the five principles is to render the cohesive presentation of the doctrine.
The first point of the Arminians deals with free will or human ability. To summarize this position, the argument is that while the fall significantly affected human nature, we are not in a state of complete spiritual helplessness. God allows every sinner to repent and believe, but does so in a way as to not hinder man’s freedom. Everyone possesses free will and his or her eternal destiny rests on that person’s choice. Everyone has free will and is able to choose between good and evil in spiritual matters. This also means that you are not “enslaved” to sin or to sinful nature. You can cooperate, work with the Father, and receive salvation or you can choose to reject Him. Additionally, Arminian doctrine proclaims that while you need help from the Holy Spirit for salvation, you are not regenerated by the Holy Spirit before you can believe. With regard to your salvation, faith is your contribution, or to put it another way, is your contribution. This point in the Arminian doctrine sounds so American, like apple pie and waving the flag, and it appeals to our notion of free will and controlling our own destiny. However, this cannot find support in Scripture as the first point of John Calvin’s response reveals.
The first point in the TULIP acronym, “T” stands for total inability. The term “total” does not mean that we are totally corrupt or immoral in our actions as we could possibly be. Rather it means that the “whole” of each of us has been corrupted by sin. Total inability means that we are totally unable to turn to God on our own initiative because of indwelling sin and the Adamic curse. The inability of man refers to spiritual ability or lack thereof to anything toward salvation. This point means that when we are judged by God’s standards, we are incapable of doing “anything” good as for saving or justifying ourselves. In the spiritual realm, we are incapable of good with regard to pleasing God.
As Boettner commented, just because man can love does not mean that we can love God. To make that conclusion is the same as to say that since water can flow, it therefore has the power to flow uphill or to say that since a person has the ability to jump off a cliff, that same individual can suddenly stop his fall before hitting bottom. As fallen men, we see nothing desirable in Jesus, even though we may admire Him as a wonderful example; we want nothing to do with Him as God. After the Fall, man is so morally blind as to always choose evil instead of good. Fallen man is so spiritually blind as to always choose evil over good.
As a result of Adam’s sin, we are born in sin and are spiritually dead. If we are to enter His kingdom as His children, we must be born again through the Spirit.
Genesis 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, (17) but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
Genesis 3:1-7 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’”. (2) And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”. (4) Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (5) For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a three desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her and he ate. (7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Job 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one.
Job 15:14-16 What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous. (15) If God puts no trust in the saints and the heavens are not pure in His sight, 16 how much less man, who is abominable and filthy who drinks iniquity like water.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.
John 3:3 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
2 Corinthians 1:9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.
Ephesians 2:1-3 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (3) among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He had made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Jesus said that because men are born in sin and are spiritually dead, we must be born again if we are to enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:5-7 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you; unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”.
As a result of sin, we are deaf and blind to spiritual truth. Our minds are darkened by sin and our hearts are corrupt and evil.
Genesis 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 8:21 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake; although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
Ecclesiastes 9:3 There is an evil in all that is done under the son. That one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil. Madness is in their hearts while they live and after that they go to the dead.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart of deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?
Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
John 3:19 “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”
Romans 8:7-8 Because the carnal man is enmity against God for it is not subject to the law of God nor indeed can be. (8) So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man does not perceive the tings of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him nor can he know then because they are spiritually discerned.
Ephesians 4:17-19 This I say, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk in the futility of their minds (18) having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart (19) who, being past feeling, have given themselves over the lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but even their minds and conscious are defiled.
Sin is universal. There is no one righteous, not even one.
2 Chronicles 6:36 When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin) and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy and they take them captive to a land far or near.
Job 15:14-16 What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? (15) If God puts no trust in His saints and the heavens are not pure in His sight, (16) how much less man who is abominable and filthy who drinks iniquity like water.
Psalm 130:3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Psalm 143:2 Do not enter into judgment with Your servant for in Your sight no one living is righteous.
Proverbs 20:9 Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean. I am pure from my sin.’
Ecclesiastes 7:20 For these is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.
Ecclesiastes 7:29 Truly, this only I have found. That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way.
Isaiah 64:6 But we all like an unclean thing and all our righteousness are like filthy rags. We all fade as a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Romans 3:9-12 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. (10) As it written, ‘There is none righteous, no not one. (11) There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. (12) They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.
James 3:2, 8 For we stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. (8) But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
Before we are born into the kingdom of heaven through the Holy Spirit, we are children of the devil and slaves to sin.
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Whoever commits sin s a slave of sin.”
John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is not truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources for he is a liar and the father of it.
Romans 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Ephesians 2:1-2 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespass and sin (2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now woks in the sons of disobedience.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, (25) in humility correct those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (26) and that they might come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil having been taken captive by him to do his will.
Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
1 John 3:10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God nor is he who does not love his brother.
1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.
Left in an unsaved condition, we are unable in and of ourselves to repent, to believe the gospel, or to come to Jesus. We have no power within ourselves to change our nature or to prepare ourselves for salvation.
Job 14:4 Who can bring an unclean thing out of an unclean? No one.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Matthew 7:16-18 “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? (17) Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”
Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad for a tree is known by its fruit.”
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
Romans 11:35-36 For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor. (36) Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him.
1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if indeed you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.
An analogy of what this concept of Total Inability means with regard to man was written by a W. D. Smith and it is quite good. He wrote, “in a gang of pirates we may find many things that are good in themselves. Though they are in wicked rebellion against the laws of the government, they have their own laws and regulations, which they obey strictly. We find among them courage and fidelity, with many other things that will recommend them as pirates. They may do many things, to, which the laws of the government require, but they are not done because the government has so required, but in obedience to their own regulations. For example, the government requires honesty and they may be strictly honest, one with another, in their transactions and in the division of all their spoil.
Yet, as respects the government and the general principle, they whole life is one of most wicked dishonesty. Now, it is plain, that while they continue in their rebellion, they can do nothing to recommend them to the government as citizens. Their first step must be to give up their rebellion, acknowledge their allegiance to the government, and sue for mercy. So all men, in their natural state, are rebels against God; and though they may do many things which the law of God requires, as which will recommend them to men, yet nothing is done with reference to God and His law. The first step is to give up his rebellion, repent of his sins, turn go God, and sue for pardon and reconciliation through the Savior.”