He bore my sin on Calvary’s tree
And Righteousness bestowed on me
That I might see his face.
God justified me, set me free,
And glorified I soon will be:
How marvelous this grace.
-James Montgomery Boice
After two years as a committed Calvinist, I’m done. No longer will I wear the quotes of dead white dudes on my sleeves; no longer will I stand committed to cleverly articulated doctrines in the shape of a flower.
Well, at least, not formally.
It has long been my conviction that titles and labels in Christianity are helpful so long as they serve to point people to Christ and stir their affections for Him. Labels and distinctions are helpful to communicate what and why we believe to be true about Christ, the Church and his Word.
The problem is, the term “Calvinism” often draws more hatred than it does stir affections; it turns people away from Christ rather than drawing them to Him. I’ve noticed this happens for one of three reasons: either 1) people don’t understand “Calvinism” and so they draw caricatures or interact with a false depiction of it, writing it off as cruel or mean, 2) people mistakenly think “Calvinists” worship Calvin over Christ, or 3) they’ve only interacted with cocky, prideful people who mistakenly believe themselves to be “true Calvinists.”
Taking these three things into consideration, I’m giving up on “Calvinism” and the five points of TULIP. Where these terms have failed, it is now my purpose and intention to elevate the grandeur and grace of my King Jesus Christ. You see, my King is gracious and worthy to be worshiped beyond all comparison. There is no one more worthy of his praise. Even if he were not gracious and kind to us he would still be worthy of all my worship because that is just who he is.
Yet, he is gracious. He’s so loving and gracious to us that we can’t begin to fathom it. Without Christ, all of us are dead in a rebellious state against the creator (Romans 3:9-18, Ephesians 2:1). When the Bible says dead, it means dead. Corpse. Lifeless. Incompatible with life. But in his kindness to us, knowing the consequences of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), he predestined a plan for us in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10-11).
This plan is Christ our Savior. On the cross, Jesus died for his sheep (John 10:11). The definiteness of his death is what enables the Apostle to say that before the foundations of the world he knew us! This efficacious grace in our lives does not mean we are robots just waiting for God to make a move. To paraphrase one of my favorite Christian artists, it was while we were dead and a slave to sin that we were actually robots. True freedom of our will only come when Christ breaks into our reality and frees us from life in the machine.
When Christ graciously, lovingly, and rightfully makes himself King of our lives he holds us tight in his hands. We are not held tight in his hands only, but because Christ and the Father are one we are held tight in the Father’s hands as well(John 10:28-30). What assurance this is! So much grace is given to us that the grace of God does not only save us but keeps us. Those whom Christ proclaims as his are kept until the very end. This is not some trite saying of “once saved always saved.” No, those whom the father saves he restores, and those whom he restores he fuels to obedience and good works. Those who are redeemed will be known by their works, those who are not known by their works are not redeemed (James 2:18).
This life, this inheritance, this adoption as a son or daughter is grace. Sweet, loving, amazing grace. Who are we to argue about this love? Who are we to deny the grace and love of our Father in heaven and diminish it to some argument over labels and titles? I do not love “Calvinism” because I worship Calvin; I am grateful to the work of Calvin and saints of history past for their work that helps point me to Christ, increasing my love for Him. If we decline the hard work and labor from the history of the Church, we are cutting ourselves off from the richness revealed to our forebears by the Holy Spirit.
Abraham Kuyper once said, “The special trait of Calvinism [is its ability to place] the believer before the face of God, not only in His church, but also in his personal, family, social, and political life. The majesty of God, and the authority of God press upon the Calvinist in the whole of human existence.” The sad reality is that many people who claim “Calvinism” do not live the way Kuyper outlines, favoring instead cockiness, arrogance and pride. Brothers and sisters, this should not be so! How can a doctrine that is all about the necessary grace and love of a God far greater than we can imagine ever make us prideful!?
The only hallmark of true Calvinism should be that of a penitent spirit, someone who wakes up in the morning and cries out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). This kind of posture of the heart can never take the form of pride or arrogance. B.B Warfield explains the “Calvinist” as “humble souls, who, in the quiet of retired lives, have caught a vision of God in His glory and are cherishing in their hearts that vital flame of complete dependence on Him.”
But as I said, I’m done with “Calvinism.” Seeing as how the name and fragrance of its tulips deter people from the grace of the King, from now on I will primarily and solely speak of His grace sans labels. See, I don’t want to convince anyone of “Calvinism.” Oh Lord would it not be so! No, I want to convince you of grace. If and when my “Calvinism” begins to get in the way of that more often than not, then I’m done with the title. My motivation is now to live my life in such a way that when you ask me why I live the way I do, I can confidently say “Grace.” Or, what was formerly known as “Calvinism.” No labels, no titles, no doctrines wrapped up in a pretty bow. Just grace.