I have no doubt that there are a multitude of true Christians out there who identify as “Calvinists” or “Reformed.” Though I usually prefer not to use these terms as it pertains to myself, I readily recognise that they serve as a quick and easy means of identifying the set of core beliefs (i.e., vital biblical truths) associated with the true Gospel. When one hears “Calvinist,” or “Reformed,” we automatically know that they believe in (or at least profess a belief in) free and sovereign grace… as opposed to the various Arminian, Semipelagian, and/or Sacramental counterfeits.
Sadly, within certain Sovereign Grace circles, particularly those who identify as Baptists… other than… Reformed Baptists, you will find an often broad-brush condemnation of those professing Christians who identity as Reformed/Calvinists. Those engaging in the condemnation often use arguments that are erroneous, slanderous, and exceedingly harmful to the body of Christ as a whole. They twist meanings; impute false motives; and fail to use scripture alone as the basis for their (often anomian/antinomian) problematic positions. They rely on sophistry, slippery-slope arguments, and other forms of biases/fallacies to bolster their assertions… but their arguments, I am convinced, cannot stand. It is one thing to state this, however, and another thing to prove it… So I will try my best to prove it convincingly here. One way or another, may God grant us eyes to spiritually see and hear.
Consider some of the language used by one popular Sovereign Grave Baptist preacher (emphasis added; all quotes coming from the same article):
There is one form of religion that is even more subtle than Arminianism and just as deadly, one form of religion which more subtly promotes the mixture of works with grace than any other. That is what men call Reformed Theology, or the Reformed Faith, or Reformed Doctrine…
I also realize that the Reformed faith has become very popular, especially among smug religious people who think of themselves as academically superior intellectuals.
The above (and other such statements not included in this article) say much, reveal much, but I want to focus on a few particular ones here, ones that more directly pertain to the controversy surrounding these core reformed/biblical matters. I want to see who really gets it right… whether it is the author of the quoted text, or the Christians he slanders, misrepresents, and maligns. Please consider the following quote (emphasis added):
“We do not sanctify ourselves. We are sanctified by the grace of God in Christ. Indeed, Christ is our Sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). The believer’s sanctification no more depends upon his works than his justification. If sanctification is essential to salvation (and it is), how can anyone say, “Salvation is by grace alone”, while teaching that sanctification depends upon the efforts of man? The teaching of Scripture is that every chosen, redeemed, regenerate sinner is sanctified by the grace of God.”
The author seeks to separate (manifest) sanctification from works, and yet, we read the following:
2 Timothy 2:19-22 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, [and] prepared unto every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
I also find it ironic that the author starts the paragraph off with “We do not sanctify ourselves” when we can find, in the Bible, passages like the following (emphasis added):
Leviticus 11:44 “For I [am] the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I [am] holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Leviticus 20:7 “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I [am] the LORD your God.”
Numbers 11:18 “And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for [it was] well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.”
Joshua 3:5 “And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Joshua 7:13 “Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, [There is] an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.”
1 Samuel 16:5 “And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the LORD: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice. And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.”
The problem with the above is that many will to easily, to flippantly, dismiss these passages as being out of context, not on point, impossible to really obey, for the Old Testament only, etc. So rather than debate the passages above, I want to focus on a key New Testament passage, one that I think sheds much light on the subject. Consider,
1 Thessalonians 4:1-5 “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk [peripateō, G4043, make one’s way, make progress, live, regulate one’s life, conduct/deport oneself] and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more [i.e., progress abundantly]. 2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God…”
The Christian was perfectly sanctified (as to the purpose of God) from before the world was, when The Father chose the elect in Christ. The Christian was perfectly sanctified in Christ at the cross (as to Christ’s procuring and perfecting of it, by His own blood, in light of His finished salvific work at Calvary). The Christian was perfectly sanctified, as it relates to actual (eternal) life application, experience, and holy use, when the Spirit of God quickened him/her, baptizing them into the body of Christ. However, the Christian is nonetheless continuously, manifestly sanctified, being set apart for holy use, and separated from the wickedness and folly of this world (to one degree or another), progressively even, during his/her earthly sojourn.
By progressively, I do not mean in some strictly linear fashion, nor do I mean that sinless perfection (or anything remotely close to it), can be achieved whilst in this body of death. There are ups and down, setbacks and advancements, even millions of times over. However, God does not leave His people like He found them (i.e., in the state that they were in before their quickening and conversion). They do indeed grow not just in knowledge, grace, mercy, and love, but also in manifest (experimental) sanctification.
The language in the passage above should make this clear. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5 undoubtedly teaches that the Apostle Paul, as moved by the Holy Spirit, both urgently requests and exhorts them (by the Lord Jesus Christ no less) to take what they have learned from them regarding proper character and conduct, proper conversation and behaviour, and strive to live it out — manifesting it as practical, and practiced, reality in their day to day lives.
They are not just to do this slightly, mediocrely, lukewarmly; no, God wants them (and us) to progress abundantly, even more and more, in said endeavors, and to increase abundantly in the fruit/results thereof. He is saying to them not just do this, but also progress heavily in this as you are doing it. He instructs this, telling them that it is because they know what commandments (charges/commands) [the Apostles/Disciples] gave to them (and now us also) by the Lord Jesus.’ These commands, these charges/imperatives, were tantamount to instruction on how to live, how to conduct one’s self, how to separate one’s self from the world (so as to no longer engage in, as to the course of their life, the folly and wickedness of this fallen world system). It is the same idea (in a real sense) as found in 2 Corinthians 6:17 “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you…”
The Apostle Paul then makes clear that all of this, all of the beseeching and exhorting regarding their walk, and all of the calling to remembrance the commands of God concerning such things, points to a particular purpose. And what is that purpose? It is the will of God. And the will of God concerning what? Clearly it states “…the will of God, [even] your sanctification.” It then goes on to give real world examples of how our conversation should be (e.g., abstaining from fornication and from the the lust of concupiscence, amongst many other things, which are the same evils engaged in openly by the (unsaved) “Gentiles which know not God…”).
God is saying, beyond a doubt, that He wants us to progress in our experiential sanctification, even to the point of progressing abundantly, for this is His will for us, even in light of the perfect justification and sanctification we already have in/by/through Christ Jesus, and our eternal vital union with Him. Now, to drive the point home, God moved Paul to state the following:
Some may have noticed that I swapped out holiness with sanctification. Why would I do that? I did it because it is the same thing; it’s the very same idea. Hagiasmos/G38, translated holiness in the AV/KJV translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:7, is the same Greek word translated as sanctification in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4. It is also the same word found in…
1 Peter 1:2 “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification [Hagiasmos/G38] of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”
Thus, though we are perfectly sanctified in Christ (who has been made unto us Sanctification), and though we have been perfectly sanctified by/through the Holy Spirit, we are still called to work out [i.e., live out, make manifest, bring forth the fruit of] our salvation with fear and trembling, unto (amongst other things, manifest…) holiness/sanctification. This is why we find, in passages pertaining to character and conduct, language (using the same language) like the following:
Hebrews 12:14-16 “Follow peace with all [men], and holiness [Hagiasmos/G38], without which no man shall see the Lord… 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled; 16 Lest there [be] any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright….”
Romans 6:16-19 “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. 19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness [Hagiasmos/G38].“
Contrary to what the Anomians/Antinomians, and to what the true believers acting as such for a season or seasons, will tell you… we are commanded to increase, even to progress, in holiness/sanctification. We can’t do so without the Lord; we will never do so apart from the Lord; it is the Spirit of God working in us to both will and do of God’s good pleasure that makes our walk and growth (i.e., progression) possible… but beware of, be wary of, anyone who tells you that it is not God’s design, that it is not God’s purpose, that we should put forth holy effort into (using scriptural means of course) progressing greatly in obedience, and the real-world sanctification that results.
God makes it abundantly clear that without it, without this manifest holiness/sanctification, no man shall see the Lord! Why? Because having no true holiness/sanctification played out in this life, is the equivalent of living an anomian/antinomian life in general… even a life of lawlessness, of being apart from/without/in opposition to the extant (divine/spiritual) law of God. No one in such a state will see God in any salvific sense, because no truly saved individual will live like this for the course of their “Christian life.” We know this from the following:
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity/lawlessness/anomianism.“
In light of the above, consider the following from the same author:
“The Heresy Of Self-Righteous Assurance
When I speak of self-righteous assurance, I am talking about assurance based upon the presumption of personal holiness. At present, I have neither the time nor the desire to quote the reformed confessions fully; but both the Westminster and the 1689 confessions of faith state that the assurance of salvation is something to be attained by personal obedience and lost by disobedience, attained by doing those things that are pleasing to God and lost by grieving the Holy Spirit, attained by a satisfactory examination of one’s heart or lost by an unsatisfactory examination….
The assurance of faith is not assurance based upon personal righteousness, but assurance based upon imputed righteousness.
We come to the holy Lord God continually as empty-handed sinners trusting Christ alone as our Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption. Like David and Peter, our assurance is based not upon what we have done, but upon what Christ has done for us.”
The rhetoric above sounds pretty “holy” doesn’t it? But is it? Is it holy, is it accurate, is it biblical? Not quite. You see, if you claim to be a Christian but lack that holiness/sanctification, without which, you will not see God… then you have no grounds for assurance, not even “biblically based assurance” (to use his language). If you have full assurance of faith, but a walk no different than the unsaved at best, and the devils at worst (and that walk is illustrative of the course of your so-called Christian walk and warfare), then you have false presumption… not God-wrought assurance of faith. No one, not even King David, had assurance in the face of gross transgression/rebellion.
Please understand this: God Himself both ordains and works out assurance in us; yes, through His promises in Scripture (based upon the Lord’s finished salvific work), but not exclusively through them. That last statement may come as a shock to many; some may even deem it heresy; however, we read in Scripture:
Romans 8:16 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…”
The Spirit of God witnesses with the spirit of His quickened people, producing assurance of faith within us. And yet, He doesn’t do so in a vacuum. It’s not mere magic or mysticism. Note the very context of that verse… note how the context is one of uprightness of character and conduct.
Romans 8:12-16 KJV] 12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: (See Galatians 5:19-21 along with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body (see also, Colossians 3:5-10), ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…“
The Apostle John likewise had the same understanding, seeing that he had this to say about assurance, particularly, scripturally-based assurance:
1 John 2:3-5 “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.“
1 John 3:18-19 “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.“
1 John 5:1-3 “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous…. 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
The same God that gives us both the will, and the ability, to walk uprightly, to walk obediently, to manifest holiness/sanctification, and to keep/obey his commandments (albeit never to the degree that we wish for, let alone, unto perfection), is the same God who works assurance in His people. Assurance is not notionalism. Assurance is not presumption. Assurance is not head-knowledge. Assurance is not belief without a life that evidences the efficacy, and vitality, of true God wrought belief (faith). As Christians (and never before), assurance (to one degree or another) most certainly is tied-up with our God-ordained works, our God-prepared walk, even our conduct, character, and overall way of life as Christians — because God has not just ordained it to be so, but declared it to be so in His word.
Many will refute/malign/slander those of us who believe this. They will accuse us of promoting dead works, false-religion, Calminianism, legalism, bondage, whatever. Nonetheless, let God be true and every man a liar. God’s word is clear; of a truth, the finished salvific work of Christ has set us free from a life of bondage to sin, from a life of anomianism (lawlessness), and from a life of antinomianism (being against God’s law). God has indeed set us free to love the law of God, keep/obey it, and serve it (after the inward man), to the degree that He afore-established for us, seeing that (if we are His) “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works [which includes obedience, keeping the commandments, albeit it… again…. no where near perfectly], which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10]…. them? Them what? What kind of good works did He create His people to walk in? Could it be related to them “walks” found in:
Psalm 119:1 “Blessed [are] the undefiled in the way, who WALK in the law of the LORD.
That they may WALK in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: 20
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to WALK in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them]…”
Compare my above commentary as a whole, and the passages immediately above, to the following statement by the same author, in his same article:
The law of God demands two things of every person: righteousness and satisfaction. The only way we can establish, uphold, maintain, and honor the law is by offering it what it demands. The only way we can do that is by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ, who has both fulfilled the righteousness of the law and satisfied the justice of the law as the all-sufficient Substitute for those who trust him.
“Legalists are really antinomians. They call their sinful lives righteous and comfort themselves with a sincere effort at obeying the law. Thus, they bring the law of God down to their own level. That does nothing to honor the law. That dishonors and would destroy the law.”
God’s word is clear on these things; there is no ambiguity, except for in the hearts and minds of those who set at naught, and/or who despise, God-ordained (manifest) holiness/sanctification/obedience.
The author accuses those who desire to keep God’s spiritual law, and obey His commandments, of being the ‘real antinomians.‘ He makes the same erroneous, unbiblical claim that believers “bring the law of God down to their own level” simply because we do not obey perfectly. God does not require perfect obedience from those who already have a perfect righteousness in/by/through Christ. He only demands such perfection for those who are going about to establish a righteousness of their own, i.e., in lieu of Christ’s righteousness imputed to them.
when we read the language of the Great Commission, using the author’s reasoning, why doesn’t he (and those like him) cry: ‘No Lord!!! I’m NOT going to do it, I’m not going to teach men to observe/keep/obey your commandments, because no one can observe/keep/obey your commandments!‘ — doesn’t it just sound like utter nonsense when you think about it The Lord Jesus clearly instructed as follows:
Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach [mathēteuō, G3100,literally, discipling, or making disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.
Moreover, When the Lord said, in Genesis 26:5, “…Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” He didn’t mean Abraham obeyed… perfectly. It means that Abraham had a (new, spiritual) heart, after the inward man, dedicated to doing so… Understand, he was born again, born from above, so he absolutely had been given a heart to do so, and he strove to walk in a manner consistent with this new heart, with the inner workings of the Holy Spirit, and with the word of God.
It’s the same idea as 1 Kings 9:4 “And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, [and] wilt keep my statutes and my judgments.” This verse isn’t teaching that David obeyed perfectly either; scriptural testimony clearly evidences otherwise. And yet, because of His obedience, and His desire to keep God’s commandments (all in light of Him already being in Christ and gaving perfect righteousness and sanctification in/by/through Him), we read of David, the following:
Acts 13:22 “And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the [son] of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.“
Sadly, the spirit of lawlessness abounds. It ignores these passages, these arguments, any many more. The anomian/antinomian error has ravaged “grace” churches. Notionalism, emotionalism, pseudo-intellectualism, sandemanianism, and related errors/mindsets are quite popular in our day… nmely because it all appeals to the flesh… it allows men and women to live most any way they desire, namely… “their way” — albeit in the “name of Christ,” and all under the false notion, the false understanding, of what they call “Christian liberty.”
The reality is that those most apt to mass-condemn most “Reformed folk,” and/or those who believe the Bible is our “rule of life” (when wielded by the Spirit of God), and/or those who believe in progressive sanctification (when rightly defined, analyzed, and distinguished from Arminian and related error), are those who are most apt to be milk-men, and most apt to be dead wrong when it comes to these vital ‘‘Doctrine of God our Saviour’-adorning‘ matters. That is why in their hearts and minds, they can say things like “In Christ all who believe are forever and entirely free from the law,” whereas the Apostle Paul declared (as do all true Christians, at least the sensible ones on the matter):
Romans 7:25 “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve [douleuō, G1398, serve, obey, submit to, am a (willing) slave to] the law of God [i.e., even the same law mentioned in verse 14 wherein we read “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin…]. but with the flesh the law of sin.”
The two attitudes reflect a night and day difference. Only one can be accurate… and I maintain that the inaccurate one is dangerous, and in some cases, possibly even damnable. We must tread prudently concerning these matters. We cannot rely on sophistry, well-crafted (but erroneous) words, fears of implications, fears of personal failure in these matters, false piety, etc. We must consider the whole counsel of God, look at all of the relevant passages at issue, and bow to their true meaning, rather than sticking to the teachings and traditions of men. Christian liberty leads to a life of willing, loving, obedience. It causes us to love, obey, and serve God’s (spiritual) law; it absolutely does not cause us to desire to be as far from it, or as free from it, as possible. Yes, ‘far and free’ as to its demands when trying to establish a righteousness of one’s own… but never ‘far and free’ when it comes to living our the righteousness (and sanctification) God, in Christ, has already perfectly established for us, and ordained for us. Again, let God be true and every man a liar — especially every man who opposes Him, His word, and what is best (most edifying, nurturing, and wholesome) for His people.
God help us.
To God be the glory, forever and ever,