Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[Also see WLC #66-69]
Did you know that the Apostle Paul was a “Five Point Calvinist?!
I know it’s a bit anachronistic to say that, since John Calvin didn’t come along until long after Paul was dead. So let me put it the other way around instead: John Calvin was a “Five Point Paulinist!” You see, the essence of what we, today, call “Calvinism” is set forth right here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians!
You see, “the five points of Calvinism” are also known as “the doctrines of grace.” If you want to explain to someone how it is that a person is saved solely and completely by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, this is an excellent place to start.
This passage shows us that Arminianism is a false Gospel. All five points of Calvinism – or all five of the TULIP doctrines, if you want to call them that – are taught in Ephesians 2:1-10. These five points are:
Irresistible Grace, &
Perseverance of the Saints
All five of these doctrines of grace are taught here, and all five work together to focus on one thing: Salvation is by grace alone.
Unfortunately, most Arminians reject all five points of those doctrines of grace. We’re going to show how this makes their Gospel a false Gospel, because it’s not a Gospel of 100% grace.
Now I’m not going to say for a fact that all those who hold to any Arminian doctrine are lost. Obviously, there are various levels of error in Arminianism, and some are more serious than others. But I will say that if anyone rejects any of these five doctrines of grace, their salvation is in serious jeopardy and they may very well be lost.
I know that sounds harsh, and that’s not a very popular thing to say, but remember that it was the Apostle Paul who said, in Galatians 1:8-10, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
So as a minister of this Gospel, I, too, must be very careful to preach the Gospel as it was revealed in the Bible. If somebody is basing their hope of eternal life on what they think is the Gospel, but it’s not, then we aren’t doing them any favors by telling them, “Everything’s all right,” are we?
We’re not talking about peripheral matters of Christianity here when we discuss these “doctrines of grace.” We’re talking about the heart and soul of the Christian Gospel. We’re talking about salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by God’s doing alone.
Let me begin with a brief summary of the Biblical teaching on the way God saves us:
Our salvation, where God unites us to Jesus Christ, is totally and completely the work of God – nothing of man.
Apart from God’s working in us, we’re dead in sin – we’re unable to believe in Jesus Christ. God, in His own time, not ours, by the working of His Spirit, through the preaching of His Word – God must call us to believe. God must draw us to Himself. God must give us the ability to believe (an ability which no man has in his own power). And God must perfectly “determine” our wills so that we’ll want to believe, and so that we do believe.
God does it all. God calls us to Himself through the preaching of the Word. God then makes us want to come and He makes us come. We may speak of this as the inward calling, or the effectual calling of God toward all His elect.
It’s true that there’s an outward calling of God as well. This outward calling comes to all who have the Gospel preached to them, both to the elect and to the non-elect. God outwardly calls and commands all men to believe. But the non-elect are not given faith to believe and to come to Christ.
So all men are commanded by God to believe in Jesus Christ, and all men are commanded to come to Him. But only the elect are actually enabled and drawn by God to come to Him. Again, salvation is all of God’s doing!
Through the preaching of the Word, the grace of God is offered, in a sense, or presented to the non-elect, but they don’t want to believe, and they can’t believe, and they won’t believe. So they never partake of any of that grace that’s presented to them through the preaching of the Gospel. Instead, God justly leaves them in their state of unbelief, so that they’ll never believe. They’ll never believe, because they can’t believe, apart from God enabling them to believe, and God has not chosen them to be saved.
Now such teaching gives Arminians all manner of hissy fits. “That’s not fair!” they’ll say. “It’s not fair that God chooses to save some and chooses not to save others. God must have some basis for choosing to save some. It must be because some choose to believe in God. That’s why He gives them His grace, but doesn’t give others His grace. And if it’s up to man to decide to choose Him,” they say, “then all men must be able to choose Him, otherwise some men would have an unfair advantage.”
So Arminians don’t like the doctrine of “Total Depravity,” which teaches that all men are dead in sin and are, therefore, unable to believe, apart from God’s grace.
“Also,” the Arminians continue, “since it’s up to man to choose God, then God’s election of some for salvation must be based on the fact that they chose to believe in Him first.” Or else they say, “God looks ahead and sees that they’re going to choose to believe in Him, so that’s why He chooses to save them and not others.”
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Unconditional Election.” This doctrine teaches that God chooses to save men only on the basis of His good pleasure and not on the basis of any “conditions” in man, or on the basis of anything man does or is going to do in the future.
Also, Arminians teach that, “Everybody has an equal chance to be saved, and so that means that Christ’s death must have been for all men indiscriminately, since God must love all men equally before they decide to believe.”
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Limited Atonement,” the Biblical teaching which says that Christ died only for His elect! The Bible teaches that the death or atonement of Christ was specifically limited to those Christ came to save, and it actually saves all of them.
And because Arminians believe that man has the ability to decide or not to decide to believe in Jesus, they also believe that God doesn’t determine a man’s will to believe. They teach that man, himself, determines whether or not he’ll believe. They say that God leaves it up to man to decide to believe on his own power.
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of “Irresistible Grace,” which teaches that all those upon whom God decides to bestow His grace will believe and will come to Him. God sovereignly causes them to believe, in spite of the fact that, by their own sinful natures, they hate Him and refuse to come.
And one more thing: Since Arminians believe it’s up to man to decide whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ in the first place, they also believe that it’s up to man to decide whether or not to continue to believe in Jesus Christ.
In this way, Arminians deny the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints.” This doctrine teaches that God sees to it that every person He regenerates will persevere in the faith and be saved. No true Christian can ever become an unbeliever again and be lost. Every one of God’s elect will be caused by God to continue to believe until the end.
So the Arminian teaching that man, in his fallen state, is able to choose to believe in God, destroys the whole foundation of the Gospel of salvation by grace alone. In the Arminian system, salvation is no longer by grace alone, through faith alone. And if man decides to believe, by his own power, then faith is not a gift of God alone. It’s not given to men according to God’s choice alone.
So in the Arminian Gospel, the key difference between those who are saved and those who are lost – the one thing that separates the sheep from the goats – is a human act. For them, the only thing that finally determines who receives God’s gracious salvation and who doesn’t is man’s decision to believe.
People of God, that’s not salvation by grace alone! That’s salvation by God offering grace to everyone equally, plus man choosing to take God’s offer. According to Arminian teaching, without man’s part, without man’s choosing, without man’s deciding of his own free will, God can’t save anyone!
Well people of God, I’m here to tell you that that’s a false Gospel!
So let’s look at our text and see how all five of these doctrines of grace are clearly taught in the Bible. We’re only going to have time for the first two points today, but we’ll finish up with points three through five next week.
I. How do these verses teach TOTAL DEPRAVITY?
Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Paul points out that prior to our regeneration – prior to our being born again by the Holy Spirit – we were all dead in our transgressions and sins. We were all spiritually dead. Now you tell me how a spiritually dead person can do anything good or pleasing to God? He can’t!
Yet the Arminian says that this dead person first chooses to believe in God, and then God makes him alive and regenerates him! But even a little child can understand that a dead person can’t “choose” to do anything that a living person can do. In the same way, a spiritually dead person can’t “choose” to do anything that’s pleasing to God because there’s no spiritual life in him. None! Not even a flicker! He’s spiritually dead. He’s not just spiritually sick. He’s spiritually dead, the Bible says.
Now the Arminian will object and say, “But certainly unbelievers can do some good things, can’t they?”
“How can you say an unbeliever can’t do anything good or pleasing to God? Why, I know unbelievers who have done a lot of fine, loving, and good things in their lives.”
In response to such arguments, John Calvin pointed out that there are different ways to understand “good.” There are different kinds of “good.”
1) First of all, there’s what we might call, “Natural Good.” Unbelievers can do natural good. They can do things like eat, sleep, drink, and exercise. These things, we might say, are “good” for our bodies. That’s natural good.
2) Second, there’s what we might call, “Civic or Moral Good.” Unbelievers can do civic or moral good also. Calvin says that some worldly men have “uniformly conducted themselves in a most virtuous manner through the whole course of their lives” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, p. 263?? Quoted from Hendrikson’s Commentary on Ephesians, p. 111.].
An example of this kind of civic or moral good might be found in Luke 6:33, “and if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.”
So unbelievers can do things that outwardly “appear” good to men and that help men. Unbelievers can build a school for the blind, and they can develop a cure for certain diseases. Unbelievers can be faithful to their wives and honest in their business dealings. These are all moral and civic good works. Outwardly, these works are good and beneficial to those around them. But unbelievers can never do the third kind of good, said Calvin.
3) The third and most important kind of good is what we might call, “Spiritual Good.” Spiritual good is good that pleases God. Since unbelievers have no faith, they can’t do any spiritually good works at all because all spiritually good works spring from faith. And Hebrews 11:6 tells us very plainly, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”
So unbelievers can do nothing that pleases God. They can do no spiritual good.
That’s why Ephesians 2:3 says we are all “by nature objects of wrath.”
Ever since the Fall, every man, woman, and child has been born with a sinful nature. We’re all conceived and born in sin, and as such, by our own nature, we’re objects of God’s wrath. We all justly deserve God’s wrath.
So unbelievers can never do any spiritual good. They can never do any good that’s pleasing to God. Even when they do civic or moral good, they don’t do it for the proper motives, to bring honor and glory to God. They can’t, because they don’t have faith. In God’s sight, their words, thoughts, and actions are “only evil all the time,” according to the Bible.
The Bible says that the whole earth, except for Noah and his family, were like this in Noah’s day. That’s because there were no other believers besides Noah and his family in that time. In Genesis 6:5, we read, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
Now I’m sure many of the people in Noah’s day did civil and moral good works. But nothing they did was pleasing to God because nothing they did came from the proper motive of the heart: love for God.
In Romans 3:12, Paul writes, quoting Psalms 14 & 53, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
That’s Total Depravity. Total Depravity means that, unbelieving man, in his own power, can do nothing that pleases God.
Now I know that comes as an awful blow to man’s self-esteem and self-worth – to be told that all men, apart from Christ, have “together become worthless” – but that’s the way it is. Apart from God regenerating us and God giving us faith in Jesus Christ, we’re all completely and totally depraved, spiritually dead, and worthless in God’s sight!
So that’s how these verses teach Total Depravity.
II. How do these verses teach UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION?
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
Notice, here, that God loves His people before He makes them alive. God loved us, it says, “even when we were dead in transgressions.”
That means God’s love didn’t come in response to our choosing to have faith, or in response to our choosing to believe in Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
In other words, if you’ve been made alive, says Paul, it’s “because of his great love,” and it’s because He is “rich in mercy.”
That means it’s not because we changed to somehow make God pleased with us. It’s not because we chose to believe in Jesus Christ, and then God, therefore, decided choose us.
No. God’s choosing of His people is an Unconditional Election. It’s a choosing based on nothing we can think, say or do, because, by nature, we’re all dead, and only God can enable us to have faith. Only God can bring the dead to life!
Now, you might wonder, “How could God love us and choose us while we were still sinful? The Bible teaches that God hates sin and that God hates sinners!”
Ephesians 1:4 answers that question. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
That means He chose us, not because we would be holy or because He looked ahead and saw that we would have faith. He chose us because He planned to give us faith, because He planned to make us holy and to make us blameless in his sight.
The text continues, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will [not according to man’s pleasure or man’s choosing or man’s decision or man’s will] – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
I don’t know how the Bible can make God’s grace any clearer than that! God freely “chose us in him” according to “his pleasure and will,” “to the praise of his glorious grace,” which “he has freely given us” in Christ!
This passage also makes it clear that it’s only because God views His elect in Christ that He can love them while they’re yet sinners. He loves His elect because He views them as perfect, holy, saints in Christ Jesus.
The Arminian protests, again, at this point, “It’s not fair that God would, for no reason at all in man, choose to save some and choose to send others to Hell.” And so the Arminian has to come up with some reason why God would choose some and leave others.
And that reason, he thinks, must be because some men choose to believe and others choose not to believe.
But the minute you begin to think that way, you’ve tossed 100% grace right out the window!
If God chooses those whom He’ll save based on some difference in men, then men can claim credit for whatever that difference is. Then men can boast, “Hey! I may not be perfect, but at least I’m better than those unbelievers because I chose to believe the Gospel. That’s why God chose to save me and not them.”
So I hope you can see how the Arminian understanding of the Gospel actually destroys the idea of 100% grace. While Arminians would never come right out and say this, salvation, in the Arminian Gospel, is only part grace. It’s also part something you do. In the Arminian gospel, you’re saved by God’s grace which is received only by man’s free will choice.
But Romans 9:10-16 makes it clear that there’s absolutely no difference in men that makes God choose one over the other. The Bible says, “...Rebecca’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac [So, in other words, there were no differences in these two brothers with regard to their heritage. They both had the exact same father and mother. In fact, they were twins. The text continues…]. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
Again, how could the Bible make it any clearer? God didn’t choose to love Jacob because of anything in Jacob. Jacob was chosen because of God’s decision, not because of Jacob’s decision. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”
That’s Unconditional Election! That should humble all of us who are believers. We have nothing to boast about. When we look at an evil person like one of those ISIS people who behead Christians, we should all be able to say, truthfully, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
We don’t have time today to look at the other three doctrines of grace, so we’ll save those for next week, but I want to take a minute, before we close, to clear up one common misunderstanding.
A lot of people think that if God alone decides who’s saved and who’s not, based solely on His own good pleasure and mercy, then there’s really nothing men have to do. They get sort of a fatalistic attitude about it all. “If I’m saved, I’m saved, and if I’m not, I’m not. So I’m not going to worry about it.”
But the Bible teaches us that there is something you must do. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must repent of your sins and trust in Him alone and in His righteousness alone to make you right with God. You must seek to live a godly life in obedience to your Lord and Savior.
But here’s the point: you can’t do any of those things and you won’t do any of those things in your own strength. Every one of those whom God chooses to save, will do all of these things, but only because God causes him to do them, and only because God enables him to do them. God chooses to save us, by His own pleasure and will, and then we respond with the faith that He gives us.
And it’s through the hearing of the Gospel preached that God changes men’s hearts and causes them to believe.
So as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, I proclaim to every one of you today that you must do all of these things if you want to be saved. You must believe in Jesus Christ. You must trust in Him, alone to save you. You must repent of your sins and seek to obey Jesus Christ.
But at the same time, I must tell you that you can’t do any of those things of your own strength. I must tell you that you’re totally and completely at the mercy of Almighty God with regard to your being saved.
“Then why preach?” you might ask. “And why go to church?”
Because those are the means that God has determined to use to give faith to His chosen people. God uses the means of grace concentrated in His church to bring about salvation in our lives.
It’s God, Himself, Who saw fit to have me preach these things to you today. And it’s God, Himself, Who saw fit to have you present to hear this message from His Word today. And it’s God, Himself, Who will use these means to either strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ alone or to further harden your heart in sin.
You see, God uses the preaching of His Word to call His elect to believe in Him and to give them faith. He also uses the preaching of His Word to leave without excuse those whose hearts are hardened in their sins.
God uses the preaching of His Word to call you to repent of your sins, and to come to Him, and to receive His marvelous grace. And if you have ears to hear, you will come, but only because God gave you ears to hear.
Let us come to Him, then, in faith. And let us join with all of God’s saints in giving praise and thanks to God alone for giving us that ability to hear and to believe. That’s grace. That’s the Gospel of 100% grace. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be all the glory!