In 2005, after a couple of years of wrestling with the subject, I came to embrace with much enthusiasm what is commonly called the doctrines of grace. It was without question a pivotal event in my Christian life since from that point on it seems that the bible began to really make sense to me. It was as if I had entered into a whole new phase of my Christian life and studies. I began spending most of my time examining all the relevant passages dealing with this issue in quite some detail and I read as many articles and books as I could get my hands on. I probably spent more money than I had intended on purchasing these volumes of books but it was all worthwhile. I guess I was being more satisfied with reading than eating. I watched debates between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, listened to lectures and discussed this topic with anyone who was willing to bring up the subject. I couldn’t get enough of TULIP! Everything I read was to further my understanding of this acrostic and this brought joy to my life.
There are times when I must admit that I got overexcited and I should have been put in a cage or sent to some island away from modern civilization at least until I calmed down about these truths. Most of us go through this stage and it is nice when you can get out of it. In time and through some good counsel this is exactly what happened. I became a little more mature in my handling of these truths which essentially means that I can now speak about this topic without being overly animated. This maturity also led to an appreciation of God’s sovereignty in my own salvation even more. You have to admit that it is a pretty amazing thing to be able to see all that God has done in your life to bring you to where you are. Without an understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation, would we even bother to reflect upon these things? The embracing of these truths has been the foundation for everything that I am spiritually and has influenced other areas of my faith. I have said many times that once you embrace these truths that they cannot help but sway other areas of your theological life including worship, prayer and even the way you present the gospel to unbelievers. If they have not done so in your life thus far, trust me; get ready for it. What I think you will appreciate the most is being comforted through some difficult times in your life by pondering the Sovereignty of God. You will come to realize that no matter how bad things seem that there is good that is going to come from them. God is in total control and you can rest in that fact. I have no regrets in embracing these precious biblical truths and I continue to relish in these fundamentals in my everyday life.
You will best be prepared when you make the public announcement that you believe in the doctrines of grace. Believe me; there are going to be many who will disagree with your understanding of the biblical testimony on the human will, election, predestination, the atonement, grace, regeneration and eternal security. Being open to discussing these things is very important. Always be prepared to examine these doctrines biblically. Spend lots of time exegeting the key texts involved on this topic and prepare yourself for some strange counter argumentation. These responses will generally strengthen your stance and they are quite useful in solidifying your position. You will probably hear the same arguments over and over again from the other side and sometimes you will grow tired of it. It is important to try to be patient and go to scripture. I should tell you that you will eventually be diagnosed with the “John 3:16” syndrome. Yes, you will begin to feel the effects of hearing people quote that verse over and over again, out of context, with their boastful & arrogant tone as if it settles the debate. You might want to look at John 3:16 in some more detail and in its context rather than based on an emotionally derived interpretation of scripture. Just because someone yells louder than you do doesn’t make them right! You will also have to deal with other verses such as Matthew 23:37; 1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:9 & 1 John 2:2. After that, you’ve pretty much exhausted their scriptural arsenal.
The church I attend does not hold to these truths and that has certainly made my time there difficult from time to time. I have appreciated that some have gone out of their way to make things as pleasing as possible for me. If you are part of a church that does not hold to the doctrines of grace you will at times feel a little left out. Some have the tendency to go against the leadership in a church and challenge them. This is not a good approach to say the least. The leadership is to be respected no matter how wrong they might be about this subject. If you are asked to not spread this teaching around in this particular church then out of courtesy and respect you should adhere to their wishes. I know, I know, this won’t be easy but it’s the right thing to do. If it is tolerable to stay there and people are generally fine with your position then by all means stay put! With that said there can come a time when you must face the proverbial music. You see holding these truths within and not having the ability to speak openly about them will cause you some serious frustration. You will hear others speaking of things contrary to what you hold and they will do so openly while you will be unable to respond to their errors or express your point of view. I am not an advocate to leaving a church at all and strongly condemn “church shopping/hopping” but there comes a time when you will realize that you need to be amongst those who are like-minded or else you may explode.
What is probably going to shock you the most when you first embrace the doctrines of Grace and make it known is the sheer animosity that from some people who seemed a little obsessed with attacking “Calvinism”. We call these Calvinist Hunters which means they spend their time trying to get that Calvinism out of their church. I have often wondered if they get a badge of honour for doing this but I’m not sure. These are not the only people who will show ill feelings towards you. Yes your buddies and relatives are going to disagree with you and some more than others. I have been called many “names” and told that I should not be allowed to even be in fellowship in my church. Yes, I’ve been called a heretic many times and treated that way. The problem with the attack is that generally it was based upon a serious misunderstanding of what you believe. How many times have I heard people tell me that I believe that an individual doesn’t have to have faith in Jesus Christ to be saved? How many times have I been told that there is no point in preaching the gospel in this system because men are going to be saved anyways? If you have been a Calvinist for even a short period of time then I’m sure you have heard these lines before and many others. I hope by now that you realize that they are nothing but straw man arguments that have been refuted for hundreds if not thousands of years. Listen, people are going to get emotional about this subject. This is not something you can avoid. I have believed these things for 6 years and some have held to these truths for much longer. I still have people calling me names (heretic, blasphemer) and I have been shunned by alot of people who I once knew. I have lost the respect of some of my peers and I am not welcome in several circles among the non-sectarian sectarians I am a part of. There are people who are worth taking the time to discuss these issues with and there are others that you simply need to walk away from. There is never any value in trying to reason with unreasonable people. I know it is frustrating but the best approach to all this is to show them the love of Christ. It is easy to get into a war of words with people but I believe with the doctrines of grace comes maturity which I pray will lead you to patience.
Another thing, You will hear a lot about John Calvin and some interesting facts about his life. Some people somehow believe that if they can discredit Mr. Calvin by presenting him as a murderous madman that this will somehow prove that the scriptures do not teach the doctrines of grace. This tactic is called “poisoning the well” which basically means that if John Calvin did some nasty things and since they believe that he created these doctrines then they must be evil also. They do this simply because when it comes down to it, their arminianism/4 point arminianism/ semi-pelagianism cannot be defended biblically and they have to pull a cheap debate tactic. Sadly, you will see that this is enough for some people to just not bother taking the time to study these things. Don’t believe everything you hear about Mr. Calvin since there are many exaggerations out there by obsessive men. Again, stick to scripture and if all they have is ad hominem then you may as well move on.
Even though there will be many in opposition to what you believe, remember that there are also those who will be willing to listen. I have had the opportunity to share these doctrines with many people and I think you will too. If the opportunity arises, please take the time needed to share these biblical truths with others. It is very important to do so with as many scriptures as possible. Christians should be persuaded by the biblical data not philosophical arguments. Those who are open to your position will have alot of questions and you must be prepared to answer them the best you can. Don’t be afraid to do so! There is nothing wrong in maybe getting stumped on a question or critique. It has happened to me many times and even today I get the odd argument that I need to reflect upon a little further. Take your time and follow up later after you have examined it more closely. One of the most rewarding experiences in my Christian life has been to watch someone embrace these biblical truths. I have seen people’s lives completely change and I have first hand watched them grow at an incredible rate in their Christian walk. You will find it overwhelming to see the joy in a person’s life and just how they come alive spiritually once they figure these things out. It is an amazing feeling! They will thank you over and over again to have shown them these things.
I’m going to finish this letter with a small suggestion. Don’t think of yourself firstly as a Calvinist. People are going to label you this way right from the start and you will tend to just allow it. You are firstly a child of God who has been born into the family of God. You are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and your responsibility is to proclaim Him to the whole world. Think of yourself as a herald of the King of Kings. This is of first importance! The doctrines of grace will be a tremendous help to understand and achieve this task. Secondly, try not to play a one string banjo. Don’t limit your studies to one single topic. There are other areas of study that are very important to have a good grasp of including the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the inerrancy of scripture and a vast array of “ologies” that are too numerous to name. Once again, the doctrines of grace will be a tremendous help to understand these things.
May God bless you in your journey as a follower of the sovereign God of eternity!