Eventually every Christian will get there. We read a passage of Scripture like Ephesians 1 or Romans 9 and we start asking questions about election and free will. Sometimes it’s discussed in terms of God’s sovereignty and man’s choices, or even Calvinism and Arminianism. When new Christians stumble upon these doctrines it’s fun to see their minds explode with the beautiful depths of God’s Sovereignty. It really is a fascinating study because it gets to the heart and character of who God really is. I have firm convictions concerning the doctrine of election and really developed them in Bible college and Seminary. Invariably, as an elder of a church, someone will ask me, “Are you a Calvinist?” or “How many points are you?”. In the past, I’d share just exactly where I was on the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum, which would sometimes lead into a long discussion or even debate on these things. I can’t tell you how many heated conversations I’ve dropped into throughout college, seminary, and the ministry, only to realize that this is the topic of their dialogue. In the past, I used to love jumping into the theological octagon and give a 3 Scripture choke hold on the person who sat in the opposite corner from my own personal convictions. But now I have to say, I don’t enjoy doing that anymore. In fact, I’m very cautious now to discuss these things because most of these conversations don’t end in brotherly love, but theological pride.
I’ve learned something that I think will end most of these useless debates about sovereignty and free will, and when I say useless, I don’t mean that the subject is stupid or meaningless, but that USUALLY nothing good ever comes when two people of the opposite doctrinal spectrum talk about this. The two parties walk away with more disdain and less love for people in the other camp. The doctrines of election are important. It’s the countless arguments about this subject that aren’t.
Recently, I’ve learned that there is a way to squelch these meaningless debates. All you have to do is ask one question. This one question, in my personal opinion, will end 95% of all the fruitless debates and discussions on election. Are you ready for it? Here it is:
When is the last time you shared the gospel with someone?
Sounds pretty simple, but it cuts to the real issue. Your own personal beliefs and the doctrines you espouse to are meaningless if they do not impact your actions. I don’t care if you’re a 5 point Calvinist or a 3 point Arminian, if you aren’t sharing the gospel regularly and actively, your personal position on these doctrines means very little, at least to me. Now I’ve actually tried this and it works quite well. Someone will begin a conversation about election and free will (and not with the intent of learning, but showing how much they know), and I’ll drop this question on them. The look is usually priceless. It’s a question that gets to the heart of the matter. I need to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer. Here’s a couple of passages that you may be familiar with, but they speak to what I believe God cares about most – faith-based action.
James 1:22-24 – 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
I John 3:18 – Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.
As a follower of Jesus (and not John Calvin or Jacob Arminius), I want to be faithful to Him. I want to be faithful to His commands, especially the Great Commission which is to go into all the world and make disciples. If your beliefs don’t influence you to fulfill the Great Commission, then your beliefs are merely knowledge that puffs you up, instead of building up the body of Christ.
Two of my favorite men in church history are John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. Both men were powerfully used by God to impact our nation during its early history. Both men preached Christ crucified. Both men were passionate about seeing men and women repent and come to Jesus. Both were revered for their faith and actions. Yet these men were on the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to the doctrines of election. Jonathan Edwards was definitely in the Calvinist camp and Wesley was in the Arminian camp, yet these men saw that they were really on the same team. Their love, passion, and action brought revival to our country. Oh for men and women who cared less about what “camp” they are in, and instead cared about sharing the gospel of Jesus with a lost and broken world!
My beliefs concerning election haven’t changed much since my years in college. There may be some of you that are going crazy that I haven’t told you just exactly how many points I am. I’d love to talk about them with you. There’s just one question that you need to answer before we talk.