"What Is a True Calvinist?" Part Four: Holy Life and Glorious Ambition
For the past couple of weeks I have been posting a six-part series called “What Is a True Calvinist?” based on the booklet written by Phillip Ryken which can also be found in the book, Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (chapter eight) by James Montgomery Boice and Ryken (Crossway, 2002). The purpose of these posts are not to give detailed expositions of the five points of Calvinism but to express in summary form the heart of a true Calvinist and the impact the biblical truths of Calvinism on the Christian life. For previous posts, see Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Holy Life
Not only does a true Calvinist have a God-centered mind, penitent spirit, grateful heart, and submissive will, but he also has a holy life and glorious ambition. Calvinists believe that God’s sovereignty is manifested in every aspect salvation – that is haven been saved (justification), are being saved (sanctification), and will be saved (glorification). Ryken explains:
“To be sure, Calvinism recognizes that God is sovereign in sanctification. . . . Christianity is not a performance-based religion. Thos who are saved by grace also live by grace, and their growth in grace is due to the gracious work of God’s Spirit. This is what preserves Calvinism from legalism. If someone who claims to be a Calvinist and turns out to be a legalist, he or she must not understand the doctrines of grace very well after all, because the true Calvinist is overwhelmed by God’s mercy for sinners. A graceless Calvinism is thoroughly repugnant to the gospel, for unless the pursuit of holiness is motivated by an ever-deepening love for God and his grace, it quickly becomes joyless and fruitless” (22).
Going through the doctrines of grace (also known as the Five Points), Ryken explains how each doctrine reveals God’s work in sanctifying the believer.
- Radical depravity exposes our lack of holiness and need for God’s grace. Sanctification is, according to the Calvinist, a pursuit of holiness accomplished by God’s grace.
- Unconditional election reveals that God chose us before the foundation of the world to make us holy (Eph. 1:3-4). We are chosen in Christ for the explicit purpose of being made holy in Christ.
- Particular redemption shows that one of Christ’s primary purposes on the Cross is the sanctification of those for whom Christ died (2 Cor. ; Eph. 5:25b-27; Col. 1:22; Titus 2:13b-14). The death of Christ means death to our sin.
- Efficacious grace is God’s irresistible work whereby God, through the death of Christ accomplishes redemption and also applies it through the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Trinitarian work of grace is to conform us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, the Holy One (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:9a; 1 Pet. -16). Therefore, the calling of the Holy Spirit—the effectual call that leads to salvation—is a call to holiness.
- Perseverance of the saints is not simply a matter of surviving to the end of the Christian life, and then somehow making it to heaven. Rather, to persevere is to lead a holy and productive Christian life (Phil. 1:6; -13). Persevering grace is also sanctifying grace, and all through life the Holy Spirit is at work to make the Christian holy.
Regarding the perseverance of the saints, I would like to make a parenthetical statement regarding God’s involvement in the perfection of his children. Perseverance is often considered the same thing as “eternal security,” but there is an important distinction to be made. The predominant view of those who hold to eternal security claim that once a person has been saved, they are guaranteed eternal life in heaven, regardless of whether or not they are progressively being sanctified. It carries the idea that one’s salvation is eternally secure apart from the necessity of a persevering faith that works itself out in fear and trembling. The Calvinist holds to the conviction that God and His grace will cause the believer to persevere to the end which can often look much different than what popular notions of eternal security explain.
Ryken further adds that Calvin himself wrote, “Holiness is not a merit by which we can attain communion with God, but a gift of Christ, which enables us to cling to him, and to follow him.” Though some may presume that the Christian life is passive and easy, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Paul summarizes it best when he said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. ). Glorious Purpose
Coming to Ryken’s final attribute, he concludes where he began, explaining that Calvinists hold to worldview in which everything said and done is grounded in the purpose of God’s glory. Paul sums up the amazing sentence in Ephesians 1 in which all things were “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. ). Thomas Brooks wrote,
“The end of that obedience that accompanies salvation is, divine glory. The aim of the obedient soul, in prayer and praises, in talking and walking, in giving and receiving, in living and doing, is divine glory. . . . In all actions, the obedient soul intends to promote divine glory.”
In same vane, Ryken shares the rationale of the Calvinist, saying, “The chief end of God is to glorify himself. He is directing and disposing all things (including our sufferings) for his glory. And if God’s purpose is to pursue his glory, then it only makes sense that this is also our purpose. The true Calvinist embraces the eternal purpose of the sovereign God by living for his glory” (28-29).
Three particular areas that Ryken mentions that God’s glory manifests itself is through human suffering, correct doctrine, and personal humility. Regarding suffering, Ryken explains, “Calvinism is committed to realism, and Calvin himself observed that ‘all whom the Lord has chosen and received into the society of his saints, ought to prepare themselves for a life that is hard, difficult, laborious, and full of countless griefs.’” This is precisely because, as Ryken argues, Jesus Christ left a pattern in which his followers would find themselves, namely suffering into glory, humiliation into exaltation, the cross before the crown.
Regarding doctrine, Ryken states, “The true Calvinist not only recognizes God’s glory but is also jealous to promote it. We long for the evangelical church to rediscover a theology of grace. Reformed theology is the system of doctrine that seeks to give God all the glory for his grace in the gospel. Thus its recovery furthers the greatest of all goals and the highest of all purposes: the glory of God” (29).
Finally, this glorious purpose should humble the believer to think that God has allowed us to join him in bringing glory to His name. Think of all the most admirable endeavors undertaken by man—inventions, great feats, record-breaking performances, and unbelievable, life-long projects—all are but a footnote to the grand and majestic story of history in which God, through creation and redemption, is being infinitely glorified. And to think that God would allow me (us) to invest my life, this one life I have, in such an endeavor is too wonderful for me, and for which I am deeply humbled.
Ryken closed with a great quote from Henry Martyn,
Though the booklet by Ryken has now been addressed, I still have two posts remaining in this series—one pertaining to the Calvinist and evangelism/mission, and my concluding reflections.