I would be considered to be apart of this “New Calvinism”(The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, etc.). I wasn’t raised in a Reformed church, in fact the church is probably the furthest (well not quite) away from the Reformers. The Reformers put to death the type of people (Anabaptists) that formed the kind of church that I attended. Anyways, I first came in contact with the theological framework called Calvinism from a YouTube video that I watched over 3 years ago. I’m clearly not a veteran in the Reformed movement, but I have been around long enough to know when there is a problem, and we have a problem.
John Calvin reflecting on Ephesians 1:4 writes:
God’s eternal election (Eph. 1:4) is the basis both of our calling and of all the benefits that we receive from him… The timing of our election shows that it had to be free and could not have depended on any works of ours…
Holiness and blamelessness are the fruits of election…. Those who are not elect retain their natural disposition, which cannot change except by divine intervention…. This verse is also a reminder that there is no room of licentiousness among the elect, because holiness of life is tied to the grace of election… Nor does this mean that we attain perfection in this life. We have the goal set before us, but we do not reach it until our race is done. Why do some people think of predestination as a useless and even poisonous doctrine? No doctrine is more useful, as long as it is handled properly, as Paul does here. It reveals the infinite goodness of God and gives us our knowledge of his mercy…. Election is the ultimate proof that we cannot claim any righteousness for ourselves.
In those few paragraphs, John Calvin succinctly sums up election and holiness for the Christian. While there are several themes that come out of this quote and this passage, the one theme that I think springs from this text is holiness. Holiness is the consequence and evidence of our election. We are not holy to be accepted by God, but because Jesus is holy we are holy. God says, “you shall be holy, for I am holy”.
The idea of holiness is almost a peculiar doctrine for the new Reformed movement. I know many young and old in this tradition who feel no obligation to actively and passionately with their entire being, to pursue a life of holiness. They wouldn’t explicitly say this, but their lives wouldn’t reflect otherwise. There are several reasons for why this is, but here I think is one of the most popular:
“Martin Luther talked about something that he called “The Great Exchange”. You know what that means? It means that Christ emptied himself of His perfect righteousness and He clothed me with it, and in exchange He took upon ALL of my sin; past, present and future sin. Now in Christ I am seen as righteous and holy.”
First off, can I get a big AMEN to that? I’m totally down with that and I think Luther exegetes 2 Corinthians 5:21 most excellently. The problem young reformers seem to have is in regards to the fruit of that “Great Exchange” – the fruit of our lives, the good works we are to do, the life of holiness. It’s clear throughout God’s word that we are to love our neighbor, serve the poor, give generously, cloth the naked, etc. We aren’t doing these things to obtain Jesus, but because Jesus has obtained us we do these things. In other words, we are to do these things FROM our position in Christ, not FOR our position in Christ.
I’m still learning and I have a long ways to go myself, but I know I need to actively pursue holiness, and the only way I can do that is if I am sustained by His grace. We aren’t doing these things to earn brownie points with the Big-Guy upstairs, but because we have been changed from the inside out, we now want to live a life of selflessness. Pride and arrogance should never be characteristics of the Christian life, instead it should be one of humility because it is all of grace to underserving sinners. And that *should* lead to a gratefulness to give back all for our precious Savior.
Pursue God in prayer, pursue Him in His Word, pursue Him in the grocery store, pursue Him down the street, pursue Him in EVERYTHING you do. The thing that most keeps us from progressing and persisting in holiness is the thing we are too slow to turn to Him in prayer and to seek in His Word. Be encouraged, slow progress is better than no progress! Don’t give up, because Jesus WILL NOT give up on those He has purchased with His blood. Nothing will change their position in Him, they are secure forever.
If we will not wake up to the reality of Biblical Christian Holiness, then we have a very big problem on our hands and in our churches. A problem that could lead to the death of New Calvinism.
“Doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm. Something of ‘the image of Christ’ must be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings.” – J.C. Ryle