Have you ever been scared? I mean really, really terrified? I’m not talking about being startled by a scene in a horror movie or just a sense of anxiety from the uncertainty of something, but have you ever been affected by fear to an extent that it immobilized you? If not in a literal, physical sense at least a mental and/or emotional sense? I have.
As a matter of fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been involved in some form of ministry for over 23 years. During all of that time I have had to take two doses of prescribed anti-anxiety medication a day. This is not something usually confessed by Pastors, Preachers, Bible Teachers, or anyone who holds position of authority in ministry, but I try my best to be an open “book.” After all of this time, all of the counseling, all of the prayer, all of the reflection I’ve done on my life, I think in just the last five years or so I’ve discovered the root of all that inner turmoil.
I was raised in an Assemblies of God (AG) church. I’m forever grateful for my parents having raised me in church and for the essentials of the gospel message I received in that environment. I recognized I was called by God to be His child during that time period. However, much of what I was taught instilled fear. To be completely transparent, from as early as I can remember and up through my undergraduate degree (at a popular AG bible college) I questioned most of what I was taught. It just didn’t seem to match up with what I was uncovering as I read and studied God’s Word.
Rebellion was not my motive, not even close. But things just didn’t “feel” right. I know we are not to be led by emotion, but it was from a place much deeper than just an emotional, or gut, feeling. One of my main problems lied in their eschatological beliefs (“End Times” views).
As a child, a young child, I remember often waking up in the morning with an impending sense of doom. If it was a day when people and noises were expected to be heard around the house and I woke up to silence I was immediately petrified. I would lay there straining to hear a sound. The crinkling of newspaper pages being turned, the sound of the coffee pot brewing, a voice, the TV, music from the stereo. And when nothing surrounded me except for silence I would erupt into a full blown panic attack.
Slowly I would climb out of my bed and then I’d explore each room trying to find signs of life. The “bird room” (my mom raised birds for quite some time), my parents room and bathroom, my sister’s room, the living and dining rooms, the main bathroom, the kitchen, the garage, and finally I’d check both the front and back yards. If no one was around my panic hastened and tears would follow.
At that point I would grab the church directory and start calling people I “knew” had to be “real” Christians. If no one answered at one number my terror increased. I would continue calling people until I would finally get an answer from someone I “knew” was a “good” Christian, and then I would immediately hang up. I would breathe a deep sigh of relief and try calming myself down. “Whew!” I would think to myself. “I didn’t miss the ‘rapture.’” Then I would pray feverishly asking forgiveness for any sin I had committed, thought I committed, or anything I had done against God’s will that I was unaware of. That is unhealthy, very unhealthy.
I had been manipulated all of my life by this notion of a “rapture.” Although I could never find the teaching spelled out in Scripture, all of those who I respected held to this view. From my earliest memories I recall being taught that if you were not “good” enough you would be “left behind” to experience the worst catastrophes ever known to humanity.
If you had done anything sinful and had not had a chance to confess and repent of it you were in trouble. I was taught that on Judgment Day there would be a literal screen and on it would be projected all of your sins for everyone to see. The whole hell fire and brimstone was taught as literal. The be-headings, torture, inability to buy and sell unless you had “the mark” of the beast, the anti-Christ, the catastrophic wars, etc. were all one had to look forward to if they didn’t live a good enough life.
This all sounded like baloney to me. When compared with other Scripture I knew there had to be a way all of this could be explained. But at the time I didn’t know any better and it was the view held by those I respected so I accepted it hook, line, and sinker.
Of course the root belief in all of this that Arminians hold is that you can lose your salvation. They pervert the only single passage that mentions
“backsliding” to suit their purpose. They define it as backsliding out of salvation. That is not the point or intent of the passage at all. I’ll leave that for all of you to check out. Just remember to keep in mind the surrounding text, the chapter of the text, the book the passage is found in, the culture, all the surrounding information, and then it has to fit in the bible in its entirety.
Losing one’s salvation? That seemed so foreign to me even as a child. If salvation is up to God and not man, how can there be a loss of that salvation. Is it not described as an eternal salvation? How is it eternal if it doesn’t last forever? Doesn’t Scripture say no one can snatch one of God’s own from His hand? If we are a “someone” aren’t we included in the “no one”? A/G and other Arminians try to change the meaning to anyone except ourselves. But that is not even close to being justifiable.
Just to choose one passage to support what I’m saying let’s take a brief look at Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). Indeed we are saved by grace through faith and who is this not of? Us. It’s not of our own doing. It is God’s gift and does not come by way of works. They respond with, “Yeah, but the passage still says you need faith.” This is true, can’t argue with that. But where does that faith come from? Us? No. If you read the passage carefully you’ll see that the nearest referent to the word “this” regarding what is not of our own and being a gift from God it’s “faith” that is the nearest referent. In interpreting this short passage the faith, and not just the grace, are gifts that come from God and do not come from us of our own volition. So many other passages could be cited but I direct you to my articles on the subject of eternal security and assurance found on this very website.
Later in life as I grew spiritually and in my knowledge of God’s Word I realized the absurdity of it all. I was like Martin Luther in the sense that after really reading and studying the book of Romans that I needed to really dig deep and explore other possible theological possibilities and interpretations to most of what I had been taught all of my life.
It’s extremely hard to pick a single verse to point to that turned me from the man and deed focused bent of Arminianism to the God and grace focus of Calvinism. But if forced to choose just one I have to admit it’s one that most of those who are converted Calvinists don’t single out. There are a couple for me, but considering my experience shared above I’d have to say it was Romans 8:1-4 with a special emphasis on verses one and two:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (ESV).
For me it was more of a theological position that directed me toward the road of Calvinism. I mean it is so clearly spelled out in the above passage – “no condemnation,” “set you free,” God did what the law could not do yet I was still being taught a form of the law, “sending his Son…for sin,” and sin was condemned through Him, so “the righteous requirement of the law… [was] fulfilled.”
This discovery was life changing and from this passage I traveled the road of Calvinism step by step until my theology had fully developed. It’s God, not man. He’s in charge, not me. Christ ALREADY did what I could never do. It wasn’t about specific actions, it was about walking in freedom and grace because those born again were of the Spirit not the flesh.
I could go on forever detailing every aspect of discovery, or enlightenment, that led me to start “tip toeing through the T.U.L.I.P.(‘s)” but this is not the time, place or the forum. Suffice it to say, this is where my road to the truth beyond just recognizing I was called by God to be His child began. Was I saved as a child? Absolutely. Was my psyche, my id, my ego, my core warped in a way that has affected me for a life time? That would be a yes as well. But I cannot express how joyful and freeing it was to find a sound, biblical, orthodox doctrinal position that fit what I had been feeling all along and that has freed me to believe and walk in what I consider to be true faith.
Featured Image: Waves by Samantha Beddoes; CC 2.0
This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.
Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.