I grew up with a semi-Calvinistic understanding of salvation. I knew that people were dead in sins and that dead people don’t do anything. But I did not understand much of how salvation actually worked.
When I first heard someone teach on the effectual call (also poorly described as irresistible grace) I balked at it. It didn’t seem to match up with my conception of salvation and my experience of life. When the gospel was preached, it seemed that the Spirit was working generally in people’s hearts, and they either responded to that work or rejected it. But that was all that was happening.
While in graduate school, I took a class on Romans. When studying through Romans 8—specifically verses 28–30—I became convinced that the effectual call was a biblical teaching.
From The Cripple Gate. Reposted by permission of the author.
“Free Grace” is the label commonly given to a theological system founded by the late Zane Hodges and currently promoted, among others, by Bob Wilkin and The Grace Evangelical Society. According to “Free-Grace” theology (hereafter FG), genuine conversion does not necessarily result in a spiritually transformed life, for FG advocates affirm that someone can believe in Christ and yet show forth absolutely no fruit whatsoever in terms of obedience to God or love for Christ. Put another way, they believe in a regeneration that may or may not result in progressive sanctification. Most times, they say, it does not.
Many FG teachers would go so far as to say that if someone were to believe in Christ for a fleeting moment and then immediately recant of that belief and live out the rest of his life as a Christ-rejecting atheist who never obeys the Lord, that individual is a true child of God and will some day be in heaven. In other words, rather than recognizing that such an individual did not truly believe in Christ to begin with (1 John 2:19), Free-Gracers would affirm that person’s faith and conversion as genuine, for regeneration is no guarantee that one will persevere in the faith.
"So by violating the image of God in someone else, or I violate it in myself, it is the ultimate act of lack of faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God."
Some may not think I’m a Calvinist when it comes to John 3:16. Actually, I’m a John Calvinist when I interpret this verse (double entendre intended). I don’t think the verse (and its larger context) is simply designed to teach people biblical doctrines or facts, such as “God loves sinners” or “believers go to heaven.” It has a larger aim. Namely, God through the apostle John wants to solicit a faith-response on the part of the reader.
Some Calvinists with a little Greek under their belt are quick to tell us that the reading of the AV, “whosoever believeth in him,” is mistaken. The Greek features a participle in the nominative case (ο πιστευων) modified by the adjective “all” (πας). Hence, they argue, John is simply stating a fact: “all believers [i.e., the elect] go to heaven.”
There is no one definitive answer to the question, “What is a Christian”? That’s because there are many biblical texts that provide various answers, all of them true. While most believers tend to think in terms of one, simple, standardized definition of a Christian, God evidently wants us to think in a more comprehensive manner. It’s good for us to consider the many facets of the beautiful diamond of salvation, and one of the most thought-provoking answers may be found in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John chapter seventeen.
Here, Christ prays first for Himself (vs. 1-5), secondly for His Apostles (vs. 6-10), and finally for all Christians to the end of time (vs. 20-26). The prayer of Christ for His Disciples beginning in John 17:6 is the focus of my thoughts. Although these words were spoken specifically in relation to the Apostles, careful reflection reveals that they apply equally to all born-again believers. So, in these words of Christ, what is a Christian?