Pastor John, there are some fairly common and popular phrases that are heard occasionally, phrases like: “Work like an Arminian, sleep like a Calvinist,” or, “Pray like an Arminian, but sleep like a Calvinist,” or, “Evangelize like an Arminian, but sleep like a Calvinist.” What do you make of these phrases?
Well, each one of those is a little bit different. I don’t like any of them, and let me focus on the first one: Work like an Arminian, sleep like a Calvinist. The other two, I think, have the same kind of simple answer. Evangelize like an Arminian and Pray like an Arminian, not like a Calvinist sort of imply that those poor Calvinists don’t have any motive for evangelism and prayer because God rules everything. But I think in answering the first one, the others will be clearer.
Decisive Saving Act
The reason I don’t like saying, “Work like an Arminian, and pray like a Calvinist,” is because I just think it is unhelpful and misleading both historically, in the effect that the reformed vision had on the world, and biblically, because of many texts. But, you know, what occurs to me is that there are listeners who may not even know what those terms mean. So let me sketch that out and then try to tackle it. So get these terms, “Arminian” and “Calvinist.”
Here is the key difference for me: Historic Arminians believe with Calvinists that people are so sinful and rebellious that they can’t believe in Jesus without divine grace. They both agree on that. But Arminians say that God gives this grace — prevenient grace, coming before grace — to everybody so that now they have the ability to believe. In this way, the decisive cause of faith is us and not God. God gets us started and puts us in a position where we can do the necessary believing and then waits, and then we provide the decisive awakening of faith.
Now Calvinists agree that you can’t believe without divine grace, but we say that the function of that grace is decisive. It doesn’t just make it possible for a man to decisively produce his own faith, but God decisively defeats all obstacles and makes Christ compelling and beautiful so that the heart is decisively moved to embrace Christ freely on the basis of what the eyes of the heart see.
Confident and Secure
One of the corollaries of the Arminian view is that a person can be a genuine believer with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and lose that standing and be lost. Now Calvinists don’t believe that a person can believe — be decisively brought to faith by God and have his rebellion decisively overcome by God — and then God switches around and stops providing that decisive victory. God’s faithfulness to those whom he called out of darkness into light is the ground of our confidence in eternal security. And my guess is that one of the reasons at the street level that people are inclined to think Arminians work harder than Calvinists is that Arminians have this kind of motive that if I don’t work harder, then I might lose my salvation.
Now I am not saying that sophisticated, historic Arminians commend that kind of motivation. But I was talking to a man last Sunday at the church that we are visiting here in Knoxville, and he was telling me that is one of the reasons he converted to a more reformed vision: All his life growing up he was tormented by the fear of losing his salvation, and he was taught that he could lose it, and it had an effect on the way he went about doing his work. So I don’t want people to work like Arminians. When I hear the mantra, “Work like an Arminian, and sleep like a Calvinist,” I say “no.” I don’t want people to work that way. I think it is a detraction from the biblical truth of Calvinism to say that there is a superior way of being motivated by something that is less biblical.
Driven by Grace
I think that the ground of our work as Calvinists is far greater, more peaceful, and more motivating than any other view provides. And here is the kind of text I have in mind: “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 Corinthians 15:10).
Now that is a precisely Calvinistic drivenness from a grace standpoint. Grace came to Paul. It didn’t come in vain, he said. It produced the hardest work imaginable. And then he pauses and says, “But that hard work was not me. It was God. So it is the sovereignty of grace in my life empowering me that produces the kind of work that gives God glory and gives me a sense of peace that I am being carried along by grace even as I work very hard at it.”
Or another one would be Philippians 2:13: “Work out your own salvation, because God is at work in you,” or later in Philippians 3:12: “I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own.” In both of those texts in Philippians, the stress falls on God’s sovereign initiative producing our vigorous efforts.
And then there is Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil” — he is talking about producing maturity in believers — “struggling with all the energy that he powerfully works within me.” So Paul’s toil and his struggle are with the very power of God that is working in Paul. That is the heart of Calvinism. God is the sovereign initiative-taker. God is the sovereign worker and producer. God is the sovereign empowerer and enabler. And so, when it comes to human living and human working, what we are doing is trusting, resting, and being empowered by what God does so that God gets all the glory, which is another hallmark of Calvinism.
“Outproduce, outplay, outdream everyone by trusting in your sovereign God.”
Or consider 1 Peter 4:11: “Let him who serves” — or you could say let him who works — “serve by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified.” It is precisely working like a Calvinist that gets God glory. So you see how I get bent out of shape if I hear somebody say, “Don’t work like a Calvinist.” What? Working like a Calvinist is precisely the kind of work that is restful and trusting and being carried. My yoke is easy. My burden is light (see Matthew 11:30). And then God — the great, sovereign, initiative-taking, sustaining God — is getting all the glory.
Let me just say one last thing. I know this is long. It is historically just plain false to imply that when Calvinism came into being in its more systematic, refined form, it produced less work than others. The Protestant work ethic was begotten by the reformed vision of reality, and it built the modern world we know.
My preference would be a slogan like this: “Work like a Calvinist, play like a Calvinist, sleep like a Calvinist. Outproduce, outplay, outdream everyone by trusting in your sovereign God.”