Ten Effects of Believing the Five Points of Calvinism

Session 9


Here we are now in this final session, and I want to talk about 10 effects of believing these things. I hope I can address a few of the things that have been asked me. I don’t know where it might fit, so I’m going to say it right now. Somebody asked me, “Are you going to say anything about Hyper-Calvinism?” So let me say a word about it. I’ll define it, and then I’ll say why I’m not it.

Hyper-Calvinism doesn’t mean serious, real Calvinist, like seven-pointers. That’s not what Hyper-Calvinism is. Hyper-Calvinism is a technical phrase from the 18th century, and it referred especially to people in England who carried the doctrine of election and irresistible grace to an unbiblical conclusion, namely, that the only people to whom you should preach the gospel and offer its benefits are those in whom you see evidences of election because they’re the only ones for whom it will work. Wrong. Bad conclusion.

And the main opponent was Andrew Fuller. His main book in response to Hyper-Calvinism was Gospel Worthy of All Acceptance. Read it. You can get all of his works. In that book, he argued that in no way does Calvinism imply you should only preach the gospel to those in whom you see some evidences of election. There’s not a whiff in the Bible to imply that.

You preach the gospel indiscriminately to everyone, and whosoever will let him come. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. You open the door, I come in” (Revelation 3:20). That’s not the whole story, but it is the true story. So I’m not Hyper-Calvinist. I hate Hyper-Calvinism. There aren’t many around today, but it’s an example of human logic trumping biblical clarity. Arminians are prone to this, and Calvinists are prone to this. Anybody who loves to see things fit together coherently can fall prey to being led by logic, not being led by exegesis.

The way we’ve approached this seminar is at least an effort to be governed by texts, not by, “Well, if this is true, then this must be true, and this must be true, so that’s why I believe in limited atonement.” I’ve heard the argument so many times that Calvinists are driven by their ironclad logic to unbiblical conclusions. And I say, “Well, that’s what I see in Arminianism, but I don’t see it here.” History will judge whether that’s what is governing me or not.

1. God-Centered Worship

These truths — I’m just talking about T-U-L-I-P and all of the worldview surrounding it — make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true, God-centered worship. I recall the time I first saw, while teaching Ephesians at Bethel in the late 1970s, that threefold statement of the goal of God’s work — namely, to the praise of the glory of his grace (Ephesians 1:6). That’s why we were created; that’s why we were redeemed; that’s why everything exists — to bring praise to the glory of the grace of God, supremely manifest in Jesus.

It has led me to see we cannot enrich God, and therefore his glory shines most brightly, not when we try to meet his needs, but when we are satisfied in him as the essence of our needs. From him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever (Romans 11:36). Worship becomes an end in itself. It has made me feel how low and inadequate my affections are, so that the psalms of longing come alive and make worship intense.

The point of all that is this: Worship in America, I would say in general, is fairly flippant in most churches. It’s just kind of entertainment-like and cavalier, like watching a country wedding show. It has cool songs, neat songs, neat rhythm, and everybody is with you. But there’s a flavor of the weight of glory missing. And my point is, these doctrines move you in another direction. It’s not a style issue. It’s really not, though it does have some effect on the way drums are used, guitars are used, and organs are used. It does have some effect. But I don’t want you to jump to the conclusion, “Well, if you’re really serious, then you do Handel’s Messiah every Sunday, and you would never, ever use a guitar. That’s too home-spun and down-low.”

No. You can be as worldly and superficial and man-centered while singing the Hallelujah Chorus, as when you sing something as simple as Hallelujah. I’ve heard that song mocked so many times, saying, “It’s an evangelical mantra.” Well, it isn’t a mantra if you weave it into substance the way it should be woven in. There comes a moment in a service when much riches have been spoken or read or prayed or preached, and all you should do for a season is say, “Hallelujah.” But thinking through those things will be helped by what you believe about God. I’m afraid that, by and large, the American church is pervasively Arminian, and therefore light.

2. Serious Joy

These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things. One of the curses of our culture in America is banality, cuteness, and cleverness. Television is perhaps the main sustainer of our addiction to superficiality and triviality. God is dragged into this, hence the trifling with divine things. Here’s my beef with television. I don’t have a television. I haven’t had a television for 40 years, except for three years in Germany when we used it to learn German. The issue for me is not mainly sex and violence — though that has its problems — it’s banality. You just have to realize how vulnerable I am to banter. I just can get sucked in so easily to repartee, sounding clever, talking to get the last word, and using puns. I’m just a sucker.

So what can I do to guard myself? Because if I go there, of what use will I be to anybody except, “Here’s another entertainer”? We don’t need another entertainer. I couldn’t compete with the best Joel Osteens if I wanted to. That’s not what I’m after. I’m after not trifling with the divine. I’m after earnestness, so I have to turn it off. The best way to turn it off is not to have it. I raised four sons. They’re all pretty relevant guys. They’re not kooky. They never watched television in our house, ever. They watch it in other people’s houses. Sometimes we would get a TV for the Final Four or something like that, but you won’t ruin your kids. I just noticed my son’s blog this morning. Abraham has a blog called 22 Words, and every entry is 22 words long. He said, “Some parents let their kids watch television and movies every day. Can anyone explain this to me?” That’s good. That’s really good. I raised this kid.

A Culture of Triviality

Earnestness is not excessive in our day. It might have been once. And yes, there are imbalances in certain people today who don’t seem to be able to relax and talk about the weather. I know that’s where a sick person would take my point here. They would say, “Oh, Piper wants us to be so blood-earnest all the time that you can’t ever laugh.” Well, that’s not where I’m going. If you’ve been around Bethlehem long enough, I think we’re pretty healthy folks. We’re just normal, run-of-the-mill people. If somebody slips on a banana peel while they’re wearing a tuxedo, I’m laughing, folks. They ought to go down. They’re huffing and puffing around with their nice clothes, and God puts a banana peel in their place and brings them down, I’m laughing. The world is filled with that sort of thing, and it is meant to be enjoyed.

But to cultivate a whole culture of triviality so that nobody ever experiences any significant season of seriousness, that’s a sick way to do culture. There’s a huge pressure on me, as the leader in the pulpit of this church, to constantly dumb down and trivialize Sunday morning. And I come back with the argument: Isn’t one hour out of 168 worthy of some passion and seriousness and riveted focus on the Great? Do we always have to dump everything into Sunday morning, so that we’re friendly here? Do we have to have a merry mingle in the church so that people feel friendly here? Because if you do serious every Sunday, ordinary people don’t feel friendly? That’s a huge pressure.

Most churches govern all that they do to feel friendly. Everything. The carpet on the floor is like a living room. Everything else just has to feel warm, sweet, and homey, like a fireplace in a living room. I say, where in life will reverence happen? Will anybody ever feel stunned at reality if it’s not here? It’s not going to happen anywhere else. It’s not happening at home on the television. It’s not happening on the internet. It’s not happening around the meals at home. Where will it happen? So pray. I in no way would elevate Bethlehem as having that figured out and being the ideal experience. We’re not, good grief. But my point is, if you see God this way, it’ll have an effect on what you want to see happen when the people gather to honor this God.

3. Marveling at Our Salvation

These truths make me marvel at my own salvation and feel humbled for my sin. It’s interesting that after laying out the great things in Ephesians 1:3–14 of God-wrought salvation, Paul prays. Did you notice that? The prayer starts at Ephesians 1:16. He prays, in the last part of the chapter, that the effect of the theology from the first part of the chapter, will be the enlightenment of our hearts, so that we will marvel at our hope, and at the riches of the glory of our inheritance, and at the power at work in us — that is, the power to raise the dead. He prays for those three things: That we will marvel at the glory of our inheritance, and at the hope and the power. And he’s praying, which means that he knows Ephesians 1:3–14 by itself may not awaken anybody’s wonder. It may not affect anybody’s heart. He’s just said the most spectacular things that can be said about God and Christ in Ephesians 1:3–14, and he knows it’s just words unless God does something. I should really read it to you:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him . . . (Ephesians 1:16–17).

In other words, “I’m praying for a spirit that when you read this paragraph, you see the wisdom; you see it as the revelation of God. You are communing with God, and it’s a revelation. It’s not just words.”

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you . . . (Ephesians 1:18).

Someone could say, “Well, you don’t need to pray that, just read it. Right, Paul?” No. You can read it, but if you don’t pray it, you may not see it.

what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints . . . (Ephesians 1:18).

But didn’t he just describe the riches? Yes, but he knows that you can read them and have nothing happen. So he’s praying. He’s asking for divine work to be done in the heart.

and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe . . . (Ephesians 1:19).

I think that means, if you follow the train of thought down into Ephesians 2:5, he is saying, “I want you to realize that you were dead in trespasses and sins and now God has raised you from the dead, so that you are stunned at your salvation.” That’s the point here. Every ground of boasting is removed and brokenhearted joy comes.

Broken-Hearted Rejoicing

Edwards lived in these things. This is my favorite paragraph from the book, Religious Affections, which I mentioned devastated me in 1972 and 1973. I was sitting in a rocking chair that I bought for my wife because she was pregnant, and when she wasn’t in it, I was in it. We didn’t have any services on Sunday night. And every Sunday night for several months I read the Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. I could only read two to four pages a night because they were overwhelming, as he unpacked how the glory of God affects the affections of the heart. This shapes everything I think and do. Here’s what he wrote:

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.

I’d never heard that before. I don’t think I’d ever heard a phrase like that in my life at age 25. Now, to me, it’s one of the most important phrases in the world. That’s the effect of seeing the God of Jonathan Edwards, the God of the Bible.

4. Rejection of Man-Centered Substitutes

These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news. Something about believing the doctrines of grace, which is another name for these five points, alerts you to be able to detect ideas posed as good news which aren’t good news. In my book The Pleasures of God, I try to show that in the 18th century in New England, the slide from the sovereignty of God led to Arminianism, then to Universalism, and then to Unitarianism.

A Departure from Sound Doctrine

The same thing happened in England in the 19th century after Spurgeon. Murray’s biography of Edwards, documents the same thing. Here’s a quote:

Calvinistic convictions waned in North America . . .

They’ve never returned as the central force they had in the first Great Awakening. God may be doing something like that now. I don’t know. I’m encouraged on a lot of hands by what I see in the renewal of these things. He continues:

Calvinistic convictions waned in North America in the progress of the decline, which Edwards had rightly anticipated. Those congregational churches of New England which had embraced Arminianism after the Great Awakening gradually moved into Unitarianism and Universalism, led by Charles Chauncey.

You can read the same thing in J.I. Packer’s Quest For Godliness. In page 160, he talks about how Richard Baxter forsook these teachings, and how the following generations reaped a grim harvest in the Baxter Church in Kidderminster.

These doctrines are a bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while looking strong and popular. The churches of the living God are the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Would that she were that.

The point here is, beyond what you are able presently to articulate, believing the central, glorious things provides you with a kind of ballast in your boat, so that as the winds come against your sailboat, they can tip you, but they won’t tip you over, because there’s just something about these doctrines that holds you from making many mistakes.

So when people ask, “What do you do at Bethlehem to protect people from all the false teachings that have come at them over the years?” My answer isn’t, “Well, we have classes on every single false teaching, and everybody has to go those classes, and everybody has to become aware of what’s coming down the pike.” That’s hopeless. Rather, we stay close to the center, and just keep hammering away at the magnificence of God, because there’s just something about a church in which you feel the weight of the majesty of the glory of God that is a safe place, doctrinally. They’re not getting blown around. They’re going nowhere. They’re not trendy people.

5. Awareness of a God-Belittling Culture

These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture. I can hardly read the newspaper or look at a TV ad or billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing. When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I’m able to be shocked. Here’s the point: Most Christians aren’t shocked when they read the paper, that there’s no section on God, but a big one on sport, a big one on business, and a big one on entertainment. And God? He’s gone totally.

That doesn’t shock anybody. He’s just gone. Watch TV 24 hours in a row — God? Maybe a swear word, maybe a mockery of some stupid priestly character, but God is gone. Nobody is shocked. But if you believe these things, you’ll feel shocked. It enables you to keep feeling shocked that God created a universe in which people are ignoring him. If you don’t feel some shock, you won’t be able to articulate the dangers of hell with any credibility. I pray for awakening, for revival. I try to preach to create a people that are so God-saturated that they will show and tell God everywhere and all the time. We exist to reassert the reality of God, and the supremacy of God, in all of life.

6. The Unstoppable Purpose of God

These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish — both globally and personally. The whole doctrine of perseverance was intended to make that claim, but just know how emotionally precious that is to me. God’s got a lot of work to do on me yet. I don’t know whether I’ll live a year, or 10, or 20, or die today, but it is massively encouraging to me that God is sovereignly committed to work on me and never let me go, and that he will do that globally. He’s going to finish the Great Commission. He’s sovereign. This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).

God intends that there be a completion of the Great Commission, and he is God. Did he not say as his last word:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).

How that should resonate in our minds, because of your sovereignty that these doctrines preserve.

7. All Things for the Glory of God

These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes — that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him the glory forever and ever. All of life relates to God. There’s no compartment where he’s not all important as the one who gives meaning to everything. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). All of it — eating, drinking, seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that he accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will — makes me see the world in this way.

If you’re listening to NPR, every single interview has to do with God. They don’t know that. He never gets the proper credit. I got so furious at an interview I was listening to yesterday. I turned it off. I said, “I’m sick of this.” But I listened for a while. I want to learn. I want to know my culture. I want to know what I’m dealing with. But I’m hearing everything through this grid.

The annual games in northern Canada right now have to do with God. A gay doctor writing poetry and extolling how poetry helps him be a better doctor has to do with God. That’s the one I got so upset about. I listened to 15 minutes of it, and heard the whole thing through the thought, “How does poetry relate to God? How does doctoring relate to God?” And then this whole gay thing came out. And there was no sense of moral concern but only celebration, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Because God says that doctor is going to go to hell if he doesn’t repent. But that wasn’t coming out. It’s just like the rest of us, we’ll go to hell if we don’t repent.

8. The Effect of Prayer

These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed. This is the one that we talked about last night with some of you. So I want to make sure you hear this one and the next one, because these are among the most common questions raised for those who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. People say, “Why pray?” But if you start to think about it and go just a little further in, the answer becomes, “Why pray if you’re an Arminian?”

What is prayer? Prayer is asking that God do something. And if you ask him to do something, you are telling him, “I believe you have the right and authority and power to do it.” Arminians don’t believe that he has the right and authority and power to save anybody, do they? Just be honest. There’s no caricature here. No straw man. They believe in previenient grace, so they pray, “Do that Lord,” but do they then pray, “Don’t sovereignly push them over the edge. You don’t have a right to do that because they have ultimate self-determining power to seal the deal. So don’t do that”?

I never pray that way, especially when my kids are lost. What are you going to ask God to do for your son? Sneak up on him and give him a little nudge, but don’t save him because he’s got to do the last deal so don’t do that for him? Leave him in his hard resistant frame? I’ve sat across from my son at too many Pizza Hut tables to feel any hope in that. Oh, I prayed. Oh, I prayed. And I pray just like you said you pray. Save him. Do whatever you got to do. Surround him. Capture him. Take out the heart of stone. Put in the heart of flesh. Give him a new spirit. Write the law on his heart. Open the eyes of the blind. Open the ears of the deaf. Raise the dead. Save my son. That’s the way I pray. Arminians cannot pray like that. Now, you may say because of some philosophical presupposition you bring, “If God has predestined everything, what’s the point?”

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

If there’s a board, and God predestines that there be a nail in the board, take a hammer and hit the nail. Don’t say, “Okay, you will that this nail is in the board. I’ll get it started.” That’s not the way God works. No houses get built like that. No remodeling of kitchens happens that way. There’s no doubt that God wills every nail that’s ever sunk to be sunk. Not one hair turns white or gray apart from his will, and not one bird falls from the sky. Not one nail is in a two-by-four anywhere on the planet, but that God wills it so. But he wills it through hammers. And so through prayer. Don’t play games with God here. Don’t do logic on God here. Obey the Bible.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).

You have not because you ask not (James 4:2).

Do you have a philosophical problem with that? Shelve it. I’ve got none. God wills the means, and God wills the ends. If he wants me to participate in the means, amen. I’m happy to do it. What a dignity.

There are things that do not happen in this world because we don’t ask God to do them, and they would have happened had we asked God to do them. It’s not because God doesn’t predestine all things, but because he predestined means as well as ends, and when we don’t use the means, that’s evidence that the predestined end of that means also wasn’t predestined. But it would have been had you done the means. He would have shown that that means was predestined and the end was predestined. That is no small calling.

Sharing in the Lord’s Sovereign Work

The effect of these doctrines on my prayer life is to make me pray with an amazing sense of destiny. I mean, there are teachings about prayer in the Bible that are simply mind-boggling, like all of them. But this one in particular in Matthew 9:35–38 gets me, where Jesus looks on the crowd, and they’re like sheep without a shepherd. And he says:

Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:38).

What? The Lord of the harvest knows who’s needed to get the harvest. I don’t need to tell him. Watch out that you don’t use logic to silence the Bible. The Lord of the harvest says, “Ask me to put laborers in the harvest. Ask me.” You might say, “Why? You know harvest better than I do. You know where laborers are needed better than I do. You know exactly what needs to be done. What’s the point of telling me to ask you to do it when you know what needs to be done and intend to get it done?” I think he would get a little stern with me if he heard me talk like that, and he’d say, “You want to have part of this, or don’t you? Just keep your mouth shut. Get on your knees and move my sovereign arm, because that’s the way I’ve set up the world.” This great commission is going to happen through the preaching of the gospel. And the gospel is going to be preached because people pray for laborers. What a dignity, what a calling.

Folks, the reason you don’t pray more is that you don’t believe this practically. It’s the reason I don’t pray more. I look at how quickly I get up from my knees, like, “Do something. I have stuff to do. I have to make something happen in the world by doing it.” Don’t you believe what you do on your knees is changing the world? You can move Afghanistan. You can move your kids. You can save marriages. You can alter political courses. You move the world when you pray. And we don’t do much of it. All I can imagine is that we just don’t believe this. My prayer life will not be enhanced by abandoning the sovereignty of God. My prayer life is sustained by believing that the God who I’m asking to do this impossible thing can do it. So please, do not use the doctrines of grace to argue against a life devoted to prayer. Let it have the other effect.

9. The Effect of Evangelism

These truths remind me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever. This is simply the counterpoint, or the corresponding point, of prayer. Prayer is a God-ordained means to achieve God’s appointed purposes, and evangelism is a God-appointed means to achieve God’s saving purposes.

So don’t say, “Okay, you believe in predestination, and that all of those who are foreknown are predestined, in China, or in Indonesia, or in New Orleans, and God’s going to save them, and I don’t need to go there. Nobody needs to preach to them because they’re predestined. And if they’re going to be saved, they’re going to be saved.” What a mockery of the truth of the Bible. No. The Lord says to Paul, “I have many people in this city, Paul. Therefore, open your mouth (Acts 18:10). I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also. They will heed my voice (John 10:16).” Where are they going to hear it? How should they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent? How beautiful upon the mountains, are the feet of those who bring good tidings (Romans 10:14–15). Nobody gets saved without hearing the gospel.

I just saw a new book called Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism by Robert Peterson and somebody else. It’s a very needed book. The book argues that you have to hear the gospel to be saved, not that God is saving people in Hinduism, Buddhism, in the Jewish faith, and so on.

Whoever Has the Son Has Life

I just got an email yesterday from one of the rectors at a large downtown Minneapolis church that I won’t name here, and they sent to us downtown clergy the paragraph that they were going to put in all of their materials during Holy Week, to the effect that they believe Jews are saved through another covenant besides believing in Jesus. So you can go to downtown Minneapolis, and I could point you to four massive churches that do not believe evangelism of Jewish people is necessary. That’s tragic.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

They are condemning the Jewish people to hell by their unwillingness to evangelize them and call them to faith in Jesus. I’m not sure what to do with that email yet; I’m praying about it. I took one of those pastors out to eat several years ago on this issue. It’s not a new issue. I quoted to him Acts 13:45–48, where Paul preaches to the synagogue, and he says to the Jews:

Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

I said, “Doesn’t that imply if they don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t get eternal life?” And he said, “That’s your interpretation.” Brothers and sisters, Calvinists passionately believe in evangelism because we’re emboldened and encouraged that God may actually sovereignly be pleased to use our wimpy words to do miraculous things. Who am I to save anybody? Jesus said to Paul:

I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17–18).

We can imagine Paul saying, “I can’t open anybody’s eyes. I can’t make Satan lose his power over people. I can’t do that.” And God says, “I know that. You’re just the mouth. If you don’t go, it won’t happen. But if you go, I’ll go with you. When you open your mouth, the gospel will become the power of God unto salvation. I will see to it.”

10. The Ultimate Triumph of God

Finally, these truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

I am God, and there is no other;
     I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
     and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
     and I will accomplish all my purpose’ (Isaiah 46:9–10).

I don’t know how you keep going today if you don’t believe that. We’re surrounded by increasing secularism, increasing pluralism, and increasing, open assault on Christ and his church. How do you keep going? It’s only because you believe in the sovereignty of God. He’s going to finish his purpose. He’s going to do what he said he would do. He will triumph in the end. His counsel will be established. or to sum it all up, “God gets the glory, and we get the joy.” And I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.