Calvinism, God’s Goodness, and Assurance

April 27, 2016

Dr. Vern Charette | Evangelist
Vern Charette Ministries

*This article was originally published HERE and is used by permission.

A chill went up my spine. I was sitting in a systematic theology course in 2003 listening to my professor teach theology from Grudem’s systematic textbook. Like most young seminary students, I was wrestling with the differing views of soteriology (how a person is saved). One of the things I liked about my professor was that he was not only consistent as a Calvinist, but he was also willing to “bite the bullet” and candidly state the ramifications of his position. This particular day, we were asking clarifying questions of our professor in response to his lecture. I asked, “So, you are telling me that I could think I am saved, die and stand before God, only to find out that I wasn’t really saved at all.” Without equivocating for one moment, his answer was, “yes.”

The context of the question is the key to understanding why his answer sent chills up my spine. I was in danger of finding out that in the end I was not saved, not due to my misunderstanding or misappropriation of the gospel, or even my very own self deception, but rather, it was God who was responsible for the whole thing. This is, by the way, a major tenant of Calvinism, namely, God causes, directly or indirectly everything that comes to pass, and in this case, even the false deception of one’s own salvation. Do you get it? Do you get why the breath got knocked out of me that day? In that sudden moment, I had my trust in the “goodness” of God completely rocked. “You mean to say, that the God I am trusting for my salvation could actually be deceiving me because I was not chosen before the foundation of the world?” Not only that, but “He is actually deceiving me into thinking I am saved only to reveal in the end that I was foreordained to spend an eternity suffering under His wrath—all so He could be glorified for being just?”

I wish my Calvinist brothers would really understand the crux of the matter and why people like me struggle with this kind of thinking. The problem has to do with the character of God and His “goodness.” There is no way a “good” God would do this, is there? And if God did operate this way, could we really call Him “good?” Now, lest you think that the idea of God’s deceiving some into thinking they are saved when they really are not is far fetched, John Calvin himself wrote about:

[The reprobate], who are impressed [by God] for a time with a fading faith . . . there is nothing to prevent [God from] an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate . . . the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance . . . Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them . . . Nor do I even deny that God illumines [the reprobates] minds to this extent that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy (Institutes: book III, chapter II, section 11).

So, God could be giving a person a “manifestation of his present mercy” only to reveal in the final judgment that He was actually preparing them for eternal damnation. Think about what this means for the security of the believer. Someone who believes this about God, if they think it through, cannot really have any true security. The very “goodness” of God has been so undermined that “goodness” has lost all meaning. It seems to me, nevertheless, okay to many of my Calvinist brothers, as long as this undermining is somehow for the “Glory of God.” You be the judge.

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Hany N Abdelmalek

This is challenging, because Calvin, in Vol1 of the same book, emphasizes the goodness of God

Christian

Has God commanded me to love my neighbor, while at the same time, He doesn’t? God’s goodness is the same as God’s love to me.

Lydia

“The very “goodness” of God has been so undermined that “goodness” has lost all meaning. It seems to me, nevertheless, okay to many of my Calvinist brothers, as long as this undermining is somehow for the “Glory of God.” You be the judge.”

Sadly, In the world of Calvin we are “unable” to make a judgement on such things.

Thankfully, we are no longer in danger of being imprisoned or tortured for daring to question his teaching.

But my view is if God is Holy and Righteous, He cannot also be such a trickster.

But Calvin could.

What better way to seek to control people than this teaching?

    Scott Shaver

    What better trek to become agnostic or even panthiest?

Greg Roberts

The very ideal that the God would deceive the non-elect is enough to convince me that the god of John Calvin and the God of the bible are 2 separate and distinct beings.

    Ken

    Greg Roberts:

    Truer words wee never spoken!! Great post.

    Ken

    Greg Roberts:

    Correction to my prior post. Should have read “Truer words were never spoken.”

    Sorry

Chris

And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessaloanians 2:10-12

    norm

    “…because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved…”

    Agreed. Anyone who would reject God’s offer of forgiveness should go to hell. The excerpted phrase, however, mitigates that a choice was made.

    Andy

    This doesn’t really solve the trouble at all, Chris. All you have really shown is that God does send a delusion, which all soteriologies would agree with.

    However, within Calvinism, if not receiving the truth is the “cause” for God sending a delusion…should not God simply delude ALL people, since all, without irresistible grace, refuse to believe? There must be some OTHER cause? Is there a calvinistic explanation for why one person who rejects the truth is send a delusion, while another person who rejects the truth is irresistibly drawn and given true faith? The answer of course, is Unconditional Election, but that doesn’t solve the problem of God seemingly “tricking” the non-elect person. If God deludes people BECAUSE of their unbelief, then that’s not very unconditional.

    Also, It’s not clear from the 2 Thessalonian context that the delusion here is False assurance. It seems more likely that the delusion is believing in the false signs and wonders of satan and the man of lawlessness.

    The Calvin quote seems to be talking about a simple choice of God to delude people into thinking they are saved. 2 Thess. 2 does not seem to give an answer to that.

      Chris

      “which all soteriologies would agree with.”

      Apparently not all. If you will read Greg Roberts comment above…he wrote, “The very ideal that the God would deceive the non-elect is enough to convince me that the god of John Calvin and the God of the bible are 2 separate and distinct beings.”

      “If God deludes people BECAUSE of their unbelief, then that’s not very unconditional.”

      The persons being saved are saved because of God’s choice to mercy them. Those hardened God allows to remain in the hardness. The 2 Thessalonians passage would seem to be saying that some of those he leaves in their rebellion, he also sends a delusion to so that they stay in their rebellion. “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Romans 9:18 There is no contradiction. Election to salvation is unconditional. Reprobation is based on the person’s rebellion. I would say that it is conditional.

      The idea of God sending a delusion in 2 Thessalonians is very much like what God says to Isaiah in chapter 6 when God calls Isaiah to go to the people.

      “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

      “Also, It’s not clear from the 2 Thessalonian context that the delusion here is False assurance. It seems more likely that the delusion is believing in the false signs and wonders of satan and the man of lawlessness.”

      My point is not really to support Calvin. I do not think I agree with him here. Instead, I am mainly responding to Greg and others who would reject the idea of God sending anyone a delusion. To think that way one would have to ignore texts of Scripture.

        Greg Roberts

        Chris wrote ‘The 2 Thessalonians passage would seem to be saying that some of those he leaves in their rebellion, he also sends a delusion to so that they stay in their rebellion. ” The text in the Niv” because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie ” The KJV ” And for this cause God shall send “. The verse teaches because they will not receive the truth, NOT THAT God deceived or deluded them into believing they were saved or the elect so they wouldn’t come to Christ for salvation.

        .

          Chris

          “the verse teaches because they will not receive the truth, NOT THAT God deceived or deluded them into believing they were saved or the elect so they wouldn’t come to Christ for salvation.”

          I agree with you here.

          Greg you did write, “The very ideal that the God would deceive the non-elect is enough to convince me that the god of John Calvin and the God of the bible are 2 separate and distinct beings.”

          Would you change that statement after reading 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12?

          (NIV) “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

            Greg Roberts

            No i will not recant but i will explain : the ideal that God would deceive the Lost into thinking they were saved is foreign to the character of God.The ideal that God will actively cause the None-elect ( eternally damned with no chance of ever being saved)”to impressed [by God] for a time with a fading faith ” shows me the this god is not the God of the Bible.

              Chris

              Greg: Do you think 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 means that God is sending a delusion of some kind to the non-Elect? If not, what does “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion so that they may believe what is false in order that all may be condemned” mean?

                Paul N

                Verse 10 says the people did not receive the truth. Implying a real opportunity and ability to receive the truth. It does not say that God had pre ordained them for hell and then to add insult to injury forces them to believe they are saved when they are not. The context is nothing to do with false converts either.

                  Chris

                  “Verse 10 says the people did not receive the truth. Implying a real opportunity”

                  I agree with this.

                  “and ability to receive the truth.”

                  A professor in college once made a distinction. They can believe but they will not believe. I think I still like that distinction.

                  “then to add insult to injury forces them to believe they are saved when they are not.”

                  That was never my point. But if you believe God has exhaustive foreknowledge, there is not much difference in our positions on God’s ordaining of things.

                  “The context is nothing to do with false converts either.”

                  I agree. Though the passage does not say what the delusion is.

                  As I previously stated, my post was not to support Calvin. It was just pointing out that the Bible says that God will send some lost persons a delusion which seems clear from the passage.

norm

[The reprobate], who are impressed [by God] for a time with a fading faith . . . there is nothing to prevent [God from] an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate . . . the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance . . . Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them . . . Nor do I even deny that God illumines [the reprobates] minds to this extent that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy (Institutes: book III, chapter II, section 11).

Calvin’s god is a bully, a con man, a tease who blows raspberries at reprobates and says, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, see my grace? You can’t have any.”

As shocking as this excerpt from Calvin’s Institutes is, there is a phrase that I find terribly demeaning to God’s holy character. Calvin writes of “an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate…”

How does a perfect God perform any act in an inferior way? If God the Holy Spirit intentionally performs in an “inferior” manner, then that means God does so by choice, and thus, the reprobate is not responsible for his eternal condition, but God is. I suspect former Calvinist, Pastor Ronnie Rogers, would call this another of the “disquieting realities of Calvinism.”

There will be no Calvinist who will admit to the connection I have made if God does act in an inferior way.

BTW: Who is Calvin to judge God’s “inferiority”?

If only Calvin and his followers truly adhered to sola Scriptura.

    Chris

    One could believe Calvin were writing about Hebrews 6 where the author says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…”

      norm

      Not basing my soteriology on “could be,” but on a more sure word of prophecy: sola scriptura sans the Institutes.

        Chris

        If we wrote down what you thought on the topics Calvin covered, we’d have Norm’s institutes. Calvin also thought he was Sola Scriptura. Are you saying you are the only one trying to base their ideas about Scripture on Scripture? Calvin, Luther and the other reformers were probably thinking that way long before you. It’s probably true that you indirectly hold to the idea of Sola Scriptura because of reformers like Calvin.

norm

[The reprobate], who are impressed [by God] for a time with a fading faith . . . there is nothing to prevent [God from] an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate . . . the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance . . . Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them . . . Nor do I even deny that God illumines [the reprobates] minds to this extent that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy (Institutes: book III, chapter II, section 11).

Calvin’s god is a bully, a con man, a tease who blows raspberries at reprobates and says, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, see my grace? You can’t have any.”

As shocking as this excerpt from Calvin’s Institutes is, there is a phrase that I find terribly demeaning to God’s holy character. Calvin writes of “an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate…”

How does a perfect God perform any act in an inferior way? If God the Holy Spirit intentionally performs in an “inferior” manner, then that means God does so by choice, and thus, the reprobate is not responsible for his eternal condition, but God is. I suspect former Calvinist, Pastor Ronnie Rogers, would call this another of the “disquieting realities of Calvinism.”

There will be no Calvinist who will admit to the connection I have made if God does act in an inferior way.

BTW: Who is Calvin to judge God’s “inferiority”?

If only Calvin and his followers truly adhered to sola Scriptura (no Institutes).

Scott Shaver

One could “believe” anything about John Calvin that he/she/undecided desires.

I happen to believe that Calvin was “fallible” in his estimation of his own propensity to fallibility in his treatises on God’s “sovereignty”.

Consequently, the adversarial nature of the logical extensions of his theology have erupted, now and then, through the last 4 centuries in some of the most bizarre corruptions of scripture and the example of Christ the world has ever seen.

    Chris

    I would agree with you.

    I would say the rest of us underestimate our fallibility too. Most of us just do not have followers to abuse our good/bad understanding of Scripture in the same way he did.

Lydia

“I would say the rest of us underestimate our fallibility too. Most of us just do not have followers to abuse our good/bad understanding of Scripture in the same way he did”

That is an interesting thought. Yes, power tends to corrupt. The question is, does it have to? Calvin could have chosen to run with the anabaptist and dissent from the church State mentality. He chose the power he was given his second time around in Geneva.

You make a good case for there to be only followers of Jesus Christ. Following Calvin does not equal Jesus Christ. Same for any guru.

However, Calvin has a lot to teach us in how NOT to be a follower of Christ. :o)

Chris

I agree with you. There are certainly ways I do not want to follow Calvin.

I hope power does not always corrupt. I don’t think my leaders are perfect but I believe they are godly and open to feedback.

Randall Cofield

“So, you are telling me that I could think I am saved, die and stand before God, only to find out that I wasn’t really saved at all.”

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

    Tom

    Randy–thanks for stating clearly by your words the frightening mindset of a CALVINIST!

    Greg Roberts

    The use of Adokimos in 2 Corinthians 13 probably should be understood as unapproved. Paul used the same word about himself in 1 Corinthians 9:27 and I am sire he didn’t think he entertained the ideal he has a false temporary faith of the Calvinistic variety

    Tom

    Randy:

    Simple question–How do you know you are one of the ELECT?

      Chris

      Tom,

      The elect are those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. Your question is not a hard one to answer. One only needs to ask themselves if they have trusted in Christ.

        Tom

        Chris:

        I did not get that is was that simple from Randy’s response above. I did not see as much certainty in his response as in yours.

          Chris

          Tom,

          Randy and I could disagree about this but I’d be surprised if we do. Sounds like all Randy was saying was that people can be deceived into thinking they are saved when they are not. All sorts of people think they are going to heaven who probably are not especially if you heed Christ’s words from Matthew 7.

          My point was that the elect are those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ. It is not a contradiction to say that a person could be deceived about that. I know many people who made professions in their youth, and later repudiated those professions when they later came to Christ.

            Lydia

            Chris, I think perhaps you are describing Calvin. :o)

            Oh wait! even unsaved reprobates who think they are saved don’t always practice the same sorts of evils that Calvin did.

    Lydia

    “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

    Who is speaking, who is the audience, what was the setting and who was Jesus talking about prior? And who did Jesus refer to as ” lawless” in another place?

    It should scare you, Randall. The “religious leaders” of his own tribe. :o)

      Chris

      Lydia,

      That passage should warn us all and give us all a desire to pause and reflect. We call Jesus Lord and do acts in his name and are religious. You can’t use that Scripture against another and not need to heed its warning as well. It’s for all of us.

    Paul N

    How can a man who has been deluded by God (to damnation) examine Himself to see if they are in the faith, when the delusion is exactly that…them having a false assurance from God that they are in the faith.

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