The “formula” of salvation seems to puzzle people and all too often wrong conclusions are drawn, and people step outside of the clear teaching of the Scripture to answer questions. For example, one of the most difficult questions in Christendom is, “Why are some people saved and not others”, and this question has haunted theologians for centuries.
Pelagianism, the heresy summarized last week, seeks to answer the question by looking at the human will, giving credit for salvation to the individual who ‘chooses’ or ‘wills’ himself to God’s grace (presupposing that every person has a little good in him to do this). Historic or strict Calvinism, on the other hand, seeks to answer the question by making both salvation AND damnation a choice of God.
According to the French theologian and Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564), God, in His secret will, before the creation of the universe, chose those who would be saved and those who would be damned, that because God is sovereign, no one escapes His will, and all things happen just as He desires. The following is from The Institutes of Religion, the doctrinal work of Calvin which is the basis for Reformed/Calvinist theology:
As far as their Scriptural interpretation, Calvinists will skirt around passages such as, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and “God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) by either applying a far less used translation of a word or changing the meaning of a word altogether. For example, in Greek, the word for world is “cosmos.” The most common use of this word both in the Scripture and in ancient Greek is “world” or “whole world” and is unrestrictive. Calvinists will employ a far less common use and say that world in John 3:16 means “peoples of the world.” Yet there is no context to suggest changing the word’s meaning in the John 3 text. Similarly, the word for all in 1 Timothy 2:4 is a form of the Greek word “pas”. This word, by definition, means “all”, but Calvinists will say that it means “all kinds,” thereby opening the door to the implication that God does NOT want to save “all” people, but “all kinds” of people. But again, the context in this passage does not afford this use of the word.
Ultimately, both Pelagianism and Calvinism seek to answer the question of why some people are saved and others not. In both cases, rationalizations and assumptions are made, and conclusions are drawn that the Scripture does not itself draw. The BEST way to answer the question is to simply let the Scripture speak for itself. Because of passages like Romans 3:20-22, Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11, John 1:12-13, etc. the Scripture clearly teaches that the work of salvation is entirely in God’s hands and not by human will or decision. At the same time, the Scripture is also clear that those who will be condemned on the Day of Judgment will be on account of their own rejection of God’s mercy, just as we read in passages like Romans 8:7, John 3:18-19, Ezekiel 18:32, Ezekiel 33:11.
This leaves us unable to satisfactorily answer the question of why some are saved and others not, why some continue to reject Christ and His salvation. Historically, this is called the crux theologorum or the “cross of the theologian” because it leaves an uncomfortable place in our heart; a question we can’t answer. But it is better we live faithfully by not trying to answer questions not answered in the Scripture than it is to live heretically by asserting man’s opinions into the Scripture.
There is more to say about this heresy, and this only scratches the surface. You can read the full article in the August 2023 edition of Lutheran Witness. You can subscribe online or order the printed subscription. If you already get Lutheran Witness, you’ll find this article on page 21.