In this essay we continue with the work of the Holy Spirit, but we will focus on the area of salvation. Now in order to talk about being saved, we must talk about what we are saved from. So we are going to re-visit one aspect of the subject of sin; namely, original sin. Once we establish a distinction between original sin and our sinful acts, we will study the difference between the Calvinistic and Arminian understandings of salvation.
I want to begin our consideration of original sin with an historic disagreement between Augustine (354-430) and a man named Pelagius (360-420, dates uncertain). The outcome of this particular debate established the orthodox view of original sin.
Augustine lived at the turn of the 5th century A.D.; and his base of operations was his native North Africa, where he is most closely associated with the city of Hippo. Augustine was in his thirties when he accepted Christ. He was well-educated; and following his conversion, he threw himself into writing about his new-found faith.
He soon was elected Bishop of Hippo. And his influence on the development of the church, especially the Roman Catholic branch, has been as great as anyone in the history of the church, apart from the apostle Paul and Christ himself. A great deal of what the Roman Catholic Church practices and believes today can be traced back to Augustine, as can much Protestant thought. Now one of the key matters in which Augustinian thought prevailed, especially in the West was in the matter of original sin.
Original sin is the idea that human sinfulness stems from Adam’s original sin. The classic biblical passage is Rom. 5:12-14, 17-18. I suggest that you read those verses before continuing.
In Augustine’s view, every human being is held culpable for this inherited sinfulness or depravity (Gen 5:3; 8:21). The word “culpable” means blameworthy. In other words, even though we had nothing to do with Adam’s original sin, we are affected by it.
As we learned when we studied the atonement, Adam was a representative of the race when he sinned, just as Jesus was a representative of the race when he died. Therefore Augustine would have agreed with the statement, I have sinned because I am a sinner.
This issue came to a head in Augustine’s controversy with Pelagius. Pelagius was a British (or perhaps an Irish) monk of excellent repute and much learning, who settled in Rome about the beginning of the fifth century.
He held to the freedom of the human will. And he pressed his view of free will to the point where he denied any original sin inherited from Adam. Therefore the only sinfulness we human beings have, according to Pelagius, is that acquired by our own decisions to sin. Therefore that kind of sin is called acquired depravity, as opposed to inherited depravity.
Of course, Pelagius recognized the fact that the mass of humans are sinful. He simply would insist that they are sinful by choice rather than because of inherited depravity. So Pelagius would agree with the statement, I am a sinner because I have sinned.
When Augustine heard what Pelagius was teaching, he immediately set out to refute it. Augustine was adamant about inherited sinfulness, because it accorded with both Scripture and his personal experience.
Now the reason these two views are so different is because of differing philosophical presuppositions. Augustine presupposed that individuals have no choice about whether or not they are sinners. He believed that God predetermines everything. Pelagius, on the other hand, presupposed that God gave humans a totally free will. He believed that we are completely free to choose to sin or not to sin.
Augustine won the debate with Pelagius. And Augustine’s view of original sin became the orthodox view of the Church (both Roman Catholic and Protestant).
John Calvin (1509-1564) was born in France, just eight years before Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door in 1517 to begin the Protestant Reformation. Thus Calvin was part of the first generation in Europe that grew up with an opportunity to choose between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Calvin was well-educated before his conversion in his early twenties. And by his mid-twenties, he not only had made a decision for Protestantism, he had published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a strong Protestant systematic theology. The Institutes as first published in 1536 were not the extensive treatise that we know today. Calvin kept putting out new enlarged editions, the final one of which was published in 1559. But from the beginning, the Institutes became the most orderly, systematic, and popular presentation of Protestant doctrine and the Christian life that the Reformation produced.
About the same time that Calvin published his Institutes, the city of Geneva, Switzerland officially accepted Protestantism. They did so more for political reasons than for religious ones; but in any case the man who led that change over asked John Calvin, who was passing through at the time, to stay on and help him get the whole situation organized. Calvin did stay on. He ministered there for four or five years; but his efforts failed, and he was banished from the city for three years.
Then Calvin was invited back; and after a period of about 15 years, during which he had a lot of political opposition, he finally gained complete political control. He then set out to turn Geneva into a model Christian community, as he perceived it.
Under Calvin’s leadership, Geneva became a great center of Protestant learning. Calvin started the Geneva Academy, which later became the University of Geneva. And the university trained many Reformed ministers, who went throughout Europe, spreading Calvin’s doctrines and influence.
Calvin’s genius was not originality, but organization. In doing his theology, he used some of Luther’s ideas and a lot of Augustine’s ideas, which again shows the importance of Augustine. For instance, from Augustine, he picked up the idea that later was labeled “total depravity,” which became the first of the so-called five points of Calvinism. This simply means that all people, while outside of Christ are total, absolute sinners. The reason for this doctrine is the already discussed doctrine of original sin. Everyone is hopelessly sinful from birth. Thus everyone outside of Christ is a sinner; and conversely, everyone in Christ is a saint.
Now it is at this point we find the key to Calvinistic theology. Since we can do absolutely nothing to save ourselves, the second point of Calvin’s system is the doctrine of “unconditional election.” In order for any of us to be saved God must choose to change us from sinner to saint.
Here we see Calvin’s presupposition of determinism. He believed that God is so sovereign that human beings have no choice about whether or not they are saved or damned. It is strictly God’s decision. In other words there are no conditions to your election to salvation. There is absolutely nothing you can do. If you are one of God’s elect or chosen ones, then you will be saved, because God has chosen to save you. And that is all that is necessary.
If you accept this much of what Calvin says, the rest has to follow. Point three is called “limited atonement,” because the efficacy of the death of Christ has a limited sphere of operation. That is, since only those who are elect (chosen by God to be changed from sinner to saint) are saved, the atonement of Christ is limitedto those whom God has chosen. The death of Jesus is effective only for those who are divinely elect, but not for those who are not elect.
It also follows that those who are elect cannot resist the will of God to elect them to salvation. Therefore we have point four, the doctrine of “irresistible grace.” Those who are elect cannot resist the grace of God, which saves them.
And finally, point five also follows. No one can reverse this process. Once you are saved, you always are saved. This is called the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints,” though some groups like to refer to it with the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” These five doctrines sometimes they are referred to as “the TULIP” of Calvin, because the first letter of each phrase spells T-U-L-I-P.