Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices


Alright, I confess: I’m a Calvinist. Do you still like me? Will you still invite me over for you Super Bowl party? Will you still be my Facebook friend? Can we still do piano duets (I don’t play the piano, but if I did I would want to play duets)? I sure hope so.

But what exactly does it mean to be a Calvinist? There is a lot of confusion and misinformation and downright misrepresentation when it comes to Calvinism. Depending on who you talk to, a Calvinist is someone who:

1) Believes God hates everyone (see Westboro Baptist Church).

2) Believes God has chosen people to be saved, and no matter what a person does, nothing can change that choice.

3) Is grumpy, sour, and always making sure everyone else is obeying the rules.

4) Doesn’t believe in evangelism because God has already chosen people to be saved.

Over the next several posts I want to address several common myths regarding Calvinism, and explain how I, a Calvinist, respond to those myths.

The first, and probably most prevalent myth regarding Calvinism, has to do with free will and choices. The argument goes something like this: If God has predestined people to be saved then people don’t have a free will, and our choices for or against God are not real choices.?

I get this argument, I really do. In some ways, it’s the logical extension of the doctrine of predestination. If God does the choosing, that must mean we don’t do any real choosing. Am I right? After all, who can resist the will of the Almighty God?

Slight problem though: the Bible makes it crystal clear that God predestines people for salvation AND that every person is responsible to choose Jesus Christ. This is a paradox for which the Bible make no apologies, and a paradox which every true Calvinist gladly embraces.

Ephesians 1:4-6 says:

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

I don’t know how much clearer you can get when it comes to the doctrine of election. If I am a Christian it is because God predestined me, before the ages began, to be adopted as a son. He did not predestine me because of anything good or bad I would do. He predestined me according to the purpose of his will. This fills me with gratefulness.

These kinds of words run throughout the entirety of Scripture. Romans 8:29-30 says:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This passage forms an unbreakable chain. Before the foundation of the world God, foreknew those whom he would be predestine for salvation. Those whom he predestines are always called, those whom he calls are always justified, and those whom he justifies are always ultimately glorified. This is completely God’s doing. He gets all the credit and all the glory. From beginning to end, God does the saving. Scripture couldn’t be more clear on this subject.

But Scripture also makes it clear that every man and woman is responsible before God to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus said to the Pharisees:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In Acts 2, after preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, Peter called his listeners to repentance:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

True Calvinism embraces the unconditional election of God. The Bible makes no apologies for the fact that God elects specific men and women to be saved apart from any conditions within them. God is God, and he is free to do whatever he pleases. The clay cannot say to the Potter, “Why have you made me this way?”

True Calvinism also embraces the real need for repentance. This is not some sort of tricky word game God is playing. Every man and woman is commanded to turn from their sins and choose God. The choices we make for God or against God are real choices, and we will really be held accountable for those choices.

How do God’s sovereign, electing purposes, and man’s free will work together? I’m not sure. The Bible doesn’t spell it out in detail. It gives us some hints as to how they work together, but it doesn’t ever clearly answer the question. As a Calvinist, I fully embrace God’s sovereign perogative to choose whomever he pleases. I also fully embrace every person’s responsibility to repent. I find the following quotes from Charles Spurgeon helpful in this matter:

I believe that God will save his own elect. And I also believe that if I do not preach the gospel, the blood of men will be laid at my door.

I am quite certain that God has an elect people, for he tells me so in his word. And I am equally certain that everyone who comes to Christ shall be saved, for that also is his own declaration in the Scriptures. When people ask me how I reconcile these two truths, I usually say that there is no need to reconcile them, for they have never yet quarreled with one another.

The true Calvinist believes that election and free salvation do not quarrel with one another.

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I’m married to Jen, and I have three kids. I know a lot about Star Wars, and I live in a van down by the river. I’ve also written a number of books, which people seem to like.


  1. osheadavis says


    Thank you for teaching on the doctrine of God?s sovereignty and man?s accountability,
    ?True Calvinism embraces the unconditional election of God.?
    ?True Calvinism also embraces the real need for repentance.?

    These are clear and helpful statements.

    In any case, I do believe the bible is also clear in why those two doctrines work so well together. That is, as long as we leave behind the old Greeks? way of thinking that accountability presupposes ?freedom?(I have never read the Scripture argue this), then these two doctrines are the easiest sort of things to believe. The Romans 9 chapter you brought up teaches that in order to be accountable one needs a sovereign over them. Now, certain types of perceived freedom and ownership can ?add? to this accountability but is not needed; rather, sovereignty over you alone makes you accountable.

    There is no responsibility or accountability without sovereignty. It is the very fact that God is Sovereign and that we are not free that makes us responsible to God. Romans 8:7, show that freedom is not required for accountability between man and God. That is, if sin assumes freedom to obey or not to obey God’s command (Rom.8:7),then all unbelievers are already without sin, simply because they are unable to obey God; this would mean they would require no salvation. Precisely because we are not unable to change shows why we need Jesus to save us so badly.

    A child is responsible to their parent because their parents are an authority over them; without this authority the child is no longer responsible. The same is with the government or a boss (etc.). Being responsible first implies above all things, an authority. In Romans 9 where a person was having a hard time dealing with man’s responsibility in light of mankind not being free from God the Apostle goes straight to the ultimate level for why man is responsible, God’s sovereignty. The Apostle says God is the Creator over man, or in other words, sovereign over man. This means God’s sovereignty and authority over us is the foundational level of accountability, everything else only adds to this. If these biblical presuppostions are assumed rather than irrational/worldly ones then these doctrines are in perfect harmony, as perfect as the doctrine of the Trinity.

  2. says

    A plain reading of your Ephesians excerpt would seem to say that what God chose from the foundation of the world is that ‘those in Christ’ would be holy and blameless; not that He chose us to to ‘be in Christ’.

    And isn’t the ‘knowing’ that Paul refers to in your Romans excerpt more than just ‘knowledge’? Isn’t it more like ‘love and affection’? I mean, a little bit later in Romans when Paul says that God foreknew the people of Israel isn’t the meaning that God had love and affection for them ahead of time, not that he knew who they were? So wouldn’t it follow that in Romans 8:29 that Paul is saying that God had love and affection for those who would one day enter into covenant with Him through Christ? That the ‘predestination’ refers to the result of choosing to ‘be in Christ’, not the act of choosing; not who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, but rather what happens to those who are ‘in’.

    I don’t really get a sense of paradox.

  3. Anam Cara says

    Ezekiel 18: 23, 32; Matt 5: 44-45; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9 are all Biblical reasons against election.

    Historically, the Church fathers did not believe this.Clement of Rome (80-140) wrote: Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious in the sight of God is His blood, which having been poured out for salvation, brought to the whole world the grace of repentance. Wouldn’t Peter have told Clement if repentance was only given to the elect?

    Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the apostle John. He was martyred in 110. He wrote to Polycarp : I entreat thee, by the grace with which thou art clothed, to press forward in thy course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. To the Ephesians he wrote: And pray without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them the hope of repentance that they may attain to God.

    Justin Martyr (150), Irenaeus (180), Clement of Alexandria (200), Cyprian of Carthage (250), St. Athanasias of Alexandria (4c) never considered the idea that only some were elect to be saved!

    Philosophically, God is LOVE. The word love we have for God is agape, a self-giving, unconditional love. How can God ask us to love unconditionally if He does not love His creation this way? It is hypocrisy. And this is the main reason I rejected Calvinism as I was studying it. How many Christian people have prayed for salvation for a loved one, cried out to God in tears, begged, longed for this person to be “saved” and yet it never happened? Did that person love more than God? Did that person who longed to see the loved on in God’s presence love more than God who condemned him to hell – eternal separation from Himself? If God IS love, He loves more than I do. And I want no part of a god who is less than I am.

    If you say that God DESIRES, LONGS FOR, WISHES all to be saved, but then He doesn’t elect them (WILL salvation), then you have created a place where God pits His own desires against His own will. He becomes schizophrenic.

    But this is where the free will comes in. God desires that ALL might be saved. Jesus died so that WHOSOEVER believes. He is not willing that ANY should perish but that ALL should come to repentance. He does not have pleasure that the wicked would die and calls us to turn and live.

    Life with Him is a gift! It is a gift to ALL, not just some elect. No one “merits” salvation! But all have the free will to accept or reject that gift – the gift of Himself – time with Him!

    When a person prays for loved ones to be saved, God hears. When they cry out in pain for the lost soul, God hears. And He weeps, too. Because it is up to the person to to believe and accept. They have the free will to love or not love God in return. God’s will was to give man freedom to choose to love Him. His desire was to be in union with His creation. But a forced love is not love at all. He wants us to freely give ourselves to Him.

  4. RoycePashtun says

    Why do we have to take every mysterious scripture and make a concrete doctrine out of it? Some things we will never figure out this side of heaven. Why can’t we just rest in that?

  5. Brian Casey says

    Stephen (et al), I just happened on your blog — not even sure how — but am glad I did. Personally, I’m about a .75-point Calvinist (half of one point and 1/4 of another), and yes, I would still invite you over. :-)

    As for the much-tossed-about Ephesians 1 reference to election/predestination, one needs to know more of the occasion for Paul’s having written the letter, taking in its entire message. My own study of Ephesians hasn’t been as deep or sustained as with a few other documents, so I can’t dispute the notion of personal predestination with any solid foundation, although I am persuaded that Paul is here more interested in a sort of “group election,” as in God’s having elected *the group of Jews and Gentiles who are, or will be, at peace in Christ.*


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