Some Practical Implications of Calvinism
Calvinism’s doctrine of God’s sovereign rule over all things is far from an abstract teaching with little if any effect on the lives of ordinary believers. Rather, Calvinism has many practical implications. While they may not automatically follow from simply holding to Calvinistic doctrine, they do follow naturally when Calvinism is truly believed and embraced from the heart. This list is not intended to suggest that non-Calvinists deny any of these truths, only that Calvinism certainly implies them.
1. Calvinism gives us confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency. God saves His chosen people through the Word of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18). That means preachers have no need to use innovation in persuading anyone of the gospel. The salvation of souls depends on the gospel, faithfully preached and effectively applied by the Holy Spirit, not on the creativity or ingenuity of the preacher. This implication is wonderfully freeing to the preacher.
If we preach the gospel and people do not believe our message, then we know it is not because there is any problem with the gospel. It is because God saves whom He chooses through the means He has appointed. Scripture says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
2. Calvinism helps calm our anxieties. The Bible teaches that God works “all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) and “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). People often feel anxious or fearful because they’re trying to control things that are outside of their control (Luke 12:25).
But Scripture teaches that God works all things for the good of His chosen people which means we have no reason to be anxious. We can know that everything which comes to pass is God’s love to us, no matter what we feel or how things seem. We, therefore, can quiet our fears because God governs all things for the good of His people.
3. Calvinism helps prevent us from trying to control others. If we think that other people are capable of changing by an act of free will, then we might think that we can change them by manipulating them or coercing them to choose what we want them to choose (3 John 9-10).
But the Bible teaches that God alone rules the human heart (Proverbs 16:1, 9; 21:1; Jeremiah 10:23). Therefore, we should not try to control others. Christ teaches us to speak the truth in love, hold others accountable to truth, and serve them as Christ has served us, no matter what they choose. Our goal should not be to control people, but to show them Christ’s love.
4. Calvinism teaches us to love unconditionally. Non-Calvinists believe God’s saving love is conditioned upon the sinner’s acceptance of His love. That is, they say God only exercises salvation toward sinners, if sinners first agree to allow Him to do so. On their view, God only loves people enough actually to save them, when they choose Him. But according to the Bible, God’s love is absolutely free, powerfully conquering the hearts of His chosen people. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
When we believe that God loves us unconditionally, we can learn from His example how to love others in the same way. We won’t think of “love” as conditioned on what others do or how they respond to us. Rather, we’ll love and serve others as Christ Himself loves and serves us, no matter what others do. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
5. Calvinism makes us bold to obey the Lord. Calvinism teaches both that God is sovereign over everything we choose, and that we are responsible to obey Him. Sometimes people fear that if they obey the Lord, they’ll miss out on something or that others might oppose them and do them great harm.
But the Bible says that God controls everything, and that means He rules over all the results of our obedience. As we obey Him, He will certainly keep all His promises. While obedience will often bring suffering into our lives, that suffering cannot destroy us because God sovereignly guarantees that it will not. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
6. Calvinism supports a heart for missions. The Bible teaches that Christ shed His blood for His chosen people, guaranteeing that they will be saved. Revelation 5:9 says, “By Your blood, You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Missions cannot fail because Christ’s blood guarantees its success.
Calvinist missionaries can say with Paul, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). They go into a foreign city, knowing that God says, “I have many in this city who are My people” (Acts 18:10). The greatest motive of missions is that we can faithfully proclaim the gospel, knowing that God will save His chosen people.
7. Calvinism fosters deep humility. While some who profess Calvinism are proud of their new found understanding and are only looking to win theological debates, they have not really internalized what they claim to believe. Calvinism teaches that we are deeply sinful and can do nothing to save ourselves. If we trust in Jesus, then it is only because God has given us the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29). If we repent of our sins, it’s because God has given it to us (2 Timothy 2:25).
That means there is no room whatsoever for boasting. John 3:27 says, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Therefore, those who truly believe Calvinistic doctrine will be deeply humble before the Lord and before their fellow human beings.
8. Calvinism undergirds our assurance of salvation. If salvation initially depends on our free will, then it would seem that it finally depends on our free will as well. In other words, if we are saved by our free will in the first place, then it would only make sense that we could freely choose to leave salvation.
But thanks be to God that is not the case! The Bible teaches that election is tied to the preservation of the saints. John 6:39 says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” God gives His chosen people to the Son, and they are all preserved by His power for resurrection and life on the last day. Assurance of salvation is a great comfort to God’s people.
9. Calvinism leads us to worship. Non-Calvinistic theologies make salvation to depend, in the final analysis, on the free will of human beings. Conditional theologies, however, are not conducive to worship. Should we sing praises to God about our choices and our efforts? That is not worship.
The Bible teaches that God alone saves. And that’s why we worship Him. We fall on our faces with joy and gratitude that we did nothing at all for our salvation. God did everything. The Father chose us for salvation in eternity. The Son accomplished our salvation at the cross. And the Holy Spirit applies salvation to us by uniting us to Christ and keeping us forever. We were dying in our sins, but God graciously and freely gave us life. And that is why we worship Him and glorify Him.
Calvinism isn’t just a doctrine to be formally accepted and then used to win debates or to be put on a shelf to collect dust. Rather, Calvinism is rife with experiential and practical implications. We need to think deeply about God’s sovereign rule over all the universe and His electing love and then we ought to think and live accordingly in every aspect of our lives. May the Lord help us to live upon the doctrines of His great grace.