I found myself in an area a few weeks ago in which tutoring takes places for a variety of different courses. I was packing up my stuff to go to my first class of the day and got distracted after hearing the word “Calvinism” spoken nearby. There was a tutor and a student just a few feet from me; one was learning about religious studies, sociology, history, or another subject where Catholicism and Protestantism were of relevance. I became quite intrigued, and a little frustrated I might add, after hearing the following quotes (written down in the moment):
+ “Calvinism teaches predestination, which means you don’t know if you’re saved, so Protestant Calvinists work really hard to assure themselves that they’re one of God’s chosen and that they’ve made it to salvation.”
+ “Catholics have confession to a priest, but Protestants don’t, so Protestants live with a lot of guilt and try to work hard to overcome that.”
I found it troublesome to think of how these ideas could be floating around not just my university but around the globe, outside and within the church. My faith and Protestant Calvinism has led to a further assurance of faith, not a lack thereof. I’m not sure as to who first said the following quote, but I heard it through Tim Keller: “how can you lose what you didn’t earn?” The Protestant belief in salvation by grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) and the truth of that quote both emphasize the role of Christ’s death and resurrection in our salvation rather than any effort we may put forward to become righteous. In fact, it is this self-righteousness that Jesus often condemned (Lk. 18; Matt. 23; Rom. 3). Our distaste for sin and the offers of this world and our desire to obey God authenticate our saving faith (1 John 2-3; Gal. 5). Additionally, a true Calvinist would not be working hard to assure themselves of salvation. The belief in the need to do that would undermine the truth of God’s gracious election; we don’t “make it” to salvation, we are chosen, and we live as chosen ones (or as Harry once said in the library to Hermione, “I am the chosen one”). The existence of our faith validates our place in God’s family. Living as chosen ones has many implications, some of which follow — understanding the need to pray and spend time in Scripture, serving others, being plugged into a biblical community, leveraging our resources for the Kingdom, and storing up treasures in heaven. But we don’t do these things as a means to salvation. It is only because of our salvation through God’s sovereign grace that we are led by the Spirit to use our time for the things of God and the spiritual disciplines. And because we desire to walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit yet still sin, we confess.
Confessing sin is a normative action for the Christian walking in the Spirit. Any Christian of any denomination or tradition should value the role of confession in his or her life. Furthermore, while Protestants reject the practice of confessing to a priest, we still believe in the practice and power of confession — James writes to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” because “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16). We should be convicted of our sin through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but our guilt and shame come from the devil. As Russell Moore has put it, Satan is the most pro-choice being or person when someone is on the way to an abortion clinic and he is the most pro-life after. Living in constant guilt is a misunderstanding of the gospel — we have been saved to live free in Christ (1 Pet. 2:16), a freedom for which we can only give thanks and share with everybody we know.
Wrapping this up on Thanksgiving night. We have so much for which to be eternally thankful — God’s revelation and salvation given to us in Jesus brings eternal thankfulness that the world does not know. Our Father in heaven has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). And it is here that we find rest.