5-point Calvinist. Young, Restless, Reformed. Grace Addict. Tulip Pusher.
Pick your euphemism – that’s me. Ever since I got hyper on Piper towards the end of my high school years, I’ve found myself growing into a deeper understanding of the doctrines of grace, to the point that now most of my mornings and evenings are happily spent reading men like Charles Spurgeon (see what I did there?). Most importantly, I have grown into deeper understanding and worship of God Himself. Call me any of these names, and I’ll walk away unashamed and glad to wear the badge.
But there’s one euphemism I hope never tacks itself onto my name: cage-stager. A recent cartoon published by Adam Ford illustrated the “Cage-Stage Calvinist”quite humorously – two men observing a man in a literal cage who’s foaming at the mouth and shouting “Romans 9” at them. Yet despite the laugh I got from it, more than anything it highlighted a very sad but true reality. The fact is many Calvinists never outgrow the “cage stage.” As they clutch the bars of their firm convictions, they feel right at home, not even realizing they’ve locked themselves off from many around them. They cannot distinguish the difference between standing for the truth and being debilitated by it. How does one get out of such a predicament?
The Grace Dichotomy
J.I. Packer pretty much got it right. “This one word ‘grace’ contains within itself the whole of New Testament theology.” Although grace isn’t limited to the New Testament (I’ve written about this elsewhere), Packer’s point is clear; grace is a sort of all-encompassing idea. To the Reformed, Sola Gratia is a pillar that holds up the whole tradition. Every single member of God’s elect is put there by the glorious grace of God alone. Our filthy rags brought to the table do no good for our soul’s eternal state, but “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9), bestowed (Eph. 4:7), and sure (1 Pt. 1:13). You cannot exhaust this stuff. The Calvinist should understand this unlike any other.
So why does a dichotomy exist between how we (I’m speaking to you especially, Reformed brother) receive grace and how we show grace? We proclaim John’s mantra unabashedly from the pulpit, “Grace upon grace!” (Jn. 1:16). But what does our proclamation look like when we come into contact with our brother in ministry who’s of a different persuasion? Why am I so quick to judge a man who can’t wrap his head around election? Often in these encounters, I am tempted to hand such people a booklet by the Puritans and say something to the effect of, “educate yourself,” not because I’m concerned for their education but more because I’m put off by their seeming ignorance. Grace, as we know it, is God’s unmerited favor on men. Grace, also as our “camp” understands it, is irresistible. This should indicate two key things to all of us. First, grace is given precisely because it’s undeserved. Second, because grace is irresistible, it must also prove to be patient and long-suffering. If our goal truly is reformation, it can only be achieved with a love and shepherding for people that is undeserved, patient, and long-suffering. We must do more than preach grace; it must be displayed and expressed.