There is a myth that has long filled the church: that the more theology you know, the more prideful you become. And sadly this is often more reality than myth (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). Men and women throughout church history have all been guilty of becoming ‘puffed up’ with knowledge that doesn’t humble them. We have all, at one time or another, clubbed down well-intended, yet misinformed saints with our doctrine. And if we’re not careful, we all will grab our theological clubs again.
But doctrine is not to blame for pride. The one responsible is the fallen saint who wields the doctrine. What if the intended effect of doctrine was just the opposite?What if the deeper we descended in our understanding of God, the more humble we became?
This is nowhere more true than in the doctrines of grace (what some refer to as "Calvinism"). The doctrines of grace describe the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. They speak of the great lengths to which God extended Himself to save the elect from eternal woe and despair.
These doctrines are among the most soul-humbling, joy-producing, and compassion-fueling of those found in the pages of Scripture, even if many self-proclaimed “Calvinists” don’t act like it. The doctrines of grace are so thorough in the humbling of the heart that a proud Calvinist is a walking contradiction.
Every believer is well-acquainted with the elusive pride that lurks within the soul. Yet I don’t know that many believers understand the remedy that is extended to them in the doctrines of grace. In this article, I want to consider how the doctrines of grace root out pride in the heart.
Humbled by Total Depravity
Total depravity is a summation of all that the Bible has to say about man’s fallen condition. It means that man was born fallen and sinful, a willful enemy of God, one who would even “wag his head” at the very Son of God dying on a tree (Matt. 27:39). And this is who we would still be today if not for the simple words, “But God” (Eph. 2:4). The Father dragged us to Himself (John 6) and breathed life into our hearts in the words of the gospel.
This dark doctrine explains the depths of man’s condition if left to himself and his own ways. He emerged into the world spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), enslaved to sin (Titus 3:3), blind (2 Cor. 4:4), dead (Col. 2:13), damned (Eph. 2:13), and helpless (Rom. 8:6–8). Solomon even writes that we were born full of evil and insanity filled our hearts (Eccl. 9:3).
It is healthy for us to remember what we were born into, the wrath of God that we were underneath. It is good to remember the flames and screams that were ours forever had not Christ intervened. The reality should make us uncomfortable, but it should make our hearts cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). It should make us cling even tighter to the One in whom is “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). There is no room for the supremacy of self when we grasp who and where we would be without the intervention of Christ.
Humbled by Unconditional Election
Controversial though it may be, the Scriptures are clear: the ultimate reason we believe in Christ is because we were chosen to do so. Yet, in some mystery, we retain full responsibility for our choice to believe or reject Christ.
We were chosen by the Father before time (cf. Eph. 1:4); our names were inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8); before God breathed time into being, He had already singled out those who were to be His (cf. John 17:2, 24; 2 Thess. 2:13).
Election simply means that our infinite joy in Christ was predestined for us before the world began. As the Canons of Dort put it, “Election is the fountain of every saving good” (Part I, Article IX).
The doctrine of election should make us baffled as to why our name was mentioned before time began. We did nothing to deserve or choose Him, and yet He chose to pour out His love upon us, by name. We must daily remind ourselves of these realities. Our spiritual health depends upon it. How could we look upon a sinner with disgust when we realize that if not for the intervention of Christ, there would we go.
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Humbled by Particular Atonement
Particular (or what some may called “Limited”) atonement is classically the doctrine that is the most challenging for people to accept. It asserts that the death that Christ died, He died in particular for the elect. Particular atonement means that the death of Christ did not merely create the possibility of being saved, but it actually secured the salvation of those chosen by the Father. It means that not a drop of Jesus’s blood was wasted.
Isaiah 52:15 predicts that the Messiah would sprinkle “many” nations. Isaiah 53:11 says that He would justify “many.” Christ came to save “His people” from their sins (cf. Matt. 1:21). The Messiah laid His life down as a ransom for “many” (cf. Mark 10:45). Jesus came to sacrifice His life for the sheep given to Him by the Father (cf. John 10:14–16, 26–28). Christ bled and died for the church (cf. Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). He purchased “some” from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people (Rev. 5:9). Did Christ die for “all”? Yes. He died for all of those from every nation whom the Father had chosen.
But how does this produce humility in the Christian heart? Because this doctrine emphasizes the reality that Christ did not only create the possibility of salvation, He purchased all that was necessary to save believers, including repentance and faith. This eliminates every possibility of boasting in the Christian life. Christians are entirely responsible to repent and believe upon Christ, but even their repentance and faith were blood-bought gifts purchased by the Lamb who was slain.
Humbled by Irresistible Grace
“Irresistible Grace” is simply a way of describing the miracle God had to perform in our souls to awaken us from spiritual blindness and death. We might even call this awakening or regenerating grace.
Even when we were in a state of spiritual death, God made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5); even when we were in darkness, God spoke light into our souls (2 Cor. 4:6). Our only hope for salvation was if God performed a spiritual heart transplant, removing the heart of stone, and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26–27).
This doctrine silences our proud hearts. Because even our very repentance and faith were the effects of our new birth. Our first cry to God was the work of His hand. The fact that we came to Him was the result of His pulling. The reality that we longed to come to Him was the fruit of His life-giving breath.
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Humbled by Perseverance of the Saints
The phrase “once saved, always saved” is true, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It skips all that falls between regeneration and glorification. This final doctrine states that the path to final salvation requires an active perseverance that clings to Christ through His Word. It asserts that the attainment of final salvation for the elect is certain and guaranteed. Christ will not lose one of those given to Him by the Father (John 6:39). No one will snatch one of His from His hands (John 10:28–29). Our glorification is as good as done (Rom. 8:29–30). Christ has already obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12), and yet, we are to “hold fast to our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6).
As believers, we are responsible to cling to Christ and to be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). But even our perseverance is a blood-bought gift for which we can take no credit. The reason why we woke up this morning trusting in Christ is because of the sovereign, preserving power of God. How can we be proud when He holds us fast to Himself?
The Towering Glory of God
The doctrines of grace are beautiful in that they put God on display as the all sufficient giver of grace, and they reveal man to be what he is—the needy beneficiary of that grace. These doctrines weed pride from our hearts. Arrogance and superiority become almost laughable. Harsh treatment of others becomes the depth of hypocrisy, and is replaced with a tender-hearted joy that wonders at the infinite mercy of God. Doctrine is designed to bring us nearer to God Himself, and when we draw near, we see the glory of God that towers over all.