The most important five-letter word in Calvinism isn’t TULIP. It’s Jesus.
He has first place in everything (Col. 1:18). The whole Bible is about him (John 5:39). The apostle Paul tells us again and again that our swagger must go and we are to boast only in the Lord. “So let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). If we are going to toot a horn, there’s one note we have: “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). Christ is our confidence. Christ is our cause. Christ is our song.
Let’s brag about Jesus. Parents have no problems bragging on their kids: Johnny did this at soccer… and you just won’t believe what little Sally said the other day. We brag about what we love.
You mind if I brag about the Lord for a minute? Join me.
THE GOD WHO’S THERE FOR US
Jesus literally holds the entire universe together, and yet he’s never too busy for me. My Jesus walked on a Galilean sea, in the middle of a raging storm, and acted like it was no big deal. And another time, he told the wind and the waves that enough was enough: “Be still!” I can’t even get my dog to sit.
In the town of Cana, a groom failed to bring enough wine for the wedding after-party—a big embarrassing social no-no. Instead of running to the corner store, Jesus turned water into wine, showcasing his glory and his kindness for this failing newly-wed. Jesus helps failures. Jesus is there in crises.
Jesus is so kind to us that even when we are at our lowest, he still wants to keep us. Even when we wanted nothing to do with Jesus, he still wanted us. He still loved us. When I forget to ask Jesus for help, he still helps me.
THE MESSIAH OF THE MISFITS
The crowds mocked Jesus. So what? The Pharisees were always out to get him. No big deal. His family tried to get him to tone down his preaching. Fat chance. Jesus still hung out with the people that compromised his reputation. The people that society had kicked to the curb—Jesus went to them. He has a large heart for the outcasts, the misunderstood, the oddballs. He’s the Messiah of the misfits.
When I hear a noise in my backyard at two in the morning, I just hope it’s the neighborhood cat. Darkness and danger terrify me, but not Jesus. Our Lord went toe-to-toe with the demonic powers. Jesus stood up to these ancient bullies as they controlled and hurt men, women, and children. One command from Jesus and the demons scurried like roaches in the light.
Jesus encountered people with broken muscle tissue and misbehaving cellular structures, limbs, and organs. All fixed by the Carpenter of carpenters. The great Physician told a man with a shriveled and paralyzed hand to go ahead—stretch that arm out. Healed.
Jesus let Peter walk on water, contorting the sub-atomic properties of liquids and solids. And then he let Peter sink too, before enabling him to stand again. We’d all sink without Jesus.
WHAT MY JESUS DID FOR ME
Though fully God—not God junior, diet God, or bargain-basket God—Jesus really did let Roman soldiers nail iron spikes into his body. My Jesus did that for me. For my sins. Angels worship him, the universe depends on him, and he died for me.
Jesus became a cold corpse on a slab, but he refused to stay that way. He guaranteed he would rise from the dead and he did. His heart started pumping, his brainstem fired back on, and his central nervous system booted up. He lives. And he is alive in heaven, inviting us to go to him, to believe in him, to follow him, and to enjoy him.
When I’m unfaithful, he’s faithful. When I’m clueless, he’s patient. When I’m lost, he brings me back. When I’m confused, he’s clarifying. When I’m forgetful, he’s steady. Though there are times when I’m embarrassed to talk about him, he’s not ashamed to call me his brother, friend, co-heir.
HE’S GOT US
Every thought, inclination, and urge Jesus has is totally righteous—and we can’t even begin to imagine that, because our thoughts, inclinations, and urges are so often totally not. In gym class, if Jesus had the first pick, he’d pick the kid who is always picked last, the kid we’d hope goes to the other team. We struggle to serve one another, grumbling as we get out of bed to make sure our spouse locked the front door; Jesus, however, with joy set before him, endured the cross to the point of death to save his Bride.
Jesus doesn’t use an iron fist to lead us or intimidate us into following him. Jesus transforms us: he removes the blinders, and we see what the angels long to peer into.
Jesus is realistic about our abilities. We lose our keys and can’t remember where we parked our car. There’s no way we can manage our salvation. He keeps us. He’s got us.
We could go on, but this book, even the world, can’t contain all of the ways we could brag about our Lord (John 21:25). We need a kind of Calvinism that doesn’t humblebrag about itself or about its footsoldiers, but loves to brag about the God of grace.
WHERE THE POINTS POINT
John Calvin shared this passion. He knew the megatheme of the Bible is Jesus Christ. Not the sin of man, or predestination, or even the atonement—but Jesus himself:
“This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father. If one were to sift thoroughly the Law and the Prophets, he would not find a single word which would not draw and bring us to him … It is therefore not lawful that we turn away and become diverted even in the smallest degree by this or that. On the contrary, our minds ought to come to a halt at the point where we learn in Scripture to know Jesus Christ and him alone, so that we may be directly led by him to the Father who contains in himself all perfection.”
Jesus is the point of Calvinism because Jesus is the point of the Bible. Calvin’s beard would curl if he knew an itemized list of doctrines—bearing his name!—had divided Christ’s people and didn’t lead us to know and enjoy Jesus Christ. The five points are meant to be five pointers—pointers to Jesus and his grace. In fact, the last five braggable truths about Jesus you just enjoyed—his inclination, his pick in gym class, and so on—were the points of TULIP, showcasing Jesus’s incomparable glory.
WHAT REAL CALVINISM DOES
Like C.H. Spurgeon, we should enjoy the points only when they are connected to Christ:
“How I do love the doctrines of grace when they are taken in connection with Christ. Some people preach the Calvinistic points without Jesus; but what hard, dry, marrowless preaching it is … let every believer remember he does not get these doctrines as he should get them, unless he receives them in Christ.”
TULIP’s aroma must be that of Christ. Christ-forgotten Calvinism is dry, rusty, lifeless. Without Jesus, Calvinism is nothing; it’s a placebo of grace. But real Calvinism redirects our hearts to the glory of our Redeemer.
We are sinful, Jesus isn’t, but he became our sin to save us. We were chosen in Christ. Jesus loves us and died for our sins. We were drawn to believe in Christ because of God. We are saved forever in Christ. Christ-savoring Calvinism is soul food.
Taken from Humble Calvinism by J.A. Medders, ©2019, The Good Book Company.
J.A. Medders is the Pastor of Preaching and Theology at Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX, just outside of Houston. Jeff writes at jamedders.com and also hosts Home Row: A Podcast with Writers on Writing. He’s the author of Humble Calvinism: If I Know The 5 Points But Have Not Love….You can follow Jeff on Twitter, @mrmedders.