Return to AOCI     Click to print this page

The Process of Salvation: Calvinism
by Dr. Henry Vazquez, BBS, M.Div., Th.D.


In This Lesson
Unconditional Election | Effectual Calling | Regeneration | Conversion
Union with Christ | Justification | Adoption | Sanctification
Perseverance/Eternal Security | Glorification


As we already discussed in the lesson on Soteriology, classical or traditional Calvinism involves the following doctrines concerning the process of salvation. It is based on...

Unconditional Election
The term "election" refers to God's choice, before creation, of those individuals from the mass of humanity whom He would bless by delivering them from eternal condemnation and granting them eternal life, and it is a choice that cannot get frustrated in any way as it is grounded in Trinitarian resolve [final conclusion already determined].

In regards to the term "unconditional", this is coupled with "election", which means that God's choice had nothing to do with any foreseen merit of any kind in the objects of His choice. He chose them unconditionally; He freely chose unworthy sinners because of His love, not because they in some way merited salvation.

Those who teach a "conditional election" often argue that God foresees a person's faith, and on that basis, chooses them. In this scheme, God's foreknowledge is neutral with respect to the events of the future, but here again, terms such as yada' in Hebrew — which means "to know" — and proginosko in Greek — which means "to foreknow" — do not indicate neutrality. They are a positive relationship to the thing known.1
1 Peter 1:20—

Further, conditional election is seriously flawed, since men are dead in sin and unable to believe or save themselves. "What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.'" (Romans 3:9-11)

Ephesians 2:1—

Also, nowhere does Scripture teach that because a man believes, God decides to choose Him. Rather, men believe because God has chosen them. From beginning to end, Scripture is clear that God saves men and they, left to themselves, would never turn to Him; indeed, they are unable.
John 6:65—

Acts 13:48—

"For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Romans 9:15-16)

"But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." (Romans 9:20-22)

Neither is there any teaching whatsoever in Scripture regarding prevenient grace2 that renders all men able to believe. Those who believe in Christ believe because of God's work in their hearts.

[Back to Top...]

Effectual Calling
Calvinism further teaches that there are two "callings" in Scripture.3

  • There is a General Call in which the good news is proclaimed to every creature under heaven. This includes the preaching of the pure Gospel coupled with a summons to repent and believe. Jesus called everyone who was weary and heavy laden to come to Him for rest. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

    Isaiah 45:22—

    Many did not come, but some did.

  • There is also what is termed a Special or Effectual Call wherein the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the Gospel to convict a sinner and bring him/her to faith. Those who are freely chosen (i.e., unconditional election) by God receive this special call. An unbeliever cannot thwart God's effectual call in their heart, but this does not mean that people come into the kingdom "kicking and screaming" against their will. Rather, their choice is genuine4, but it is generated, carried along, and brought to fruition by the Spirit. We see this special call on the elect in:

    Romans 1:7—

    Romans 8:30—

    (See also Romans 11:29, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Timothy 1:9)

[Back to Top...]

Regeneration is often referred to as the "new birth" (i.e., "born again") and is outlined for us in three principle texts, namely, John 1:12-13, 3:3, and Titus 3:55 (see also James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3). This is a once-for-all (Calvin) act of God's Spirit (indeed, every member of the Trinity is said to be involved in one way or another), not of human will or because of good deeds, whereby a person is renewed spiritually and made alive in Christ; they become a child of God and are "born" into His family and enjoy His special fatherhood. This is a gracious work of the Spirit in keeping with the promises of the New Covenant and is inscrutable from a human standpoint, though its effects are obvious: love for God that cries out "Abba Father", prayer in dependence on God, hatred of sin, and love for other Christians as well as those without Christ. Calvinism says that regeneration logically precedes saving faith, for those who are dead in sin cannot believe. No one can enter the kingdom of God, Jesus said, "unless He is born again" (cf. John 3:5).

[Back to Top...]

If election, efficacious calling, and regeneration (also justification and glorification) describe objective aspects of salvation — that is, God's work in salvation — then conversion describes the human or subjective response to God's gracious working. Conversion involves hearing the pure Gospel and mixing it with saving faith and genuine repentance. Thus conversion has two closely related aspects to it: faith and repentance.

Faith itself involves understanding the message of salvation through Christ, agreeing with it, and personally trusting Him to save you. An essential element of that trust is repentance from known sin. This involves a turning from sin to Christ for forgiveness. Thus, saving faith is penitent and genuine repentance is believing; this is not just worldly sorrow.

Acts 20:21—

Hebrews 6:1—

2 Corinthians 7:10—

However, faith is not just mental assent and neither is Biblical repentance. We are not dealing simply with historical facts in the Gospel — though it indeed rests on these — but we are dealing with a Person, "a consuming fire" as one Biblical writer put it in Hebrews 12:29—

When one or the other element, either faith or repentance, is not mentioned in the Biblical text, we are not to infer that the author thinks the other element is not essential to the Gospel. Rather, the author may be emphasizing one element over another, but not to the exclusion of the other. In many passages, just believing is mentioned (cf. John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 3:22) and in many others only repentance is mentioned (cf. Luke 24:46-47; Acts 3:19; 17:30; Romans 2:4). A genuine response to the Gospel involves both elements. Someone has once said that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin, but together they picture for us a genuine response to God's gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ.

[Back to Top...]

Union with Christ
The expression "in Christ" (and its derivatives) is used in the New Testament to express our union with Christ as believers. This encompasses the whole spectrum of our salvation from its conception in the mind of God to its consummation in the "new heavens and new earth". Our election was "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:4) and so are all the ensuing benefits, namely: our calling, redemption, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification.

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29-30)

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

1 Corinthians 1:30—

John 15:1-11—
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."

1 John 2:5-6—

Our entire present experience and future destiny is "in Christ".

Our experience of death to sin and resurrection to new life is in light of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Thus, not only are we "in Christ", but He (as well as the Father and the Spirit) is also in us (John 14:23); and through His indwelling Spirit, we are sanctified in Christ and increasingly conformed/transformed to His image (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). All believers are "one body" in Christ Jesus which itself is a spiritual reality that should give rise to zealous efforts to develop unity (not disunity or uniformity) among true believers.

Romans 12:5—

1 Corinthians 10:17—

Ephesians 4:4—

[Back to Top...]

The doctrine of justification is crucial to a proper view of the Gospel and is not simply a doctrine developed in the heat of the battle in Galatians6. Several things should be noted briefly about this doctrine:

  • First, justification refers to a legal declaration by God that our sins — past, present, and future — are forgiven through Christ, and Christ's righteousness is imputed to us.

  • Second, this is a once-for-all decision to declare (not "make") us righteous in His sight so that there remains no longer any legal recourse or accusation against us; hence, the meaning Paul intends when He asks in Romans 8:33-34: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? God is the One who justifies."

  • Third, since justification involves forgiveness of sin and dealing with actual condemnation, it ultimately settles the question of our guilt; we are no longer in a state of guilt.

  • Fourth, we possess, in God's sight, the righteousness of Christ; and since God views it this way, this is indeed reality. It is not fiction as some have argued, but real, though the doctrine of justification does not deal directly with practice, but standing before God's holy law. Our standing has been forever changed and we are no longer guilty; the law no longer has recourse against us.

  • Fifth, justification comes through faith and not by works as Paul makes clear in Romans 3:26-28: "It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

    "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (Romans 4:4-5)

    We do not earn this standing, but rather it is credited to our account through faith in Christ.

  • Sixth, it is dangerous to the purity of the Gospel of God's grace to introduce ideas of moral improvement into the doctrine of justification. While justification is related inextricably to sanctification, they are not the same reality and should not be confused. Justification does not mean that God infuses righteousness into us in order to prepare us to receive His grace (which is really not New Testament grace at all).

    Again, justification deals with our legal standing and the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us; it does not refer directly to our day-to-day growth in the Lord.

  • Seventh, there is eschatology [theology of death and final destiny] to justification. As N. T. Wright says: "The verdict issued in the present on the basis of faith (Romans 3:21-26) correctly anticipates the verdict to be issued in the final judgment on the basis of the total life."7

[Back to Top...]

Adoption refers to God's decision to make us members of His family, and to offer us all the benefits and ethical standards involved in living "under His roof". If justification deals with my legal standing before God as a sinner, then adoption deals with my familial relationship to the Judge; I am now one of His own children through adoption (Galatians 3:26), and He has become my Father. In many different texts — many more than one finds in the Old Testament — the New Testament claims that God is our special Father through the Gospel and that we are His children. This is in the context of this new relationship that we receive many great blessings.

  • First, God is our Father, the One who cares for us and provides all our needs. He is the One Jesus enjoined us to pray to, for "your Heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8)

  • Second, He forgives us when we confess our sin, for He is both a Father who is holy, but who also understands our weaknesses and draws alongside to help us in time of need. "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:12-14)

  • Third, He disciplines us and chastens us for our sin so that we might share in His holiness.
    Hebrews 12:10—

    He loves us so much that He will not let us wander forever, but will draw us back to His side. Indeed, by His Spirit He leads us into greater experiences of His holiness and this is essentially what it means to be a son or daughter of God.
    Romans 8:14—

  • Finally, it is through our sonship that we become heirs with Christ and of God, and of all that eternal life has in store for us, including suffering in the present life.
    Galatians 4:7—

    Romans 8:17—

    "Sonship", or "adoption", leads to a new kind of life in God's family.8 We are to imitate our Father who loved us with such a great love, and we are to love others according to the example He set for us.
    Ephesians 5:1—

    "...but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:15-16)

    Through regeneration, we are transformed morally and spiritually, so that we can live like sons of God and not like slaves who do not know their masters.

[Back to Top...]


The doctrine of sanctification is spoken of in three tenses:

  • With respect to the past, we have been set apart, both to belong to God, positionally speaking, and to serve Him, practically speaking. We were sanctified at the moment of conversion and were declared legally holy and belonging to the Lord.
    1 Corinthians 6:11—

  • With respect to the future, we will be totally sanctified someday in our glorified bodies. At that time our practice will completely match our position or standing before God. At the present time we are being sanctified, that is, increasingly being transformed into the image of the Lord.
    2 Corinthians 3:18—

    Thus, the nature of sanctification is transformation; we are being progressively conformed into the image of the Son who died for us. This is God's decreed purpose.
    Romans 8:29—

  • Sanctification in the present time, then, is the process of transformation into the image of Christ. The efficient cause of this glorious change is the Spirit living in us.
    2 Corinthians 3:18—

    He mediates the presence of Christ to us and unfolds the moral will of God to us. "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16:13-14)

    1 Corinthians 3:16—

    "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The Spirit uses the people of God (Colossians 3:16), the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), circumstances God ordains to mold and shape us (Romans 8:28), and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). We are on His potter's wheel, not a treadmill; relationship, transformation, and holiness are the goals, not exhaustion.

Therefore, the purpose for which the Spirit is aiming in our lives is Christlikeness, and the degree to which we are conformed to Him is the degree to which we are sanctified. The fruit that should characterize our lives, then, ought to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-24).

The root of this transformation lies in our co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-4), and the process is never completed in this life (cf. Philippians 3:12-13). Nonetheless, we strive for perfection (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16), knowing that such will not be the case until the Savior comes from Heaven to transform our lowly bodies (cf. Philippians 3:20). Until then, the process is colored by struggle against the world (cf. 1 John 2:15-16), the flesh (cf. Romans 8:6-7; Galatians 5:17), and the devil (cf. Ephesians 6:12).

Our role in the process of sanctification relates directly only to the present time. This involves mortifying the deeds of the body, that is, putting to death those things that belong to our earthly [carnal] natures (Colossians 3:5) and conversely, putting on Christ (cf. Romans 13:14). If, by the Spirit, we put to death the misdeeds of the body, then we will certainly enjoy all the power, comforts, and joys of the spiritual life (cf. Romans 8:13). We must remember, in our struggle against sin — and for righteousness — however, that we live in relationship with God on the solid foundation of justification. Though we strive to please Him, it is not so that He will become our Father and takes us in; rather, it is because He has already declared His Fatherhood over us and because He is the One who works in us to this end. Again, our responsibility can be summed up in the word "cooperation". God is the One who works in us both "the willing and the doing". (cf. Philippians 2:12-13)

[Back to Top...]

Perseverance / Eternal Security
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is really the idea of sanctification taken through the whole of a person's life. If God is the Author of their salvation, then He is also the Finisher of it. As Paul says, "He will bring to completion the good work He has begun in Christ." (Philippians 1:6) Since faith itself is a gift of God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), God enables believers, by the power of the Spirit, to persevere in their trust and to continually move toward Christlikeness, even if for a long while they err in sin. God does not revoke His call, nor annul [cancel] the justification He has put in place (cf. Romans 11:32). "Those whom He has called . . . He also glorified." (cf. Romans 8:30). Thus, Calvinism teaches that God will never let His own perish (cf. John 10:28-30).

Passages, such as Hebrews 6:4-6, have often been used to deny the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but these do not teach that people can lose their salvation (cf. Hebrews 6:9). Rather, the writer is drawing inferences based on the evidence (i.e., behavior of His audience) he sees. Like a good pastor, he is warning people of the real consequences for those who live with knowing or unknowing contempt for Christ's sacrifice. He does not know whether each and every one is saved, only that if they are going to withdraw from Christianity/persecution into the politically-safe haven of Judaism, then one may certainly question whether such a person knows Christ. Thus, the writer warns them of the eternal consequences of life apart from Christ. The important point that these so-called warning passages demonstrate is that one of the means God uses to protect His saints and enable them to persevere is powerful preaching and His word of rebuke.

Finally, this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or as it is commonly called, "the eternal security of believers" [not exactly the same thing], does not lead to sluggish behavior or a lack of zeal in the Christian life:

  • First of all, severe warnings in this regard are worth noting as we saw this above.

  • Second, perseverance means that the Spirit is persevering with us in order to bring about the fruit of the Spirit in us. He has been doing this from the beginning since we were at one time dead in sin when He breathed regenerating life into us. Why would He stop after we're saved? We are no more sinful now than we were then.

  • Third, our election is unto holiness and glorification, and the Trinitarian plan cannot be thwarted.
    Ephesians 1:4—

    Romans 8:30—

  • Fourth, Calvinism says that to argue that believers can lose their salvation is to misunderstand many Biblical passages and to position the work of sanctification ultimately in the human will. This is unscriptural and contrary chiefly to the principle of grace. " Finally, those who want to argue from Hebrews 6:4-6 that believers can lose their salvation if they don't live properly, must also accept the truth that, once lost, it cannot be regained — as the passage clearly says. On the contrary, however, the Bible emphatically teaches the eternal security of the believer.

  • Romans 8:38-39—

  • We must also note that not everyone who claims to be a believer is a believer, and therefore is saved. Thus, many warnings are spoken by several Scriptural writers. For example, many will say to Him on that day, "'Lord, Lord,' and He will say to them, 'Depart from me, for I never knew you.'" (cf. Matthew 7:21-23) Therefore, just because a person claims to believe in Jesus does not mean they do. The doctrine of eternal security refers only to those who are truly born-again and who persevere to the end.

[Back to Top...]

Glorification is the moment at which the life of God is strikingly manifested in us when we receive our resurrected bodies and are perfectly fitted for existence in the eternal state. There will be some similarity between our mortal bodies and our glorified bodies, as the example of Jesus after His resurrection demonstrates (cf. John 21:4-7), but there will be great differences between that which was sown in dishonor and that which will be raised in honor (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-49).

This is a body similar to its predecessor, as a seed is to the plant into which it grows. But it will not be marked by dishonor, decay, weakness, and the absence of spiritual life. On the contrary, it will be a material body, specially fitted for spiritual existence and clothed with dignity, power, and glory. It is one that is patterned after Christ's own resurrection body (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:49). In these glorified bodies there will be perfect concord between desire and fulfillment in terms of our obedience and service to our great King. Our experience of God is one of complete fulfillment as well. At that time, we will be truly human and able to worship and praise God in a way He rightfully deserves.

[Back to Top...]

Dr. Henry, President of AOCIQuestions/Comments?
If you have questions or comments for me,
please visit my AOCI profile page where you may
leave a comment or send me a personal message.

For His glory! Dr. Henry

1 Erickson, Christian Theology, 926; see also BDB, p. 394.

2 Prevenient gracen. a Christian concept rooted in Augustinian theology. It is divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.

Prevenient grace is embraced primarily by Arminian Christians who are influenced by the theology of Jacob Arminius or John Wesley. Whereas Augustine held that prevenient grace cannot be resisted, Wesleyan Arminians believe that it enables, but does not ensure, personal acceptance of the gift of salvation. Wesley typically referred to it in 18th-century language as "prevenient grace". In modern English, the phrase "preceding grace" would have a similar meaning.

3 We are not concerned here with the "call" to a particular vocation.

4 Here we are talking about a choice that involves understanding, agreement, and an embracing of the work of Christ on the cross.

5 Regeneration seems to be associated in the early church with baptism, but it must be said up front that Scripture nowhere sanctions the belief that regeneration is materially related to anything other than Spirit sponsored, saving faith. The rite of baptism is the Christian symbol for salvation, and is often associated with faith, but of itself it contributes nothing.

6 Paul lists it as integral to the process of salvation in Romans 8:30. There it is linked with other important truths such as God's predestination of the elect, His calling them to salvation in history, and His commitment to bring them safely to glorification in the future. Justification is also important a doctrine for marking out the people of God who know they are saved not by works which they have done, but by the grace of God.

7 N. T. Wright, "Justification," in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I . Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 360.

8 This, of course, directly relates to regeneration and sanctification.