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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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How Does a Mom Pray as a Calvinist?

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How does a mom, who believes that God is sovereign over salvation, find any hope for her children? How does she not live in fear about the state of their souls every day? If only those chosen by God find eternal life in him, can she sleep at night if none of them has yet professed faith?

In a recent interview about Calvinism, Andy Stanley—senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta—posed several questions as he critiqued Calvinism from several angles. In one particular segment, he talked specifically about women, and from his vantage point women are less vocal about their belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation because of how harsh it sounds (to him). Mothers, he said, would have a hard time reconciling their maternal instinct to protect, care for, and provide for their child with a view of salvation that, as he sees it, provides little assurance that they will be saved.

Strong Mothers, Stronger God

Stanley rightly appeals to maternal instinct. A mother’s heart pulls at her in powerful ways. Why wouldn’t it? She’s created in God’s image, a God  who cited a nursing mother when he wanted to show Israel how they could trust him (Isa. 49:15). If a nursing mother can’t forget her child, how much more can God whose image she bears? Even if she does, Isaiah says, God won’t forget you.

When Jesus longed for his people to repent and believe, he said this:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:14)

Even the apostle Paul used nursing-mother imagery to talk about his tender care for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7).

The maternal instinct is strong. It makes you do things you never thought you would or could do. It’s Godlike.

The maternal instinct is strong. It makes you do things you never thought you would or could do. It’s Godlike.

So I trust God in the care of my children, because he’s good, and he gave me (an image) to my children to tell the world what he is like.

What About God’s Grace?

But just telling my children what God is like doesn’t save them, and even then I’m not a perfect image-bearer. Sometimes I show my children what God is not like. But there is another who images God perfectly. Jesus is God made flesh, everything God wanted to say about himself in a person (John 1:1-3, 14; Col. 1:15), as Sally Lloyd-Jones so helpfully says. When Jesus came he didn’t just tell us what God is like. He told us how God saves—and perhaps nowhere more helpfully than in John’s Gospel.

All throughout John we see Jesus explaining who he is and what he set out to do. But the disciples (and the entire Jewish people) don’t get it. He doesn’t leave them in their misunderstanding, though. He tells them why they don’t get it. They don’t yet have the Holy Spirit (John 16:4–15). The disciples will understand one day, but only when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, only when he says it’s time to understand. The disciples will persevere to the end, but only because the Father has given them to the Son, and no one can take them from him (John 10:25–29).

The clarity of Jesus’s words is striking and sobering. He’s in utter control, both of the means of salvation and also the sustaining grace that keeps us to the end. Perhaps this would be terrifying, as Stanley asserts, if you don’t know the character of the one telling you how this will all play out. But we know the character of God, who preserved his people through many tribulations and endured the ultimate trial on our behalf. We can trust him with our very lives, and with the lives of our beloved children.

What Hope Do You Have?

As a Calvinist mother, I see this theology taught by Jesus playing out every day. My kids know instinctively that there is nothing they can do to make themselves obey. I know it, too. So I continue to tell them about the hope that Jesus can make them obey by taking away their broken hearts and make them new again (Ezek. 36:25-26).

I pray for them in faith, not because God plays favorites in election. Instead, I pray to a God who created us in his image, who desires us to glorify him, and made a way for us to be right with him when we wanted nothing to do with him. He loves the world he has made (John 3:16). At the same time, he is holy and just (1 Sam. 2:2). God loves us, and he is perfect in justice and holiness. He is compelled to save, and also to judge sin (Rom. 3:21-26.

How does a Calvinist mother pray? She prays like Scripture teaches us: brokenhearted by sin, anchored in God’s sovereignty, pleading for the Spirit’s mercy, and confident in the gospel’s promises that when Jesus saves he saves for good.

I pray for them in faith, not because I have “maternal instinct.” God’s Word ultimately guides my parenting. And God’s Word tells me the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of grace is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). God does not elect all to salvation. But it’s a miracle that he saves any, because apart from divine intervention, our foolish hearts would choose sin and destruction every single time (Rom. 1:18–32). God offers salvation freely, but we’re far too sinful—curved inward, as Augustine and later Martin Luther would say—to accept it apart from his preparatory work in our hearts.

I pray for my children in faith, not because I always understand his ways. I know his character. God is sovereign, and he is good (Ps. 25:8). God is gracious, and he is just (Ps. 145:8). God is merciful, and he is holy (Lev. 11:45, 20:7). And I trust him with the eternal life of my children.

So how does a Calvinist mother pray? She prays like Scripture teaches us: brokenhearted by sin, anchored in God’s sovereignty, pleading for the Spirit’s mercy, and confident in the gospel’s promises that when Jesus saves he saves for good.


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