Recently I had am exchange on a message board regarding the
particulars of Calvinism. Hopefully you find it helpful:
Visitor #1: I gave up on Calvinism a long time ago.
My response: You mean you gave up on the idea that Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to save you?
Visitor #1: Yep
Visitor #2 chimes in: John, is it possible you're caricaturing the situation just a smidge? Calvinism cannot possibly have a monopoly in affirming Jesus Christ as sufficient.
My response: Actually the central difference between Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriology is that Calvinist believes Jesus Christ is sufficient to save to the uttermost while non-Calvinist soteriology believes that while Jesus is necessary, he is not sufficient. To clarify what I mean, both Roman Catholics and Arminians for example, would anathematize anyone who says you can be saved without the grace of God. The Reformers never claimed Rome believed you can be saved apart from grace. That wasn't the debate. The debate of the Reformation was never ever about the necessity of grace, it was always about the sufficiency of grace. That remains the issue today in so many contexts (James White). So no I am not caricaturing the situation. This is the essence of it. The theology of Calvinism or Reformed Theology centers on the sufficiency of Christ in salvation. There is nothing more essential to its position and this is what sets is apart from other all other types of theology. Another way to put it: it is the difference between Monergism &. Synergism. As Michael Haykin notes, "the most vital question, is, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving us by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying us for Christs' sake when we come to faith, but also raising us from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring us to faith." In other words, whatever God requires of us, (including faith), if we believe the unregenerate man has the power in himself to exercise, then we make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of no effect. Either Christ is a complete savior, OR He helps us to save ourselves. What Calvinism means in the historic sense, is that Jesus Christ is a complete savior, not a partial one.
Visitor #1: I gave up on Calvinism because grace is resistible.
My response: Jesus himself teaches that no one can believe in him unless God grants it (John 6:53-65)... and ALL to whom God grants it will believe (v. 37). These passages plainly teach that Jesus alone is sufficient to save. His grace is effectual. He leaves no room from the unregenerate, natural man making good choices on his own, so as to leave no room for any boasting. Why do you think one person believes the gospel and not the other? Was one born with more natural wisdom? Or inclination to good? What makes people to differ? Jesus Christ or something else?
Visitor #1: so does "sufficient" mean that those whom God decides shall have salvation shall have salvation, or that those whom God decides shall have salvation can have salvation?
My response: The word "sufficient" means that Jesus Christ meets all the conditions for us that are necessary for our salvation, not only some of the conditions. It further means what Jesus does for us on the cross meets all of God's requirements for us, including giving us a new heart which is needed to believe and obey (Ezekiel 36:26). In other words, apart from grace sinners are unable to obey the gospel, any more than the law, without a new heart. The non-Calvinist (synergist) position denies this and instead affirms that the natural man, can have faith in Christ while still in the flesh (with an unrenewed heart).
So to answer your question, it means that what Jesus does for us in his life death and resurrection is not only necessary but completely sufficient to save us. This was the point of the Reformation's affirmation of the principle of Solus Christus, or Christ alone. God's love for His own is unconditional so He makes sure the job gets done. To look at it from another perspective, the synergist denies that what Jesus does for us is sufficient to save us... grace is necessary but the unregenerate man must also somehow come up with the good will to exercise faith apart from the Holy Spirit granting renewal of heart. So God's love for the sinner is conditional, based entirely on his response. But the Scripture says that "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all...no one can come to [Jesus] unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:63, 65)
Visitor #1: John: thanks for the response...boiling that down, though, does Calvinism hold that if God decides that someone is to receive salvation, then that person will indeed receive it? My understanding of Calvinism is that the answer is "yes", and what you're saying seems to validate that: Jesus Himself meets all the necessary conditions, so there remains no condition that the one receiving salvation must fulfill.
Note: I am using the word Calvinism to cover the historic Augustinian, monergistic view of regeneration.