Calvinists often accuse
Arminians of not believing that we are saved by grace because we believe man
has the ability to choose between serving Him and serving one’s own sinful
desires. Although it’s true that we believe man has a choice between serving God
and serving one’s own sinful desires, it is false that Arminian Christians deny
the doctrine of God’s saving grace. We merely differ on the potency of that
saving grace. Calvinists, on their T.U.L.I.P view, believe that God’s grace is
irresistible and that man really has no choice on whether or not he becomes a
Christian (this has been chosen FOR Him by God from eternity past). Calvinists
also believe, as Arminians do, that it’s impossible for man to live a perfectly
sinless life by mere willpower alone and that’s impossible for man to repent
apart from God’s saving grace. This is the doctrine of “Total Depravity”. I
don’t like the name “Total Depravity” for the same reason I don’t like the term
“Original Sin”. I think it’s misleading and makes people think that Christians
believe human beings are pure evil. We don’t. We merely believe we’re incapable
of living sinless lives and incapable of choosing God apart from grace. It’s
only the Palagians who believe man can choose to serve God through ONLY his
free will with no grace on the part of God. They also believe we can live a
morally perfect life through efforts. Arminians have often been accused of
being “Semi-Pelagian” simply because we affirm both grace and free will in the
process of repentance. I believe that’s false. This blog post is not to argue
in favor of Resistible Grace per se, rather it’s to show WHAT Arminians believe
regarding grace, free will and repentance (although I will be arguing in favor
of it slightly).
Now, it’s the grace part
where Arminians and Calvinists differ on how human beings repent and turn
towards God. Whereas Calvinists believe that God’s grace is irresistible,
Arminians believe (rightly) that God’s grace is resistible. I believe in
resistible grace. God draws sinners to repentance by His Holy Spirit, but we
can choose to either go in the direction of that leading or resist His grace
(see Acts 7:51) until the day we die so that we end up lost for eternity.
But some people finally get worn down like C.S Lewis, who proclaimed himself
"the most reluctant convert in all of England".
"Prevenient grace is
a Christian theological 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." - Wikipedia artcle
Repentance is impossible
without grace given our total depravity, grace enables a human to choose God or
reject Him, and grace also tries to persuade us to choose God. Instead of being
an irresistible force like Calvinists who adhere to the T.U.L.I.P believe, God
does not force certain select individuals to repent, He wants everyone to
repent (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4) which is why He commands everyone,
everywhere to repent (see Acts 17:30). God’s grace, on the Arminian view, does
2 things. 1st, it enables a sinner to choose between living for
Jesus and living in sin (because it’s impossible for a sinner to choose God
apart from God’s grace, see John 6:44). 2nd, The Holy Spirit
tries to persuade a person to choose to receive Christ once a person has heard
the gospel message preached or read The Bible, or debated with Christians on
the internet in which the Christians used apologetic arguments, or whatever
method God used to reach out to someone. God tries to get someone to repent of
their own free will and He will continue to try to get this person to repent
until either the day they die or they become so hardened that it’s no longer
possible for them to repent without God overriding their free will (such as the
case in Romans 1:24, the people suppressed the truth in Romans 1:18, and they
did it so much, for so long that they became so hardened that God handed them
over to their sinful desires). God draws sinners to repentance by His Holy
Spirit, but we can choose to either go in the direction of that leading or
resist His grace (see Acts 7:51) until the day we die so that we
end up lost for eternity. Many people resist this grace until the day they die,
but some people finally get worn down like C.S Lewis, who proclaimed himself
"the most reluctant convert in all of England".
“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between
prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God
and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If
you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you
and the land you are about to enter and occupy. But if your heart turns away
and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other
gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not
live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. Today I have given you
the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on
heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose
life, so that you and your descendants might live!" - Deuteronomy 30:15-19
"Don't you realize that you become the slave of whatever YOU CHOOSE to
obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can CHOOSE TO
OBEY GOD, which leads to righteous living." - Romans 6:16
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, THEN CHOOSE FOR YOURSELVES
THIS DAY, WHOM YOU WILL SERVE, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond
the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as
for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15
These above verses
demonstrate that a person has a choice to follow God or to reject Him. The
Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:15-19 and in Joshua 24 had a choice. They could
either worship idols or they could worship God. Whenever they went off to
worship idols, God sent prophets to preach to them to turn from their
idolatrous ways and repent, and God was trying to persuade them to turn away from
worshipping statues the entire time they were preaching. This happened the most
in the latter part of the Old Testament. In the latter part of the Old
Testament (Such as in the books of Jeremiah, Zachariah, Isaiah, Ezekiel etc.),
we see that idolatry has become an ongoing problem with the Israelites and God
keeps begging them to repent so that He doesn’t have to destroy them.
As I pointed out in a previous blogpost, I pointed out that it doesn’t make any sense, given the
tulip view, that God would persist in begging people to repent (in the latter part of the Old Testament) over and over
and over and over and even expressing how it saddens Him to have to destroy
them if they don’t repent…if the T.U.L.I.P view is true.
In summary of the text above, Resistible
Grace is a synergistic approach to salvation. God did everything from
dying on the cross to extending grace toward us so we are able to repent
(repentance is not possible without grace, see John 6:44). But I don't
believe this grace is irresistible. Human free choice also plays a role.
God's spirit tries to get us to make the choice to repent, but we can
wrestle with Him and fight him off (Romans 1:18) if we harden our heart
hard enough and long enough, we'll eventually pass the point of no
return and He'll hand us over to our desires (Romans 1:24).
Calvinism believes our depravity disables our ability to choose (I
agree with them) they believe that grace not only enables the sinner to
repent (like I believe) and tries to persuade him to do so, the
Calvinist believes that God changes their will, or forces them to
repent, or however you want to call it, but there is no free decision in
the matter. This is the contrast between resistible and irresistible
Calvinists will sometimes object that this view is a "salvation by works doctrine". I don't see how that's so. As I just said, God did everything from dying on the cross for our sins, to raising Himself from the dead, to extending His Holy Spirit to persuade us to repent. The ONLY thing we have to do, is freely choose to receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, and even in that free decision, God has to wear us down, chase us down, and wrestle with our rebellious consciousnesses in order to get us to become born again. Most people don't come to Christ without first putting up a mental fight.
Consider this analogy. Someone asks you if you
want a sandwich. You say yes. That person gets out the peanut butter from the
cabinet. Gets out the jelly from the fridge. That person spreads the peanut
butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other slice. After this, the
person puts both slices of bread together and gives it to you. Now I ask
you....did you WORK to get that sandwich? No. All you did was accept the offer.
The person offering did all the work to get you the sandwich. Calvinists would
say you worked for the sandwich because the person didn't make it without your
consent and didn’t shoved it down your throat. Jesus did all the work. He died
for my sins. He carried that cross all the way to Galgotha. He endured the
excruciating pain I was supposed to endure. He changed my angry, bitter, hate
filled heart into a forgiving, loving, & merciful one (which I tried time
after time but failed.). God did all the work. All I did was accept the offer.
I recall Jerry Wall's analogy (i'm paraphrasing): The electric company harnesses the water, stores the power, converts it to electricity, builds a network to transfer the electricity to your home and manages it's strength through the electrical lines, monitors the entire system, somebody else invents and builds the light bulb and the lighting mechanism .... you walk into a room and think, "it's a little dark in here - I can't see." You decide to merely flip the light switch- everything was done for you to receive the light - all you did was say yes.
I did very little to attain my salvation. 99.9% of it was
all God. That 00.1% was my free decision to receive Christ into my heart.
Anyone who would consider that “work” should probably be labeled the laziest person in
"We're saved ONLY by The Holy Spirit" Pelagianism: "We're saved ONLY by our free
decision" Arminianism: "The Holy Spirit tries to persuade us
to make the free decision to repent."
I find Arminianism to be the happy medium between 2 unreasonable
(as well as unbiblical) extremes. The lyrics from Fireflight's "You Decide" seems to reflect this Arminian view as well.