It is often charged that the Arminians’ view of grace is weakened by the notion that God is not sovereign in electing whom He can save. To the Calvinist, God has graciously chosen whom He intended to save, and this, before the foundation of the world. For the Calvinist, somehow, if God had chosen to save whosoever would believe, as the Arminian argues and as Bible states in no uncertain terms, then grace would not be grace.
Arminians, of course, believe that the Calvinistic system suffers tremendously at this point, for the Bible teaches that God has chosen to “save those who believe” (John 3.16; 1 Cor. 1.21). It does not teach that God has chosen to cause certain ones to believe.
That Calvinists misrepresent the Arminians’ view of free will is nothing new. Duane Edward Spencer, in his book TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture, states, the Arminians’ view of God’s grace [is] not Resistible, but Obstructable, and notes that in the Arminians’ system , “It is the will of God that all should be saved, but His will can be resisted since each person has the faculty of self-determination.”1
Arminians do not teach that humans naturally possess this so-called “self-determination” where salvation is concerned. They believe that mankind’s will toward faith in Christ has been lost and destroyed2, and that God must free a person’s will in order for him or her to believe on Christ. Spencer’s notion of “self-determination” (at least where salvation is concerned) is completely unwarranted.
The Jewish leaders of Acts 7 were refusing Stephen’s gospel message and threatening to kill him. Stephen replied, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7.51). What were these leaders resisting? Stephen said that they were resisting the Holy Spirit. What is the Spirit’s role? Jesus said that the Spirit would come to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16.8-11). So, they were resisting the grace of God in the work of the Holy Spirit.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he wrote, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Gal. 1.6). Not only were they resisting the grace which they had received, but he notes that they were also resisting God’s call. Though the Calvinist will insist that such a thing is impossible due to the irresistibility of God’s grace and the perseverance of the saints, resistance is found nonetheless in the pages of Scripture, just as the Arminian states.
Moreover, Paul wrote this to the Corinthians: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6.1). Receive God’s grace in vain? Does Paul suggest that God’s grace is resistible?
Why must the Calvinist invent this doctrine of Irresistible Grace? Again, Spencer writes, “Since it is the will of God that those whom He gave to His dear Son in eternity past should be saved, He will surely act in sovereign grace in such a way that the elect will find Christ irresistible.”3 Notice that Spencer’s conclusion of the irresistibility of God’s grace was founded upon a presupposition. He began, “Since it is the will of God that those whom He gave to His dear Son in eternity past should be saved . . .” He is forced to conclude that God’s grace is irresistible because of the presupposition that God has elected to save this one and not that one, and this based on His decree of a mysterious election, not based on foreseen faith (John 6.64), or God’s familiarity of His children from all eternity (Rom. 8.29; 1 Pet. 1.2).
Laurence M. Vance offers, “The depravity of man is a biblical doctrine . . . Likewise, the doctrine of election is also scriptural, but to maintain that the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election, and all the baggage that goes with it, can be found in the Bible is a little far-fetched. The Atonement of Christ is certainly a crucial doctrine, but to insist that the Limited Atonement of Calvinism is connected with it is a different matter.
Now, regarding the fourth point of Calvinism, it is undeniably true that any man who was ever saved was saved by the grace of God. But although the word grace occurs 170 times in the Bible, not only is it never found prefixed by the term irresistible, no form of the word irresistible even occurs . . . [The Calvinist’s definition of] Total Depravity necessitates Irresistible Grace.”4
Such is what happens when one is obliged to defend a system rather than let Scripture speak for itself. The Bible notes that some people resist the grace, call, and Spirit of God, and some receive God’s grace in vain. The burden of proof lies with the Calvinist to prove the contrary.
Arminians believe that God’s grace to save whoever hears the gospel is available to all; it is a genuine and amazing grace, not limited to a pre-fixed number based on an eternal decree, but available to all who will receive Christ Jesus by faith, when enabled by the Spirit of the Lord. The only way in which God’s grace is limited is within the realm of applicability in Christ Jesus. Since Jesus is the only way and the truth and the life (John 14.6), grace is only found in Him.
Yet this grace is not irresistible, as is demonstrated in the Bible and in the lives of countless millions who resist the Spirit every day. Remember what Jesus told the people on a hillside one day: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7.13-14). Our Lord leads no one irresistibly to the narrow gate.
1 Duane Edward Spencer, TULIP: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 88.
2 James Arminius, “Disputation XI: On the Free Will of Man and Its Powers,” The Works of Armrinius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 192.
3 Spencer, 89.
4 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999), 475.