For many Calvinists, the best argument for Calvinism and against Arminianism may be implicitly conveyed by questions like, “What is the difference between the one who believes in Christ and the one who rejects Christ? Why did one believe and the other not? Must it not be that there is something better about the one who believes that led him to believe?” The point of this line of questioning is that there must be something better about the one who believes than the one who does not believe, making faith and salvation about man’s goodness rather than God’s grace, giving the believer a ground for boasting, and giving the glory for salvation to the believer rather than God.
I love the question, because it highlights the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism so well, revealing Arminianism to be the more biblical and rational position. Trust in another gives no glory to the truster and all glory to the trusted. Faith is the renouncing of any merit, but reliance on God and his unmerited favor. Thus, faith is the perfect vehicle through which God could have a fair basis for accountability and yet there be no merit in the basis of accountability. The Arminian need not run away from the fact that there is indeed a difference between the believer and unbeliever that leads to salvation vs. condemnation. We should embrace it. That is what makes God’s salvation of believers and condemnation of unbelievers not arbitrary. It is the very point we want to claim against the view that God saves unconditionally. It is the non-meritorious means of faith through which we are saved. Mark well: The question of what the difference between the one who has faith and the one who does not is simply that one trusts God and the other does not. This is why God saves one and condemns the other, by his own sovereign will and grace. He is not obligated, but out of unmerited favor reckons faith as righteousness. And this provides for a non-arbitrary basis of non-meritorious salvation and de-meritorious condemnation, so all the glory goes to God for salvation and all the blame goes to man for his own condemnation. God is so wise.
As far as God is concerned, which is what matters, one cannot boast about faith because it receives a free gift. If someone offered you and your friend a million dollars, and you took it but your friend did not, would that mean you could boast about taking it? Not legitimately. There would be no merit to you for taking it, but your friend would be foolish for not taking it. That’s why faith is so perfect for God providing a basis for accountability that gives no glory to the believer/receiver, but all the glory to God, the giver, and at the same time heaps deserved condemnation and shame upon the unbeliever/rejecter. Hardly anyone would ever think that someone could legitimately boast for receiving a free gift. Still, someone can boast about anything they want to. The important question is whether it is legitimate boasting. In such a case, it would obviously not be. And most importantly, biblically it is not.
Now Calvinists often seem to claim that this type of answer does not answer the question because there has to be something that irresistibly caused the person to choose what he chooses. But they have a hard time understanding the answer I think because of deterministic presuppositions. One believes because God enables one to do so, and because one chooses to do so. So the difference between the believer and non-believer with regard to faith, if one takes God out of the picture as Calvinists often insist, is the person himself, as a causal agent. But as I laid out, this is to be embraced and is an advantage of Arminianism over Calvinism. For faith is not a meritorious work, but merely the receiving of a free gift. It really is a beautiful thing, providing for a non-arbitrary basis of non-meritorious salvation and de-meritorious condemnation, so all the glory goes to God for salvation and all the blame goes to man for his own condemnation (unlike the logical implications of Calvinism, which has people not being able to believe but only to sin unless God chooses for them to believe and be saved). God is so wise.
So many Calvinists have a hard time acknowledging that the Arminian has answered the question because they reject free will as normally defined, which is also the way that Arminians understand it, philosophically known as libertarian free will. It is the nature of free will that the choice made is not irresistibly caused by anyone but oneself. So Calvinists need to understand the Arminian view of free will (again, which is the normal view of free will) to understand the Arminian answer. Here are some comments from Norman Geisler in the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary about the Arminian position:
On this view a person’s acts are caused by himself. Self determinists accept the fact that such factors as heredity and environment often influence one’s behavior. However, they deny that such factors are the determining causes of one’s behavior. Inanimate objects do not change without an outside cause, but personal subjects are able to direct their own actions. As previously noted, self determinists reject the notions that events are uncaused or that they cause themselves. Rather, they believe that human actions can be caused by human beings. Two prominent advocates of this view are Thomas Aquinas and C S Lewis.
Many object to self determinism on the grounds that if everything needs a cause, then so do the acts of the will. Thus it is often asked, What caused the will to act? The self determinist can respond to this question by pointing out that it is not the will of a person that makes a decision but the person acting by means of his will. And since the person is the first cause of his acts, it is meaningless to ask what the cause of the first cause is. Just as no outside force caused God to create the world, so no outside force causes people to choose certain actions. For man is created in God’s image, which includes the possession of free will.
Part of the point is that there are many causes/influences on our behavior, but we decide what cause or influence we will act on. So there can be any number of reasons for our actions. Our free actions are not without cause. They are simply without irresistible causes. To claim that there must be an irresistible cause or that any cause that is acted upon is necessarily irresistible is to assume determinism and beg the question. As one commenter in an online discussion I once saw put it, “Ethical libertarians don’t believe that choices are random, but rather that they are sufficiently self-determined (the result of rational personal deliberation).” One person chooses to believe when another does not because of whatever reason(s) each decided was the best to follow. And it cannot be assumed that the reason(s) was irresistible.