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.
“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. Some Christians have described this as God “tugging on your heart”. 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 as mentioned above, 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 yourself 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 (such as in the books of Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah, Ezekiel etc.), where 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 post titled “Something For Calvinists To Chew On”, 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).
Whereas Calvinists believe 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, but 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 grace.
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 and 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 shove it down your throat. Jesus did all the work. He died for my sins. He carried that cross all the way to Golgotha. 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 to do time after time but failed.). God did all the work. All I did was accept the offer.
I did very little to attain my salvation. 99.99% of it was all God. That 00.01% was my free decision to receive Christ into my heart. Anyone who would consider that “work” should probably be labeled the laziest person in history. Christ did all the work. All we did was make a choice to trust Him, and even that choice would be impossible without God’s wooing grace.