GRACE: GOD WILL GET HIS WAY
In my dips in Calvinism, the word “grace” for me became a much more active, powerful force in the Kingdom of God. If it was inevitable, going to do what it set out to do, and no one could resist it – I was in awe! I was in joyous trust of the God of grace who was out to procure for Himself a Bride! I didn’t doubt that the world would end the way He wanted it to end! I didn’t have fear, but rather trusted at the end of the day, God would have His way, God would have His Bride, and all would be well.
When Scripture started to dismantle some of my more Calvinist beliefs, I began to reluctantly lose my awe in the power of “grace.” I began to wonder where “grace” fit into the paradigm of what I started to consider to be Biblical Christianity, if it wasn’t the idea that God was inevitably, coercing darkened hearts to love Him, while passing over, or ignoring the miserable ones unsaved from their depths of depravity (and God had no moral blame for their loss, since the lost ones were lost by their own deeds to begin with [as were the chosen ones, they were just chosen to be saved for reasons only known to God and not to us]).
GRACE: WE MAKE UP WORDS, LIKE ‘PREVENIENT’
The Arminians usually land on a word that most computers think is made up, “prevenient.” However some dictionaries recognize it, and it means “anticipatory.” The Arminian confession of 1621 states:
Man therefore does not have saving faith from himself, nor is he regenerated or converted by the powers of his own free will, seeing that in the state of sin he cannot of himself or by himself either think or will or do anything that is good enough to be saved (of which first of all is conversion and saving faith), but it is necessary that he be regenerated and totally renewed [persuasively, preveniently graced] by God, in Christ, through the word of the Gospel joined with the power of the Holy Spirit, namely, in his understanding, affections, will and all his strengths, that he may be able to understand, meditate on, will and finish correctly these things that are savingly good.
See here for source.
I have mentioned before the Remonstrance Podcast (look them up on iTunes, Podbean, wherever you get your podcasts) on my headline page, “Young, Restless, Arminian,” If you (a) like theology, (b) lean “reformed,” or Calvinist, (c) lean Arminian and think that Arminian is simply defined as “Anti-Calvinist,” (d) think Arminianism is liberal or leans on semi-pelagianism, or at all denies the depravity of man, or the grace of God, or salvation being all of God, then think again and let Arminius himself, and a very close theological successor, John Wesley, clear up some issues for you. Classical, ad fontes Arminianism (that is, as espoused by Arminius himself, hence ‘ad fontes’, and John Wesley) differs slightly (a significant slightly, nevertheless slightly) from Calvinism. Both are still reformed. Okay, that’s my commercial for Remonstrance Podcast.
They did an episode called, “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Arminianism” based on an article of the same name from one Joseph Dongell. In it, one of the points that Dongell makes:
CLASSICAL ARMINIANS SUBSCRIBE TO A WIDER VIEW OF GOD’S GRACE THAN DO CLASSICAL CALVINISTS.
The classical Arminian is convinced by the witness of Scripture that God’s love for the whole world (and therefore for every human being — see John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, John 1:9) entails the inescapable conclusion that God actually pursues every person, through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, in the real desire to save every person.
Calvinists often reply that they too believe that God’s grace is universally displayed throughout the world in what is sometimes called Common Grace: the generosity and good will of God toward all humankind that allows all sorts of happiness and pleasure to be experienced in the lives of even the most sordid sinners.
But we must note that this claim about Common Grace stops short of allowing that God actually wills that all people be saved. Under close examination, classical Calvinists must admit that their theology prevents them from simply declaring that God loves every person and therefore wants to save every person.
(Click here for Remonstrance Podcast’s re-post of the article. The Full Article can’t be found on its original post linked at the beginning of Remonstrance Podcast’s posting.)
GRACE: IS IT SCOPE, POWER, BOTH, NEITHER?
While Arminians are put-off by the idea of a “limited atonement,” it has been stated that Arminians likewise believe in a limited atonement, just limited in a different way. If you’re already lost, maybe the following might help.
Calvinists believe that the atonement, that is, what Jesus accomplished at the Cross, namely His blood paying for our sins, was limited in its scope. It was limited in that for the person who ultimately ends up in hell, God’s blood didn’t have saving power for them. In other words, when Jesus shed His blood on the Cross on Calvary in 33AD, at that event, His blood was not spilled, period, personally, for every single person*… just for the elect, that is, those who would believe in Him personally for salvation, and furthermore Calvinists would assert those who believe in Jesus for salvation believe precisely and only because they were chosen by God in ages past to have a believing heart. Calvinists assert this because they’re afraid that for a person to exercise believing faith constitutes the idea that a person is somehow, in a small degree, working or contributing to their own salvation. (Paul would disagree with that thought, see Romans 4:3-5; where Paul defines faith – that is, a person having genuine belief in God for salvation – against works, not as works). So, to sum it up, Calvinists believe in a limited atonement because God’s only dying for the elect, He’s not dying, nor never intended to die or spill blood for people who wouldn’t accept His Son (because, Calvinists claim they were never made for that purpose to anyways. They were damned before they were born). Why spill blood needlessly? There are many positive reasons Calvinists claim this, the biggest I think Calvinists are worried about (maybe “worried about,” isn’t the best phrase, the biggest reason Calvinists are defending) is God gets what He wants. God wants a specific Bride. He died for that Bride. He’s going to get that Bride. If someone isn’t in heaven, it’s because that’s not who God wanted, because God gets what He wants.
*EVERY SINGLE PERSON
CALVINISTS CLAIM THAT THE UNIVERSAL STATEMENTS IN THE SCRIPTURE ARE REFERRING TO UNIVERSAL IN TERMS OF RACE AND ETHNICITY, JUST NOT PERSONS NUMERICALLY. GOD DIED FOR MANY, THE SHEEP, THE ELECT, THE BRIDE, JUST LITERALLY NOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN A CALVINIST PARADIGM.
The limitation, therefore, Arminians put on the atonement is just that. Arminians say they believe in an unlimited atonement, because Arminians believe God spilled blood for the whole world on the Cross. That is, from Adolf Hitler, to Judas, to Billy Graham, to John Calvin, to Jacob Arminius, to Vlad the Impaler, to Genghis Khan, to every single person, sinner, saint, the most heinous, to the most saintly, the blood was unlimited in scope. Every single person has access to saving blood in Christ at the Cross. However, the atonement in Arminian thinking is still limited. It’s limited in… I guess it’s power. That is, the access to this saving grace is by faith (to quote Romans 5:2). Furthermore, faith lies in the hands of the sinner graciously enabled by God. Arminians and Calvinists agree in this point: that God’s grace is the enabling factor for a person to have faith (see aforementioned statement from the Arminius Confession of 1621. it’s just that Arminians believe (a) grace is for every single person, and (b) God’s grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51, for example). The Arminian limitation on the atonement comes into play that, in that it is executed by saving faith, which means the opposite is true, it is nullified by unbelief. This is why, since I’m not the judge, for hypothetical reasons I’ll pick on me, if I wind up in hell, Arminians will say, “It’s not that God desired Kevin to be damned, nor is it that Kevin was damned before birth, but it’s because Kevin did not believe, he failed to trust in God for salvation.” As does the Calvinist belief in Limited Atonement has other broader ramifications, so does the Arminian belief in Unlimited Atonement. What Calvinists are afraid is the opposite here, for the Arminian, does God not get what He wants ultimately? Is His sacrifice insufficient for His desire? Is God not powerful to execute a plan that brings His desired outcome? Because Arminians read into the universal desire and will of God that He wants all to be saved.
THE REASON FOR THE DIVIDE
I’ve heard a Calvinist professor, I think smartly and wisely ascertain the crux of the divide between Calvinists and Arminians. When it comes down to it, the problem, the matter of the divide is “What do we make of lost people?” It’s a very pastoral, compassionate concern. The divide comes in answering that problem.
The Calvinist answer is this. To put it in simple terms: people are lost because God never intended to save them. Calvinists believe in two wills of God. I can’t remember the names of them, but I think it is a revealed will, and a secret will. The revealed will being that what’s laid out in the Bible. There are verses where it seems that God has a universal desire, such 1 Timothy 2:4 where it states plainly that God’s desire is that all people are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But then Calvinists believe in a secret will, and extract this hidden, secret will from places like Deuteronomy 29:29, and propose that though they affirm that the secret things belong to God secretly,
they have somehow managed to unveil one of those secret things (therefore it is no longer secret) they propose that one of those secret things is God’s unconditional, arbitrary election of some to salvation, others to damnation. Calvinists find comfort in this answer to lost souls, because it saves God’s power, and it reveals Him as accomplishing everything He desires to accomplish without being thwarted one iota by human plans. Not only did God triumph at the Cross, but He triumphed completely, winning victoriously everyone He desired to have in the first place, suffering no loss, period.
The Arminian answer to “what do we make about lost people,” is human blame entirely. Arminians who uphold the inerrancy of Scripture (like Arminius himself, like John Wesley) believe in 1 Timothy 2:4 un-apologetically, and state that when Paul said God desires all people to be saved, God meant it, desired it, and willed it, and provided for the possibility, period. It is entirely possible for every single person on the face of the earth, breathing, to be saved and go to heaven, today. Nothing is hindering that possibility but the human heart. Arminians believe also in Deuteronomy 29:29,
but we aren’t so brazen to assume that one of those secret things are no longer secret, but we believe the Scripture has not made this mysterious – who is saved and who isn’t. Believers are saved. Unbelievers aren’t saved. Unbelievers are unbelievers because they don’t believe, period.
AN ARMINIAN VIEW OF POWERFUL GRACE
I opened this post with my sentiments of having a Calvinist view of grace. Wow. What a grace. God’s going to get everything He wants done. God’s going to have His way in the end. Everyone who is to be His Bride will be His Bride. Everything will end in His design, purpose, and without any thwarts by humanity. If Calvinism is untrue, it seems like any other view of grace would just pale in comparison. What could compete with a view of such a power, than this ultimate, not-questioned, inevitable power that saves souls from hell, even if it’s not every soul, but if it was never God’s purpose, God’s not to blame, since human moral agents are to blame for their own peril. Nobody hurls insults to a rescuer who doesn’t save everyone in a rescue attempt, some casualties happen (let us not read into that too much, we’re not saying that God was incapable of saving everyone, we know He just didn’t want to save everyone, and Calvinists would probably also point out that the ones He did save to begin with were all kicking and screaming, they liked it in their peril, God had to drag them out).
If Arminians were correct, grace wouldn’t feel as powerful. If God desires all people to be saved, but can’t accomplish that because pesky, small, little humans can thwart His awesome will, can that God truly deliver? Is that God truly powerful?
Let us define grace, it has been called “loving kindness,” or unmerited favor. Calvinists call the drawing-grace-of-God irresistible, believing that predestined elect folks will be saved. It’s irresistible.
Like the Borg, when it comes to the grace of God, “resistance is futile.” Is a human-loving kindness irresistible? I know we’re not talking about humans, we’re talking about God, but just follow me: is a human-loving kindness irresistible? Suppose I was an awful husband, maybe my wife need not even suppose, but what if I was a jerk to her? What if she, being the better half, and better Christian than I, chose to love me despite my flaws, and gave me back-rubs, and – you know – the whole nine yards, would I eventually break? I believe it would be a choice on my part. I’ve met jerks who love to be jerks to the end, and die angry and vindictive, and unforgiving, and miserable because of it. Me, I’d probably give in, and maybe lighten up.
People are told to “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call… upon Him while He is near,” (Isaiah 55:6, MEV). Paul says in Acts that people, wherever and whenever they live, “should seek the Lord so perhaps they might reach for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:27).
Let me close in a story: I remember coming to tears in my car as I was listening to John Piper preach on irresistible grace for the elect (being the Calvinist that he is). He was making the point that if all we go on is human trajectory, that many sinners still sinning near their demise might not leave us much hope. If we all we have to hope on is their decision about Christ, what have we to bank on, if all we have is their lives’ trajectory to that point. I thought about wayward family members many of my congregants have. Living with ill-reputible characters, making shipwreck of their lives, perhaps a dose of drugs away from death at any given moment. Why yes, the Calvinist view that God can at any time draw a saint He has elected from ages past to faith would give hope! It’s not in the human’s hands. It’s in God’s hands, and by-golly if He wanted to save that poor, wayward soul a moment before their death, God could and decisively would. . . if it’s within His foreordained plans.
I have discovered that I can still have that view and be an Arminian. It is an irresponsible critique on Arminians by Calvinists to say that for the Arminian they don’t rely on God’s grace or His doing the saving if Arminians espouse the possibility that people can resist God’s grace. If I hand you a mansion, and then give you the right to say “no,” to my gift – you have still done nothing to merit the mansion. All you have within you, is the right of refusal. Why would you refuse the mansion?
That’s the point of division I mentioned above. Why do folks refuse God’s grace?
Grace is beginning to have another weight for me personally. Grace is weighty and powerful, in that now, nobody is beyond the reach of God. Nobody is beyond the love, kindness and pursuit of God. Perhaps the “grace” of the Calvinistic God is not “grace,” in its definable sense, but more-so coercion. In some of the Calvinists’ own language, they will state things like God is – again – dragging unwilling converts through the dirt for their own good to be saved. Scraping the grounds, but because God’s grace is irresistible, eventually they come. I don’t deny, I have had moments in my Christian walk where I was a pathetic cry-baby, not wanting to do the right thing but knowing I should do it. But grace is “loving-kindness.”
And God’s grace is pursuing every single soul on the face of the planet. Every single evangelical blog post that an atheist swipes up his Facebook feed that a Christian acquaintance post is a visible sign of the grace of God. Every church function that a church puts on with the design and desire to preach the Gospel at the end, or in the middle, or whenever and puts out invitations to non-believers, is a visible sign of the grace of God. Every Gideons Bible placed in a hotel room where adulterers meet to fornicate or adulterate, is the grace of God. Furthermore, should the atheist read the blog, should the nonbeliever come to the church function, should the adulterers read the Bible, true, powerful, Gospel-transforming, life-saving, soul-procuring salvation is within reach for each soul. Every soul has the ability, here, now, and until the consummation of time to find unmerited favor, salvation, and grace before God through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. It is there for the taking. Nothing need be done but acceptance.
This God who has saved the world is literally pursuing every single soul as we speak. Why? Because it’s His desire that all might be saved. And His heart to accomplish that is love, which by definition has never been coerced, just offered in hopes that it will be reciprocated.
All Scripture is from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.
[This article was taken from Kevin’s blog at https://kevinrkdavisblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/powerful-grace/, where comments can be made.]