Maverick Victor Witlouw, of Sovereign Grace Messianic Blog, wrote a response to my article, “Why Irresistible Grace Doesn’t Work, and Why Prevenient Grace Does” [Responding to Steve Sewell’s Presentation of Prevenient Grace]. He happened to respond to an article where I probably said the least about this subject, as I have other articles where I deal with prevenient grace vs. irresistible grace in much greater detail. However, I have to admit that in writing this rebuttal, it caused me to think through this on a deeper level, resulting in a more biblically accurate interpretation. Although the adjustment is somewhat minor, I believe it actually presents a stronger case against Calvinism regarding this subject. So I’m thankful for the challenge presented to me, and for the refinement of my position that has emerged. Consequently, I’ll need to make this change in all the applicable articles I’ve written on this subject. Thus I will not be providing any links to those articles until they’ve been updated.
Below I’ll quote the part of my article that Witlouw has the biggest issue with, particularly the second paragraph. Then I’ll spend the remainder of this article responding to Witlouw and articulating the revised version of my position:
James 4:6 – “…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5 – “…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
The Arminian position of prevenient grace is in perfect harmony with these statements. On the other hand, they prove the Calvinist position of irresistible grace to be false. How so? First I’ll explain why prevenient grace works. As we’ve already discussed, in our unregenerate state, we are slaves of sin, and so our wills must be freed so that we’re able to either respond in faith or reject in pride. In other words, we’re placed in a position where we’re able to go either way. Those who respond to the gospel message in the humility of faith, are given the “grace” of salvation. Those who reject the truth in pride, He “resists.” So we see prevenient grace working in harmony with what James and Peter said about grace, humility and pride.
We see no such harmony with Calvinism’s irresistible grace. Reason being, is that this doctrine requires God to extend grace to the proud – completely contrary to what James and Peter taught. Calvinists will admit that it’s not possible for a sinner to humble themselves before God apart from regeneration. They also make it clear that regeneration is completely by God’s grace, or rather, irresistible grace. Yet Calvinism has God granting the grace of regeneration to the prideful so they can respond to the truth in the humility of faith. In other words, God gives grace to the proud to make them humble! This is exactly backwards to the truth that both James and Peter affirms.
So then, the humility of faith must come before the grace of regeneration. The only way that’s done, is via prevenient grace.
– “Shocking defenses” –
Mr. Witlouw opens by referring to the “shocking defenses” of God’s grace that the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA) “sometimes promote” on their website, and of course, my article is one of them. “Shocking” is the inconsistency and assumptions of Calvinism, and I would enthusiastically put the scholars and Bible teachers of SEA up against the best that Calvinism has to offer. Furthermore, it seems more often than not that when discussing the doctrinal positions of Arminianism, it’s clear that Calvinists don’t have an accurate understanding of Arminian theology.
“Steve Sewell, in one article on the Society For Evangelical Arminian site, claims the following:
“We see no such harmony with Calvinism’s irresistible grace. Reason being is that this doctrine requires God to extend grace to the proud — completely contrary to what James and Peter taught.”
Sewell utilizes James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5. He asserts that since God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble, that this must necessarily preclude the biblically Reformed teaching of sovereign grace. How should we respond to this? Well, before responding, I think it is necessary to remember that no effort has ever been put in his examination of these texts. Why do these texts do away with the biblically solid teaching of God’s sovereign grace? Proof texting can never establish a truth, something which Arminians are regularly guilty of.”
In regard to Witlouw’s accusation that “no effort has ever been put in his examination of these texts,” how does he know that? I’ll talk about this later. In regard to his accusation about “proof-texting,” he’s preaching to the choir. No one understands the importance of interpreting passages within their proper context more than I do and is something I convey to my readers constantly. My writings in general reflect that practice. The reason I’m an Arminian is because it’s an honest and consistent theology that majors on interpreting Scripture within proper context. I sincerely don’t see that in Calvinist theology. John 6:45-45 is a perfect example of their proof-texting. They completely disregard the context of the chapter and of the book of John as a whole. Calvinists are normally very good about teaching God’s Word according to proper rules of interpretation, but when it comes to the doctrine of election, all of that seems to go out the window. What I mostly see are interpretations that merely reflect a positional bias rather than careful exegesis. But this is really a discussion for another time.
I want to say something about his phrase: “biblically solid teaching of God’s sovereign grace.” Calvinism’s teaching on God’s grace is only biblically sound to them. Arminians have no problem refuting their position on grace. I like how Witlouw includes the use of the word “sovereign.” Calvinists talk about the sovereignty of God as if it’s a Calvinistic doctrine. The only thing that’s Calvinistic about it is their understanding of it. Arminians have a viewpoint of God’s sovereignty that is in harmony with the holy attributes through which He has revealed Himself. Calvinism’s deterministic view of God’s sovereignty is completely out of harmony with the character of God.
Regarding James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5:
Witlouw suggests that I didn’t consider the context of these verses because of the fact that both James and Peter were addressing Christians – as if that automatically invalidates my argument. However, neither is true. Obviously James and Peter were talking to believers (although James may have been referring to the unsaved in Ja 4:8 where he uses the term “sinners,” which is normally used to refer to the unsaved in Scripture), but they were taking a universal truth and applying it to the believers they were addressing, which is why I made the following statement about these verses in one of my articles on this subject:
“God’s law of grace and humility doesn’t pertain to believers alone, but is universal, as seen in the lives of such ungodly men as Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:28-33; 5:20-21), Belshazzar (Dan 5:17-30), Herod (Acts 12:20-25), and in the book of Obadiah. This law is clear, that God opposes or resists the prideful, but gives grace only to the humble.”
“Secondly, the Arminian argument crumbles when we realize that even in Arminian soteriology prevenient grace precedes faith. Though the prevenient grace of Arminianism is not regeneration, the grace administered is still before faith and would necessarily be extended to all men even though those persons are “proud.” Of necessity, the argument that Sewell presents, if taken seriously would lead to not only a refutation of Reformed theology but Arminian soteriology as well. His argumentation upon this point should be discarded, unless we entertain the refutation of Arminianism.
At the time I first presented this position (long before I wrote the article he’s responding to), I too considered the point Witlouw makes above, and I did provide an explanation of the difference between the two in other articles, but not in the article we’re discussing. However, after reassessing my position, I’ve come to realize the inadequacy of that explanation. Since I’ve updated my position on this, that explanation is no longer relevant, and therefore, no need to discuss it here. Instead, I will focus completely on the updated version, which I present in the following three points:
1 – James and Peter are quoting Proverbs 3:34, which reveals a universal truth about pride and humility, and clearly seen throughout Scripture. God, in general, deals with mankind according to this law. God hates pride and loves humility. However, this universal truth should not be viewed as all-encompassing, where He deals with every single human being according to this truth (God being God and people being so needy, God deals with mankind as He sees fit) – but should be viewed, in the general sense, of man’s status with God and how He works in people’s lives. It should be obvious that both James and Peter were instructing their audience of Christians according to this universal truth. The idea that this declaration is uniquely Christian is senseless. Who could believe that? Clearly, they were simply taking a universal truth and applying it to the believers they were addressing.
However, there is an application of this law or truth where it is all-encompassing, where God does adhere strictly to this law each and every time with each and every person, and that is as it pertains specifically to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to spiritual truth in general. Of course, Calvinists believe that for “the elect,” there can be no turning away in pride. I’ll deal with that later.
Before I discuss this universal truth as it applies to the gospel message and salvation, I want to address this statement by Witlouw: “Furthermore, the grace implied in both texts are not a soteriological grace.” He suggests that there are different types of grace, as if God has a toolbox with grace-tools marked as soteriological grace, empowering grace, endurance grace, gifting grace, witnessing grace, etc. This is a misunderstanding of the grace of God. Grace is an inherent attribute of God. All of God’s attributes are inherent and is what makes God who He is. Thus there is only one grace that flows from God — but He applies it in many different ways as the situation and the need calls for.
So then, Witlouw suggests that the truth presented in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 does not pertain to salvation, simply because they were dealing with an issue with Christians. But that’s nonsense. The general truth that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, demands – above all things – the necessity of its particular application to salvation. Does God grant the grace of salvation to those who humble themselves in faith? Of course He does. Does God oppose those who reject the gospel message in pride? Of course He does, whether James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 refer to salvation in their respective contexts or not — it’s still a universal application of this law of pride and humility. Everyone who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ must turn away from pride and respond in the humility of faith. Jesus said that “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Unless people humble themselves before God as little children, salvation is not possible. Jesus also said: “This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil” (Jn 3:19). People don’t come to faith in Christ because of the fact that they “love darkness rather than the light.” People love their sin so much that they’re not willing to turn away from those things in humble faith. Paul, too, said that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Ro 1:18; ESV). People suppress the truth of Christ because they would rather live a life of unrighteousness. In pride they cling to their sinful lifestyle and their own way, unwilling to humble themselves before God. God opposes those who reject the truth in pride. Unless they someday respond to the truth in the humility of faith, they will never experience God’s grace of salvation. Over and over throughout Scripture we see that one must believe in order to receive forgiveness of sins. Faith and humility cannot be separated. One cannot believe apart from humility.
[By the way, it’s important to note that the above scriptures reveal that the reason people don’t come to faith in Christ is not because they’re not among “the elect,” but because they don’t humble themselves as little children – because they love darkness rather than light – because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They also reveal that God’s grace is resistible].
With this universal truth in mind – and in the context of the gospel message and salvation through Christ – we need to see how it relates to both the Arminian view of grace and the Calvinist view of grace.
Prevenient grace reveals truth in order to provide the opportunity for humility unto salvation. Irresistible grace via regeneration not only reveals truth, but also eliminates all possibility of pride and rejection. In other words, Calvinism has God taking pride out of the picture and granting (causing) humility in its place. Without this grace of humility, how many would reject Christ in pride and die in their sins? Calvinists would answer, everyone — which just proves my point. God simply can’t ignore pride, because of the fact that He “opposes the proud.” The pride of rejection that God sees in sinners before regeneration, prevents Him from granting the grace of regeneration and humility and salvation. How many people humble themselves before God upon hearing the gospel the first time? I think it’s fair to say, not many. Again, from the Calvinist perspective, how many people would turn to Christ in the humility of faith if God didn’t regenerate them? No one, according to Calvinists. However, God cannot overlook the pride of rejection that He sees. From the Calvinist perspective, how many times does a person reject the gospel message before God regenerates them so they can respond in faith? I doubt if there would be very many Calvinists who would disagree that a person may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ many times before God regenerates them so they can believe unto salvation. The fact that many people reject Christ over and over and over before he or she finally receives Christ as Lord and Savior, shows that pride is at work. Thus granting them the grace of regeneration and the grace of humility, would require God to violate His own law.
Arminianism teaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ is accompanied by prevenient grace, that God is at work in a person to convict and reveal truth and enable faith — but not irresistibly so. Everyone hearing the gospel message has an opportunity to respond in humility of faith or reject in pride. However, in Calvinism, a person can hear the gospel message many times and reject it in willful pride for many years before God finally regenerates them. This reveals an inconsistency with what the Bible teaches about the offer and rejection of life through Christ, that God opposes the proud. Calvinism has God giving the grace of regeneration and the humility of faith to those who previously rejected Him in pride, perhaps for many years. Those who hear the gospel message are accountable to respond in faith. If they refuse, it’s because of pride. Whatever the reason for one’s rejection, pride is always the root cause. To say otherwise would contradict such Scriptures as those I quoted earlier (Matt 18:3; Jn 3:19; Ro 1:18). As long as a person continues to reject Christ, God will continue to oppose. It’s only when a person humbles himself before God in faith, that He extends the grace of salvation. To grant the grace of regeneration would be a violation of His own law, because regeneration is tantamount to salvation. It’s rewarding pride with salvation. It has God ignoring pride, and granting humility in its place. Senseless.
On the other hand, Arminianism makes perfect sense. The gospel message is presented, the Holy Spirit does the necessary work in bringing about conviction and revealing truth and freeing the will and enabling faith, and then extends the grace of salvation to those who humble themselves in faith. Likewise, God refuses those who refuse Him in pride. This is a very simple truth that Calvinism severely complicates.
2 – Not only does Calvinism have God ignoring pride, and then making prideful rejection impossible (after regeneration) by giving the humility of faith in its place (via irresistible grace), but I contend that in order for humility to be genuine, there must be the availability and possibility of pride. And again, I’m referring to what takes place after regeneration. If pride is not present or is not an option, how then, can there be humility? Humility must be measured by something else. There must be the possibility of the response of pride in order for the response of humility to be revealed as such. Yielding in humility, necessarily, requires a turning from that which counters. True humility is defined by that which would challenge one to respond in the other direction. Yet, in Calvinism, upon regeneration, pride is not even a possibility, which reveals a humility that is illegitimate. The Calvinist version of humility only works for God. Humility is an inherent attribute of God, and therefore, doesn’t need the possibility of pride to validate His humility. But we’re not God. As sinful beings, whether born-again or not, there must be the availability and possibility of pride in order for the response of humility to be seen as such. The Calvinist version of humility is false.
3 – There’s yet another reason why the Calvinist version of grace is invalid, and that has to do with their inconsistent view of regeneration as it applies to the response of obedience in a person’s life. As Christians, even though we’ve been regenerated, sin and pride and self-will have not been eradicated. Pride and self-will is still a present possibility in our lives. Here’s a quote from my article, The Fallacy That Regeneration Guarantees Obedience of Faith:
It’s a total fallacy that regeneration always results in the obedience of faith unto salvation (Acts 6:7; Ro 1:5; Ro 16:26). While Calvinists may have an issue with the idea that sinners can resist the Holy Spirit as He’s drawing them to faith in Christ, what do we do as Christians? Does the fact that we’ve been born-again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit guarantee that we will always obey the Word of God or the promptings of the Spirit? What Calvinist would answer in the affirmative? If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any sin among God’s people; we would all be living perfect lives before God. But the truth is, we walk in the influences of the Spirit, not in the irresistable control of the Spirit, as though we had no will of our own. While we as believers are drawn to obedience, it’s not in a manner that locks our will into submission. We’re given the freedom to choose which way we will go — and sometimes, if not often, we choose to go our own way. Again, what Calvinist could disagree with that?
Therefore, why would it be any different with the “regenerated” sinner who doesn’t even know Christ? Regeneration is the same at every point in one’s life, and it’s the same Holy Spirit who works within a regenerated life at every point. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that the composition or the operation of regeneration changes at any point in a person’s life.
So then, Calvinists would have us believe that a person is under the irresistible control of the Holy Spirit one moment, and then suddenly in a resistible state the very next — that the sinner is irresistibly drawn to the obedience of faith, but as a believer he or she is then put into the place where they’re free to choose to obey or not to obey.
We see again that the Calvinist version of God’s grace demonstrates a serious inconsistency. Moreover, I contend that Calvinist irresistible grace goes beyond the purview of grace. Rightly defined, grace is Divine favor. I don’t believe irresistible grace can be correctly defined as such. I think a more accurate term would be Divine exertion, or irresistible exertion. In the Calvinist scheme, God not only regenerates, but He overpowers a sinner’s will so that at the moment of conversion he or she has no will of their own, but God exerting conformity to His own will. At that moment in time, they lose their true identity, and in effect, it’s God doing the believing for them. Once the decision for Christ has been made, they then regain their true identity and once again are given the freedom to choose according to their own will. As discussed above, as born-again Christians, at no time throughout our lives does the Holy Spirit irresistibly “draw” us into obedience. He never overpowers our will so that we have no will of our own. But that is exactly what irresistible grace must do to “draw” a person to faith in Christ. But then if a person’s will is overpowered or overcome, then according to true definition, a person is not being drawn, but being subdued, being brought under subjection. Calvinism has God overlooking pride before regeneration and overpowering the will after regeneration (or upon regeneration) in order to prevent pride. This is not the biblical definition of God’s grace.
Conclusion to the “Three Points”
Let’s be clear, as sinners, we’re rooted in pride. But we’re also spiritually blind. If the Holy Spirit didn’t open our eyes to the truth, no one would ever be saved. Thus what we’re talking, in regard to prevenient grace, is the opportunity to respond to revealed truth, either according to the humility of faith or the pride of rejection.
Therefore, even though prevenient grace is given to the proud, it doesn’t conflict with the fundamental principle of “opposition to the proud but grace to the humble,” because it, ultimately, still allows the sinner to respond between the two options of humility or pride. When discussing this with another SEA member, he gave an illustration that I think is helpful:
“PG does not violate the principle of “opposition to the proud but grace to the humble” because everyone is proud in their depraved state, too proud to receive the gospel. There is no possibility of humility that would receive grace apart from grace to make humility possible. It is sort of like a charity that says it gives financial rewards to those who use their money well among the totally destitute (to encourage proper money use). But the totally destitute do not have money to use well. So that principle does not apply to the fact that the charity also gives all the destitute that it serves a basic amount of money to meet their needs. It only kicks in once the people are able to use money, and show poor or good usage.”
Calvinism doesn’t allow the same options of pride or humility. The difference between the opportunity to respond either way, or having one of those two options removed, is no small distinction between prevenient grace and irresistible grace (via regeneration). There cannot be faith without humility. There also cannot be humility without the option of prideful rejection. What makes humility, humility, is the fact that pride is being set aside. We can only make a humble decision when we first set aside pride. Turning to God in humility, means that we are turning away from pride.
However, in Calvinism, there’s not even the possibility of clinging to one’s pride. Therefore, how can one turn away from that which isn’t even possible? If it’s not possible to turn away from, then it’s not possible to turn to. Clearly the option to go either way must be present — one validates the other, which invalidates Calvinism’s position of regeneration and irresistible grace.
The bottom line is, even if James and Peter never made that statement about pride and humility, it remains a biblical truth that God only grants salvation to those who humble themselves before Christ in faith. Therefore, the principle of James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, as it relates to salvation, is clearly taught in the Bible whether it’s specifically stated or not.
I believe the points made here reveal Calvinist regeneration and irresistible grace to be a totally flawed and confused representation of biblical doctrine. It disregards pride and overpowers one’s will, which results in a false humility — turning God’s grace into something that confutes the very definition of it. It’s easy to see that the Arminian view of God’s grace doesn’t have all the issues that the Calvinist version has. This type of inconsistency is common in Calvinist theology.
- Witlouw suggests that prevenient grace puts a person in “spiritual neutrality,” and that they’re neither a “spiritual slave” nor “spiritually alive.” Thus he doesn’t understand how a person can make a decision either way since “one’s moral inclination is not biased towards anything,” but “passive.”
“Spiritual neutrality?” The prevenient work of the Holy Spirit hardly puts a person in a place of spiritual neutrality. The Spirit of God is powerfully moving to open spiritually blind eyes, to pierce the darkness with the light of Christ, to bring conviction of sin and of the need for forgiveness, to free the will and enable faith, calling and drawing and wooing the sinner to Christ. He graciously influences the will, but does not overpower it. This is the true, biblical description of Divine grace.
Just because Witlouw doesn’t understand how the Holy Spirit enables a sinner to see and accept the truth in Christ doesn’t make it any less true. Consider the following: Adam and Eve were created without a sinful nature. They had never known sin. Their total inclination was toward obedience to God…..yet they still had the capacity to choose disobedience. – and of course, they did. This is something that is not easy to understand, but that doesn’t make it any less true. God spoke to Cain in a manner that there was no mistaking that God was speaking and that he was hearing – who was unregenerate, by the way – encouraging him to do the right thing, to present his offering to God according to His plan, but he refused (Gen 4). Again, really hard to understand how someone can refuse God when He makes Himself known in such a clear and personal manner. But it really happened. Furthermore, the fact that Cain could hear God and was able to make a decision according to God’s will shows that one doesn’t need to be regenerated in order to hear God’s voice or choose the truth. This is a perfect example of resistible prevenient grace at work. This is a truth that was revealed from the very beginning of mankind.
Truth doesn’t depend on Witlouw’s understanding, nor does it depend on the understanding of anyone else. But that the Holy Spirit convicts and enlightens and enables apart from regeneration is what the Bible certainly teaches. Please read the following excerpt from the Society of Evangelical Arminians website. I encourage you to read the whole “FACTS of Salvation” article, by Dr. Brian Abasciano [FACTS]:
The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace:
Freed to Believe by God’s Grace (the F in FACTS) [Cf. Articles 3-4 of the 5 Articles of the Remonstrance]
Continuing Jesus’ mission to save the world, the Holy Spirit has come to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Even though unbelievers “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18), the Lord opens people’s hearts to respond positively to the gospel message (Acts 16:14) and his kindness leads those with hard and impenitent hearts toward repentance (Rom 2:4-5). In his sovereignty, he has even positioned people for the very purpose “that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27; NASB). In sum, God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith as he draws all people toward faith in Jesus, pierces the darkness of their hearts and minds with the shining of his light, enlightens their minds, communicates his awesome power with the gospel that incites faith, woos them with his kindness, convicts them by his Spirit, opens their hearts to heed his gospel, and positions them to seek him as he is near to each one.
All of this is what is known in traditional theological language as God’s prevenient grace. The term “prevenient” simply means “preceding.” Thus, “prevenient grace” refers to God’s grace that precedes salvation, including that part of salvation known as regeneration, which is the beginning of eternal spiritual life granted to all who trust in Christ (John 1:12-13). Prevenient grace is also sometimes called enabling grace or pre-regenerating grace. This is God’s unmerited favor toward totally depraved people, who are unworthy of God’s blessing and unable to seek God or trust in him in and of themselves. Accordingly, Acts 18:27 indicates that we believe through grace, placing grace preveniently (i.e. logically prior) to faith as the means by which we believe. It is the grace that, among other things, frees our wills to believe in Christ and his gospel. As Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
- Witlouw makes the claim that the consequence of prevenient grace would be “boasting,” that it’s a position based on “merit.”
The idea that Arminian soteriology is man-centered and promotes boasting is a worn out accusation that has no basis whatsoever, biblically or otherwise. In my opinion, Calvinism by far makes one more susceptible to boasting. I address this idea that Arminianism is man-centered and promotes boasting elsewhere. Here’s a quote from one of my articles:
Calvinists can’t accept the Arminian view, because they see it as meritorious, something to boast in. But as I explained above, it’s an enabling work of the Spirit of God. So how is that meritorious?
Consider the following:
– It was God who chose to create mankind, even knowing what it would cost
– It was God who chose to save mankind from their sins.
– It was God who chose the plan of salvation.
– It was God who chose His Son to be that plan.
– It was God who chose to save anyone who came to Him through faith in
– It was Christ who shed His blood and died on the cross for our sins.
– It was Christ who was raised from the dead.
– It’s God who provides the enabling grace for faith and humility.
– It’s God who provides forgiveness of sins.
– It’s God who performs the miracle of the new birth.
– It’s God who raises us to new life in Christ and seats us with Him.
– It’s God who sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
Where is the “I” in all that? You won’t find it. Our salvation is totally a gift of God’s grace.
Salvation is a gift of love that God offers to us freely. It’s a gift that is to be freely accepted or freely rejected like any other gift. How is responding to God’s love meritorious? God is not a puppet-master, as some actually believe. God desires that His love be freely received and freely returned, not forced.
Considers these examples: If we get two feet of snow, and my neighbor offers to plow my driveway for me, and I consent, how can I take credit for something he did, just because I agreed to his offer? If someone offers to buy me lunch, how do I take credit for something he did, just because I accepted his offer? If someone offers me a Christmas present, and I willingly receive it, how is it that I can take any credit for that gift?
Salvation is all of God. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life is offered to us as a gift. Like any other gift, we simply receive it. Or we choose to reject it. There is no sharing of glory is such an arrangement. It all belongs to Christ.
Yet, no matter how clear Arminians make this point, Calvinists continue to insist that our position is a means of boasting. However, when you stop and think about it, the Calvinist position provides far more reason to boast than the Arminian position. Who’s going to have more of a tendency to boast, the one who discovers that he was among the few that Christ died for out of all mankind (leaving the rest without hope), or the one who discovers that Christ died for every human being and that salvation is offered as a gift to every human being (putting us all on an equal plane)? Let’s be honest.
I praise God for my salvation. I know that what I have in Christ is all His doing. There’s nothing in me that could have atoned for my own sins. There’s nothing I could have done to build a bridge to God. It’s not possible that I ever could have come up with a plan of salvation of my own. Furthermore, I was spiritually unable to humble myself before God in faith. It took a work of the Holy Spirit within in me for that to happen.
Moreover, the idea that Arminian soteriology promotes boasting, is contrary to what the Bible teaches about faith. Calvinists claim that if faith is exercised according to a free will (freed by the Holy Spirit), then that takes away from God’s glory, and allows man to boast. They view both works and faith as meritorious. However, that idea conflicts with the essence of faith, which has an inseparable unity with humility. There is no such thing as faith apart from humility. Humility is the very substance of faith. Thus it’s not possible for faith and boasting to co-exist.
- Witlouw believes that the only “biblical solution” to total depravity is irresistible grace. He also makes the claim that prevenient grace is not found in the Scriptures.
Irresistible grace may be a “solution,” but it’s certainly not a biblical solution, as we’ve seen throughout this study. Also, the claim that prevenient grace is a doctrine that’s not found in the Scriptures, simply isn’t true, as we’ve already seen. On the contrary, while prevenient grace can be seen in many passages of the Bible, the idea of irresistible grace has to be forced or assumed in order to comply with the Calvinist position on election. I again invite you to read the section “Freed To Believe By God’s Grace,” in “The FACTS of Salvation” from the Society of Evangelical Arminians website: The FACTS of Salvation.
One of the texts in the New Testament that reveals prevenient grace, is John 6:44, the same verse that Calvinists claim to teach irresistible grace. Here’s an excerpt from “FACTS” about this verse:
[Text being discussed below is Nehemiah 9:20-31]
The text affirms that God gave his Spirit to instruct Israel (9:20a) and that God sent his prophets and warned Israel for the purpose of turning them back to him. God purposed his actions to turn Israel back to him/his Law, yet they rebelled. This shows God allowing his purpose to not come to pass because of allowing human beings a choice of whether to yield to his grace or not. Intriguingly, the word translated “bore” in Neh 9:30 uses a Hebrew word that usually means something like “draw, drag, pull” and gets translated in the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the early church with the same word used in John 6:44a (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”). A better translation of Neh 9:30 would be, “Many years you drew them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear.” The text speaks of a resistible divine drawing that seeks to bring people to the Lord in repentance.
[Note: By doing a search for John 6:44 or irresistible grace on the SEA website, you will find many articles dealing with this subject.]
I think two of the clearest examples of resistible prevenient grace in the New Testament, is Romans 10:16-18 and Hebrews 3:
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” ESV (Ro 10:16-18)
We see prevenient grace at work in the preaching of the Word of God, which makes faith in Christ possible, but does not always result in faith, as Paul points out in verses 16 and 18. This reveals a grace that is resistible. In order to get around what’s plainly stated here, and to turn this into irresistible grace, I think one has to go way out of their way to try and make a case for that.
These Romans verses have a parallel passage in Hebrews 3:
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. ESV (He 3:7-19) [discussion continues in chapter 4]
While the author of Hebrews is addressing Christians, and while his concern is that some among them may resist the truth and ultimately fall away from the faith, he refers back to the Old Testament during the forty years of wilderness, how the people resisted the voice of God (prevenient grace) and failed to “enter into His rest.” They resisted the word of God that was delivered to them through Moses. What the author of Hebrews reveals is that the truth that was delivered through Moses, didn’t result in faith among most of the people. Using that as his example, he revealed that the voice of God could also be resisted among these believers, which could lead to unbelief in the truth, which would result in the forfeiture of ultimate salvation (failing to “enter into His rest”) — again revealing that truth can be resisted, by both unbelievers and believers alike. Consideration of the two examples makes it clear that the voice of God (truth) can be resisted via a free will.
Before and during and after conversion, we retain the will to choose to go God’s way or to go our own way. At no point does God overpower our will and replace it with His own will. Regeneration places us in the influences of the Holy Spirit, but never under total control (as with a robot) to where we lose the freedom of will that gives us our very identity. We each have a personal identity that is linked directly to our individual wills. If we lose that even for a moment, we become someone we’re not. Conformity of our wills to the will of God is a growing process that continues throughout our lives, which still requires the personal yielding of of our wills to His.
Conclusion – I believe the points made in this article reveal Calvinist regeneration and irresistible grace to be a totally flawed and confused representation of biblical doctrine. It disregards pride and overpowers one’s will, which results in a false humility — turning God’s grace into something that confutes the very definition of it.
Original article Here.