What is God’s grace? It is several things. It includes the fact that Jesus died for you, so that your sins can be forgiven, if you will meet His condition of placing your faith and trust in Him. (John 3:16) God’s grace is also the condition of receiving salvation apart from the basis of one’s performance under the works of the Law, and belief in Christ is how you enter into that grace.
Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Titus 3:3-8: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.”
Sometimes Calvinists get the idea that grace can only be grace if it is administered irresistibly. However, consider the way in which Jesus illustrated grace in the parable of the Prodigal Son at Luke 15:11-32. The father did not force his son to stay against his will, and the father was not required to take his son back once he returned home but did so anyway.
Grace is shown when God answers prayer, or when God sees a king’s tears and adds 14 years on to his life, or when God sees a sick man of 38 years who laments that he has no man to help him into the water when an angel stirs the water and then God becomes that man for him and heals him, or when God provides forgiveness to a woman caught in adultery who was otherwise about to be stoned to death, or when a dying man asks that God remember him when He enters into His kingdom. Grace is marked by compassion, rather than Calvinistic irresistibility.
Dave Hunt: “But grace cannot be forced upon anyone or it would not be grace. Thus, it takes the power of choice for man to assent to God’s grace and to receive the gift of salvation God graciously offers.”176
Dave Hunt: “God is not in any way obligated to provide salvation for anyone. Yet the Bible repeatedly makes it clear that God’s gracious purpose is for all mankind to be saved: ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth…. Christ Jesus…gave himself a ransom for all….’ (1 Timothy 2:4-6).”177
So, for God to be gracious to all men, as per John 3:16, bore no external obligation, except God’s own internal pleasure to be gracious. In fact, the question of whether or not God’s grace is owed to all is rendered moot by the fact that God already made His choice to be gracious to all.
The fact that some are not saved is reflective of man, not God, since God extends a well-meant offer of the gospel to all men.
We say that someone acted with grace whenever they had justification to act more harshly but instead chose to act more charitably, and that about sums up Calvary, since God had justification to judge all mankind but instead chose to act more charitably by providing the fallen world with a Savior so that it be redeemed instead of condemned. From the Calvinist perspective, however, grace is only grace when it is irresistible, that is, when it is effectual by overcoming resistance and guaranteeing that it is applied, apart from the autonomous, libertarian human free-will to either consent to receive or reject it. Hence, Calvinists cannot consider an open invitation of a well-meant offer of the gospel to be truly gracious.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “It still seems that if God gives grace to one person, in the interest of fairness he ‘ought’ to give grace equally to another. It is precisely this ‘oughtness’ that is foreign to the biblical concept of grace. Among the mass of fallen humanity, all guilty of sin before God and exposed to his justice, no one has any claim or entitlement to God’s mercy. If God chooses to grant mercy to some of that group, this does not require that he give it to all.”178
In other words, if God owed grace to everyone then it would no longer be grace. (This logic then justifies grace only being showed to an elect class.) However, one must consider such statements in connection with Calvinism’s underlying doctrine of exhaustive determinism, in which Calvinists teach that God decreed “whatsoever comes to pass,” including the sin that left mankind morally wounded in the first place. In other words, Calvinism has God injuring all humanity by having decreed the Fall, and then picks which victims to rescue, in order to appear gracious.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “God could have chosen not to save anyone. He has the power and authority to execute his righteous justice by saving nobody. In reality he elects to save some, but not all. Those who are saved are beneficiaries of his sovereign grace and mercy. Those who are not saved are not victims of his cruelty or injustice; they are recipients of justice.”179
James White: “The wonder of God’s act of predestination is not that He justly condemns rebel sinners who love their sin and spit in His face on a daily basis. The wonder is that He actually quells the rebellion in the hearts of innumerable rebel sinners and solely from grace works the miracles of regeneration, removing their hearts of stone and given them hearts of flesh.”180
When Calvinists suggest that it is a wonder or miracle that God chose to save anyone at all, namely Calvinism’s elect, when yet He could have chosen to save “nobody,” it is essentially an attempt to set the bar of God’s mercy to zero, so we can all feel better about an eternal decree to unconditionally forsake and damn a multitude of non-elect souls.
Steven Hitchcock: “We ought to stop and question a gospel that proclaims, ‘The wonder is not that He withholds mercy from some, but that He should be gracious to any.’ It sounds so spiritual, so humble, so weighty, and awesome, and yet it is a lie. Because of Calvinism we have actually come to think that God’s great willingness to be gracious is more unlikely than likely.”181
Which does God desire to display more? Mercy or wrath? Ezekiel 18:23 shows that God desires to display His mercy more than His wrath:
Ezekiel 18:23: “‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’”
However, in Calvinism, this verse might as well say: “‘Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘Absolutely! It is a wonder that I should be merciful to anyone at all.’” In this way, Calvinism does a poor job of capturing the heart of God.
What do Calvinists believe?
When one examines the sinfulness of man compared to the holiness of God, then it is indeed a wonder that God saves any.
In Calvinism, God is able to look at injustice and deal with it without ever having to show mercy. In other words, in Calvinism, God can be merciful even if He never showed mercy at all. But how is one merciful while withholding it? Celebrating divine justice and holiness by stripping away divine mercy leaves us with a God devoid of love and goodness.
Psalms 145:8-9: “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.”
Romans 11:32: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
Still, Calvinists argue that God didn’t have to save anyone. Why do Calvinists persist in pushing that notion? The idea that God doesn’t have to save anyone is used to acclimate potential converts for Calvinism with the idea that it was never God’s good intention to save everyone and so we shouldn’t expect it. (In Calvinism, salvific mercy is relegated to Calvinism’s “elect” alone.) Since it’s true that raw justice does not demand showing mercy, withholding mercy would be inconsistent with God’s other traits of love and goodness, and true to form, God the Son showed that He would rather suffer and die on a cross than allow someone to perish with no hope at all.
176 What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (Bend, Oregon: The Berean Call, 2006), 233.
177 What Love is This? Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God (Bend, Oregon: The Berean Call, 2006), 258.
178 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 150.
179 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 150-151.
180 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 19.
181 Recanting Calvinism (Xulon Press, 2011), xxvi-xxvii.