The Biblical Doctrines of Grace (Part One)

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The word grace, from Genesis 6:8 to Revelation 22:21, is a word meaning “graciousness of manner or act” (literally), or “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (figuratively).1

Grace is a special favor bestowed upon an undeserving individual. Thus when a Christian minister quotes Paul as saying, “For it is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:8), he or she means that the one saved was saved not by merit but by grace, undeserved favor. This is how to use the word grace biblically. In this we do not go beyond its clear meaning, nor do we fall short of what the Bible teaches.

This is not, however, what Calvinists mean by the use of the word grace. They may teach their version of the “doctrines of grace,” but we believe they are not the Biblical Doctrines of Grace. For the Calvinist, if God does not impose His grace upon sinners in regeneration, then no one could be saved. “Imposed Grace” makes about as much sense as “causally determined free will action.”

But we must understand what is meant by imposed grace, for certainly, God’s grace does come to the sinner in a monergistic fashion; no sinner asks for God’s grace in conviction of sin by the Spirit of God, nor the hearing of the gospel of his or her salvation. Therefore, by imposed grace, we mean that act of God whereby He regenerates His elect so that they may exercise the faith in Christ granted to him or her (granted to the elect alone).

Roger Olson, in his Arminian Theology, writes, “Grace heals the deadly wound of sin and enables humans, who are otherwise in bondage of the will to sin, to respond freely to the message of the gospel. Grace brings God’s undeserved and unmerited favor to humans who exercise faith with repentance and trust in Christ alone for salvation.”2

The myth that Arminians find no room for grace in their theology is nothing short of a Calvinist’s attempt to construct a straw man, in order to validate his or her own version of grace, and there are many, many Calvinists doing such in their sermons, books, and Internet propaganda.

For example, Olson noted Michael Horton’s equating of Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism. In his mistaken point of view, “in Arminian theology God does not do all the saving; the individual person does at least some of it.”3 Olson wrote, “He sums up his whole argument against Arminianism with the declaration that ‘if one does not believe in the doctrine of unconditional election, it is impossible to have a high doctrine of grace.'”4

One would not be too far remiss in saying that, If one believes in the doctrine of unconditional election, it is impossible to have a high doctrine of the love of God! Or how about this one? If one believes in the doctrine of unconditional election, it is impossible to have a high doctrine of Scripture, since it claims that God’s desire, out of His immense love for humanity (John 3:16), is that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 33:11).

And Horton’s (as well as Sproul’s, MacArthur’s, Piper’s, and many other Calvinists’) equating Arminianism with semi-Pelagianism is completely unfounded:

Semi-Pelagianism= People can come to Christ Jesus by their natural ability.
Arminianism= No one can come to Christ Jesus apart from the grace of God.

Now, how is it that Arminianism is equated with semi-Pelagianism? It is not. But when a man has an agenda to promote his theology and makes an “alternative” system look bad (i.e. Arminianism) by equating it with a heterodox view (semi-Pelagianism), it makes his system (Calvinism) come out on top. We, by contrast, do not need to equate Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism in order to make it look bad. We can simply point out its own errors without linking it with heresy.

Again, Olson wrote, “Anyone who reads Arminius’s theology with a fair and open mind cannot miss his passionate commitment to the grace of God. Nowhere did he attribute any causal efficacy for salvation to human goodness or even will power. William Witt rightly says that ‘Arminius’s theology is throughout a theology of sola gratia. It has nothing in common with Semi-Pelagianism or Lutheran synergism.’

“Also, according to Witt, ‘Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God’s redemption in Christ, not through human effort.’ Arminius went out of his way to elevate grace as the sole efficient cause of salvation and even of the first exercise of a good will toward God, including the desire to receive the good news and respond positively to it.

“Internal grace as inward calling rather than outward, common or general grace was his focus. According to Arminius no person can even desire God apart from a special interior, renovating operation of grace.”5 Has any Calvinist anywhere and at any time ever told you that?

Michael Horton’s absurd statement that, in the Arminian system a sinner is co-redeemer, is not merely mistaken, it is slanderous. Only Jesus can save. And this salvation only comes by the grace of God. Yet, this salvation, at least from the Bible’s perspective, comes to a sinner by the instrument of faith. Nowhere is it taught in Scripture that faith in Christ Jesus is tantamount to a person saving himself! As a matter of fact, without faith in Jesus, no one can be saved (Acts 4:12).

And perhaps this is one aspect about God’s Grace, from the Calvinist’s perspective, that bothers me most: the Bible demands that only faith in Christ Jesus will justify and thus save a sinner. This means that the sinner must really, actually, practically do something in order to be saved: he or she must believe in Jesus Christ. From the Bible’s perspective, that is hardly passivity!

And by do something, we mean, not work for something, but believe in Someone. This faith is not a work (Rom. 4:4-5). So, the sinner does not work for salvation, but believes unto salvation. Note the difference.

After all, God’s creatures are reasonable creatures, not machines or automata. Grace comes to the one convicted of his or her sins by the Spirit of God (John 16:8-11). The powerful Gospel is presented by the Grace of God (Rom. 1:16), so that, by faith in Christ Jesus, a sinner can be saved (Rom. 1:16-17)

How does faith come to a sinner? Is it, as most Calvinists insist, by regeneration, as a particular and absolute gift? No. The Bible teaches that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:17 TNIV).

Again, Olson notes, “Even repentance and faith are gifts of God in traditional Arminian theology, although they are gifts that must be accepted by a bare decision not to resist them.”6

Understand what the Arminian means by, “Even repentance and faith are gifts of God.” We do not mean that they are imposed on someone by God in a strict, absolute sense, granted to someone because he or she was elected by God to receive those gifts. We mean that they are granted by God to the one who is being convicted by the Spirit of his or her sins, and when presented with the gospel. These “gifts,” however, may be resisted; thus we teach a resistible grace.

These are merely simple statements concerning the simple Gospel. If one gets these simple and basic teachings wrong, then it is no wonder how the rest of one’s soteriology (doctrine of salvation) gets off track. One cannot begin with a false premise and conclude with accurate statements of faith. Thus we believe one should be extremely careful in accepting the Calvinistic “doctrines of grace” before studying the Biblical Doctrines of Grace of Arminianism.

To be continued . . .

1 James Strong, “Dictionary of the Greek Testament,” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), 77.

2 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 160-161.

3 Ibid., 160.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 161-162.

6 Ibid., 159.