The Reciprocal Dynamic of Grace

, posted by Eric Landstrom

A reciprocal dynamic of acting and reacting occurs in any relationship between persons. If we lived in a clockwork universe operating under Calvinist assumptions of predestinating decrees, then we would be little more than very complicated turing machines modeled after game theory, like von Neumann’s automation of cellular activity. At issue then is whether or not a living, dynamic relationship exists between a computer program and its creator?

Calvinist theology underscores that God has meticulously and exhaustively predestinated everything both good and bad. One result from Calvinist doctrine of predestination is the unique understanding that Calvinists hold when they affirm that God alone saves. In the Calvinist sense, God is the single driving force behind the faith and love the chosen elect harbor toward God because God alone has manufactured the elects’ faith and love. So important is it that God monergistically works that Calvinists have effectively written out and forgotten that all relationships are in point of fact synergistic. If any “relationship” isn’t synergistic, then it is said to be one-sided, and one-sided relationships are both sad and unhealthy.

But God is personable and so too are we also personable. As such, we should expect that, as a person, God interacts with us on a personal level and in a personal way. While we know that we unable to reach out to God without God first helping us, Calvinists have forgotten that God’s grace is stronger than the sin of this world. As such, when God reaches out to us, we can respond—but just like any healthy relationship, we needn’t respond to God by necessity. But if we respond to God’s reconciling ministry of grace, and our response is theocentric and sustained by continuously drawing upon the strength of grace received by God, then God continues to augment the process with more grace; and by augmenting the process the relationship between the creature and God grows.

But relationships are a dual and reciprocal process. In the Bible St. Paul calls the process synergeia. As I discussed in my article, The False Antithesis Between Mongerism and Synergism, Christians are all able to acknowledge the Who that saves as solely God and the how God saves as a work of God that brings about faith and repentance in persons. It is on the how God saves where we encounter the living dynamic that occurs between persons. It is the how God saves where the reciprocal process, the healthy relationship between persons, is first initiated by God and manifested between the person of God and the person of the created.

It is through the efforts of God the Spirit (which we call grace) to draw and reconcile us to God and establish communion. It is by eros love by which man reciprocates that communion with God. Man and God are brought together into a true relationship through the person of God the Spirit. The reciprocal sharing of eros love establishes a formal asymmetrical communion between God and the individual creature. Through this sharing of love between persons (the person of God and the person of the creature) God’s unknowable essence is drawn out and made manifest in the heart of the creature by the sole power of God’s uncreated grace. Human and Divine positive responses positively reinforce future responses that result in dialogue and union through the cloaking of the creature in the nature of Christ, the divine nature.* The transformation (renewing) of the mind, clarity of reason, seeking holiness in all things and all ways and partaking of God’s own immortality (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16) are some of the fruits of partaking of the nature of God.

In a general sense the dynamic of a true relationship with God is closer than many believe—because the call of God’s voice is his inward and unspoken call that is experienced as a moral presence other than one’s own self. Everybody has this voice. For those awaiting entry into the kingdom of heaven, the experience of God’s voice within ourselves points to that which is beyond one’s self. Conscience is not something we merely give ourselves (and thus could also fail to give), but is a God given gift to correct and instruct against immorality. If the moral voice within us is considered to be something of our own making then how is it that often times we wish we could hide our thoughts and actions from our conscience so that it would cease to bother us?

Nevertheless, because of our inherent inability to hear and listen, the moral awareness is known and apprehended on a variety of levels, but mostly as a call to do what is right. In this regard the conscience cannot be reduced to a concept that it is an act of our own will—for we can be morally aware that something should be done and do nothing. Neither can our conscience be considered an emotion—for we can find fleeting pleasure in a thing but then judge the same thing as wrong upon further reflection of our conscience. Neither can conscience be wholly considered to be the direct, indiscreet voice of God or the absolute will of God because conscience maybe led astray by our misperceptions. Rather, it is said that God speaks indirectly through our conscience and then only when the soul isn’t anesthetized by habitual sin (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2) and listened to with humility, honestly, and intently with an ear to hear what is right.

For believers, God’s voice works much the same, but the normative way God speaks is through the conscience and then by bringing to memory “a more sure word” of Holy Writ (2 Pet. 1:19). The deepest self-examination (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) comes through habitual prayer, the habitual dialogue with our Lord where we listen intently for his address and ask God for the grace so that we are able to hear and understand rightly (Ps. 51; 86).

Deficiencies and shortcomings in the conscience aren’t due to the insufficiency of God’s voice but to the corrosive, habitual history of sin and God’s voice upon our heart diminishes as a consequence of habitual sin. Notwithstanding, by grace God uses a variety of means to spark the conscience and ignite the fires of moral awareness that attest to God’s own revulsion of moral evil who seeks to reconcile sinners by repentance and faith and change the fallen conscience to a redeemed, good and holy conscience that is freed to the will of Christ (1 Cor. 10:25-29; 2 Cor. 1:12).

And yet Calvinists, in their efforts to maintain that God interacts with us monergistically, deny the synergistic dynamic that occurs within any healthy relationship.

Eric Landstrom

* I don’t mean the partaking of the divine nature in the heretical Mormon sense, that we become Gods, I mean partaking the divine nature where God shares his own blessedness with his faithful creatures. In the sense of God sharing his own nature with his faithful creatures, people don’t become fully human and fully reflect the image they were created in until they actively participate in the Divine nature.