Why Does One Person Believe and Another Does Not?

, posted by SEA

On his website, Arminian Perspectives, Ben Henshaw has a questions page at which he answers questions about Arminianism and Calvinism that visitors to his site pose in the comment section of the page. The following is a question and answer interaction between Ben and a commenter named Mike:

The Question: A couple years back, I heard Tim Keller give this example of two people who for all practical purposes shared a very similar life/background and attended the same college. After hearing the same gospel presentation, one repented and believed the other did not. The question was in regards to election, so he began to work back to answer why one believes and one does not.

The girl who believed could say–because I repented and believed. The question is why did you and not your college roommate? The reasons would continue until maybe she would say “I humbled myself–or I applied wisdom” etc. To which Keller infers that ultimately someone’s salvation is because they are more humble or wise, if they are to reject unconditional election.

So, it seems that he’s saying salvation is conditional upon repentance and belief but election is not.

Have you heard this type of example? What do you say to these types of analogies from a Scriptural perspective?

The Answer: This argumentation is very popular and has convinced many to embrace Calvinism. I personally find it very weak, but many people find it compelling. A few observations,

1) This is purely a philosophical argument. There is nothing wrong with philosophical argumentation if it is sound, but Calvinists often chide non-Calvinists for relying too much on philosophy- yet the single most used Calvinist argument is purely philosophical!

2) How many believers do you know who boast about being more humble or wise than the unbeliever? My guess is none. The best a Calvinist can do is claim that the person “could” boast, even if he doesn’t. But that is easily reversible. A Calvinist “could” boast in the fact that God hand-picked him from all eternity to be saved, while passing over so many others.

The typical response would be that the person was not chosen based on anything about that person, or any response made by that person. Well, then why did God choose that person? Surely He had a good reason, didn’t He? Surely His choice was not arbitrary, was it? The response will be that God did have a reason, but it is hidden in God and has nothing to do with us. Well, doesn’t God choose according to His infinite wisdom? Wouldn’t God’s choice of the person then be an infinitely wise choice on the part of God? Truly it would be hard for someone handpicked by God according to His infinite wisdom, to not feel a little better than those who were passed over, correct? And we could go on and on (you might also find this post
helpful with regards to this topic of unconditional election).

3) The issue is not whether or not someone might possibly be able to boast, but whether or not a person has legitimate grounds for boasting. Many Calvinist are very arrogant and boastful. Many Calvinist tend to look down on anyone who disagrees with them. The same could be said of Arminians (though I think to a lesser extent).

The Bible is clear that one cannot boast in salvation due to the law of faith. And why is that? Because faith is simple trust in another. I cannot legitimately boast in my salvation, because I can do nothing to save myself. I cannot forgive myself, or justify myself, or atone for myself, or regenerate myself. Only God can do those things. All I can do is trust in Him to do what I cannot. It is simply the receiving of a free and unmerited gift according to the Biblical principle (or law) of faith,

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

Paul’s point is simple and purposeful. Faith is not a work and is non-meritorious for the simple fact that it receives a free and unearned gift from God. It should also be pointed out that anyone can trust. You don’t have to be especially wise to trust. All kinds of people can trust and do trust in various ways every day. So to say that if one person trusts God and another does not it means that one is smarter than the other, is simply not in harmony with everyday experience

So according to Paul, there is no “legitimate” grounds for boasting (though people can still boast in things illegitimately), since salvation is not earned (we do not deserve it), but freely received by faith. It is this fact that establishes salvation as gracious (since we do not deserve it or merit it by simply trusting God),

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace…” (Rom. 4:16)

So, it seems that he’s saying salvation is conditional upon repentance and belief but election is not.

That is what it seems to come down to, but I think such a distinction is illogical. Let me paste in some portions of a conversation I had with someone in the combox of “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?”,

Me: It seems like double talk to say that faith is the condition for salvation and to say that Christ meets that condition for us. If Christ fulfills the condition for us then for us it is unconditional because we do not need to fulfill the condition. Does that make sense? Are you suggesting that Christ believes for us? Of course not, so I don’t see how even a Calvinist can say that we do not need to meet the condition of faith unless they want to say that Christ or God believes for us.


Her: It is still conditional. The only person who is saved is the one who possesses faith, if they don’t have faith, they are not saved.

Allow me to illustrate: A rich man’s son has given out index cards to some of his father’s servants. His father stands before the servants and says , some of you will be given an inheritance, but you will only be given an inheritance if you have a card given to you by my son.
That is conditional. They are given the inheritance on condition that they possess a card given to them by the rich man’s son. The servants are only given the inheritance if they fulfill the condition, if they possess the card.

Same thing with faith. If a person dies without possessing faith, they are not saved. I am sure you would agree with that statement.

Me: The Bible does not describe faith as an object that God just drops into our head or heart. It is an act of trust. It is an act of submission and surrender. It is the receiving of a free gift. It is not a thing. In your example they are given an inheritance not based on whether or not they have a card, but whether or not they were “chosen.” The card is simply a symbol of their election. It is not a condition for being chosen. The choosing is arbitrary and the inheritance is given because of an unconditional choice.

Now if the rich man offered a card to everyone and they chose whether or not to receive the card, then we would say that having the card (or receiving the card) is the condition for receiving the inheritance (and imagine the silliness of someone receiving the card and then claiming that they gave the inheritance to themselves). In the Bible the condition is faith because by faith we receive the free gift of salvation. In Calvinism salvation is irresistibly given and faith is just a result, part of the salvation package.


Here are some other posts that might help with your overall question,

Is Arminian Theology Synergistic?
The Nature of Saving Faith
Examining Inconsistencies in Calvinistic Monergism Part 2: Sanctification

[Editor’s note: You might also find this post on our website helpful: Brian Abasciano, “Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe and Your Neighbor Did Not?’”]

Hope that helps.