Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Common, Saving, and Prevenient Grace

Both Arminianism and Calvinism hold that they believe in salvation by God’s grace.  Grace is not merely taught as an abstract concept of theology.  Both systems affirm that grace is more than just “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” but is the actual empowering presence of God in the life of the individual wherein the person is empowered by grace to be saved.  The presence of the Spirit of God is absolutely necessary for regeneration to occur (Titus 3:5-7).  Without the work of the Spirit, none of us could be saved (John 3:1-7; Romans 8:9-11).

Yet both systems argue over the nature of God’s grace on humanity in general.  Calvinism, for example, teaches common grace.  Common grace means that God does not pour out His just wrath upon all of humanity but instead, because of His love and mercy, allows people to live their lives in their sin.  God could wipe us all out but instead He has chosen a remnant of grace (Romans 11:5-6).  This remnant has been predestined by God for salvation by God’s saving grace.  Saving grace is different from common grace.  Common grace gives people the knowledge of God, the knowledge of their sin even but it does not save them but only condemns them so that they go to hell because of their own sins.  Yet God does not extend His saving grace to all but only those whom He elected before time.  Common grace is given to all.  Saving grace is given only to the elect.

Arminianism differs with Calvinism over this.  Arminians affirm common grace but we go one step further and teach that God’s common grace has been given so that people will heed the gospel.  Certainly we agree that salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8-9) but we believe that God’s prevenient grace comes from this common grace.  The condemnation of the unjust comes through their own sinfulness and rebellion against God who has demonstrated His desire to save them through His Son (John 3:17-18).  Prevenient grace is not foreign to Calvinism and both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that prevenient grace is necessary for salvation.  Prevenient grace is simply enabling grace.  Because of the nature of our utter depravity before God concerning His perfect righteousness (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23), none of us are capable of saving ourselves.  We need God’s aid, His work to save us.  John 6:44 is absolutely correct, that none of us, in our own power, can come to God.  We are sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:3) and our hearts are far from God (Jeremiah 17:9).  We need the work of the Spirit to save us.  This is the work of the Spirit, to enable us to believe the gospel and so be saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).

We differ, however, over whether prevenient grace is resistible.  Calvinism says no.  Arminians say yes.  I would point to the examples of Scripture of people resisting God.  Israel is a case in point as Paul points out in Romans 11:7.  The elect are those who receive His grace as Paul points out in Romans 11:17-24.  In fact, Paul says in Romans 11:32 that He will have mercy upon all.  And yet not all are saved.  There remains those who resist His will and resist His gospel.  Many Jews to this day continue to resist the gospel.  Israel, writes Paul in Romans 9:30-33, has pursued God by works and not by faith.  This has led to their demise.  It was their own sinful choosing.

Prevenient grace, however, does not make humans savable in the sense that the grace of God now allows for us, by our own human efforts, to please God and be saved.  I don’t want you to believe this common mistake.  Humans are saved by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.  God’s grace does open our eyes to our sin, does expose our rebellion and our hardness to His gospel but this does not mean that we are then able to save ourselves.  Salvation is the work of God.  God saves sinners by His own grace and power (John 1:12-13).  This is not the grace of God giving us the ability to now help God along the way of salvation.  God’s grace enables us to believe the gospel and be born again but not by works on our part but upon the sovereign grace of God (Romans 4:5).  Prevenient grace is not assisting us to believe but the grace of God is the totality of our salvation from beginning to end.

On the next post I will discuss the issue of prevenient grace as it relates to Romans 9:19-24.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/19/2013 at 12:50 AM

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