Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Prevenient Grace Vs. Irresistible Grace

Both Arminianism and Calvinism believe that sinners are saved by the grace of God.  Both attribute our salvation to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.  We agree that the sinner is passive in salvation and that the Lord is the One who saves (Jonah 2:9).  We further agree that the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to salvation (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15; 1 Corinthians 2:14).  Humans cannot earn their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) nor are we capable, because of sin, to even seek God apart from His drawing power (Romans 3:10-18, 23).

So then what is the key difference between the Arminian teaching of prevenient grace versus the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace?  Both believe that it is God who must open the sinners eyes to His gospel for them to be saved (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).  Both affirm that the sinner is incapable of saving themselves and that is the grace of God that must intervene for them to be saved.

The Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace teaches that those for whom Jesus died will be saved (unconditional election) and that the elect of God are drawn by His love and His grace to salvation that Jesus accomplished for them.  Once God draws the elect sinner to Himself, the sinner will be drawn by the inward call of the Spirit (effectual calling).  While most Calvinists insist that all need to hear the gospel (Mark 16:15), all true Calvinists hold that the elect will hear the special inward call of grace to salvation.  The non-elect do not respond to the gospel in a saving way though some may believe for a while but prove their lack of election by not remaining in the Church (2 Peter 1:10-11).

The Arminian viewpoint is that God sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2) but only those who appropriate His blood are the saved or the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10).  There is some truth to the fact that God loves all people (John 3:16) and He desires for them to repent (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9).  The gospel, as with the Calvinist above, is to go forth into all nations (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47).  Those who believe the gospel are saved (Romans 10:9-17).  The election of people then is based on conditions that in this case are set by God Himself.  As Jesus said in John 6:47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”  Whoever believes can be saved.

What then does the Arminian do with the utter sinfulness of humanity?  The answer is prevenient grace.  By the way, Calvinists will often say that the term does not appear in the Bible.  I would agree but would argue that many of our theological terms in Christianity are not found in the Bible.  Consider even the Calvinist acronym TULIP.  None of it appears in the Bible though the Calvinist would say that it is based on biblical concepts and the overall teachings of Scripture.  Likewise the Arminian sees the teaching of prevenient grace in the Bible.  In fact, the Arminian will appeal to the same passages that the Calvinist would for irresistible grace such as John 6:44 or Acts 16:14-15.  The difference would be in the nature of God’s covenant regarding salvation: is it conditional or unconditional?  I believe that salvation is conditional based upon faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus.  Those who believe and are truly saved by grace do so because of the work of the Spirit.  Jesus said about the ministry of the Spirit in John 16:8-11 that He would convict the world and not merely the elect only.  Jesus could have used the word “elect” here and the Arminian would have to submit to Scripture but He does not and He merely says that the Holy Spirit’s work will be to convict the world.

How does the Spirit convict the world?  I hold that He does this by the preaching of the gospel.  The gospel brings both the blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17) and the just condemnation of the sinners who reject the gospel (Acts 13:46-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).  In this way, the Spirit both convicts the world and He also condemns the world.  Yet where the gospel is preached, the Spirit works through the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior and He regenerates those who believe the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:1).  There is no salvation without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-7; cf. John 3:1-7).  Arminius noted that the external means to salvation for mankind is the preaching of the Word of God and the internal means to salvation is the work of the work of the Spirit.  Arminius wrote:

This vocation is both external and internal. The external vocation is by the ministry of men propounding the word. The internal vocation is through the operation of the Holy Spirit illuminating and affecting the heart, that attention may be paid to those things which are spoken, and that credence may be given to the word. From the concurrence of both these, arises the efficacy of vocation.

One final point.  In the book of Acts we don’t often see the ministry of the Holy Spirit directly just as Jesus said about Him in John 15:26-27; 16:13-14.  A case of this is Acts 2 where Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon.  In Acts 2:37 the hearers are cut to the heart and cry out what must they do to be saved.  Peter preaches Acts 2:38-39.  Those who believe are baptized in Acts 2:41 to fulfill Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16.  Yet the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace teaches that man is so utterly depraved that they must first be regenerated by the Spirit to even believe the gospel.  The Spirit must give new life to the sinner for the sinner to repent and believe the gospel.  However, we see none of this in Acts 2.  We hear Peter preaching the gospel and we see sinners crying out for salvation but Peter insists in Acts 2:38 that they have not yet received the gift of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14).  This would seem odd if in fact the sinners could not believe apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit in the first place.  On the other hand, the Arminian view is that the Spirit was working through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation in Christ (Acts 2:21) and all who repented and believed were saved and added to the Church (Acts 2:47).

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  1. SD – Thanks for writing with such clarity and accuracy. Prevenient grace, according to Wesley, takes one “within a hair’s breadth of Calvinism.” However, Wesley, following Arminius’ lead, does not damage God’s impeccable character which, unfortunately, irresistible grace does.


    07/09/2013 at 6:38 PM

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