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Posts Tagged ‘Irresistible Grace

How Prevenient Grace Helps Me Sleep

John MacArthur has a famous sermon that he preached on Mark 4:26-29 on the theology of sleep in which he argues that the doctrine of unconditional election allows him to sleep at night.  He argues that the doctrine that God alone saves gives him comfort because if the salvation of others depended on him, he would not be able to sleep at night.  MacArthur argues that he cannot understand how ministers who deny unconditional election can sleep if in fact the saving of souls depends upon them.

I for one reject unconditional election but I sleep well at night not because I deny the lostness of men nor because I turn a blind eye to their desperate need for salvation.  I sleep well because of the doctrine of prevenient grace.  I agree with MacArthur that salvation is the work of the Lord.  Regeneration is the work of the Spirit (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5-7).  The entire work of salvation is by the power of God (Romans 1:16-17).  While I believe the Bible teaches that people believe the gospel as a duty (John 3:15), I deny that this belief is works (Romans 4:5).  Sinners are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

However, my job is not to save sinners.  It is the Lord’s work to save sinners.  MacArthur’s appeal to Mark 4:26-29 is right.  The harvest is the Lord’s harvest (Matthew 9:38).  Paul argues this way in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.  While Paul and others did work to tell people the gospel, the Lord is the One who saves sinners.  Our job is to simply preach the gospel.  This is a point that both Arminians and Calvinists can agree.

Obviously, the key difference here then is not over the gospel.  It is not over whether the Lord saves sinners.  It is over whether the Lord treats sinners as people or does He treat them as something else like robots or chess pawns?  I believe God treats people as people who can think, hear, respond.  God is the one who saves and He deals with sinners by His grace.  His Spirit woos the sinner but He does not force the sinner (John 6:44).  The Spirit opens the sinners heart to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13-14).  The Spirit is the one who empowers the disciple to first preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 1:8) and then He also is the one who opens sinners minds and hearts to the gospel though He allows the sinner to believe in their own freed will.  Over and over again the New Testament calls the sinner to believe the gospel and repent (Acts 17:30-31).  As the Spirit works, the sinners respond (Acts 2:37).  The sinner either repents (Acts 2:38, 41) or they rebel (Acts 7:51; 13:46).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:10).

As Arminians our dependence in evangelism must not be on gimmicks or tricks or rock concerts or skits or movies.  It must be on the gospel that saves sinners!  The Spirit empowers the Church to preach to the lost.  Our dependence must be on the Word of God that saves the lost.  In Mark 4:26 we read of the scattered seed.  In Mark 4:14 the seed is the Word.  The Word brings forth fruit as we preach the gospel!  Our job must then be to preach the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).

The bottom line is that Arminians can take comfort in the work of the Spirit in drawing sinners to salvation.  Calvinists often contend that the term “prevenient grace” is not found in the Bible.  What they fail to realize is that Calvinists theologians have also used the term for the term means “beforehand” grace.  This is a biblical concept even if we disagree over whether this grace can be resisted or not.  Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm that salvation is the divine work of God and His grace.  While we Arminians would contend that God grants free grace to draw in souls through the preaching of the gospel, the result of regeneration is the divine working of God.

Jesus Pleading With the Jews To Be Saved

John 10:26 is a key passage for Calvinism and its doctrine of unconditional election and irresistible grace.  The verse reads:

“But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”

It is taught from John 10:26 that Jesus was telling the unbelieving Jews that they did not believe (John 10:26) simply because they were not His sheep.  If they (these unbelieving Jews) were really His sheep, they would believe in Him but since they do not believe, they are not His sheep.

There are many problems with such a view.  First, Jesus is not teaching the unbelieving Jews here some deep theological teaching about divine election and saying, in essence, “You are not part of the elect otherwise you would believe in Me.”  In fact, He makes it clear through His works that He wants them to believe (John 10:26, 37-38).

Further, bear in mind that Jesus is speaking to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus teaches in Luke 15 all about lost sheep and lost coins and lost sons.  He wants these sinners, these unbelieving Jews to repent and believe the gospel.

Lastly, John 10:37-38 is important here.  The passages reads:

37 “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Jesus tells these Jews that the works He did testify to Him being the true Messiah.  His test to the Jews here in verse 37 is that if His miracles were not from the Father, don’t believe in Him.  But in verse 38 Jesus is clear that if in fact His works come from the Father then believe in Him.  He is calling them to believe!

Paul, in Romans 11, is clear that unbelieving Jews is able to be grafted back into the household of God by faith (Romans 11:23).

On a final note.  I am not arguing here that mankind can just believe when they want.  Obviously true faith arises from the work of the Spirit.  Yet the Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior (John 6:44), He convicts the sinner of sin (John 16:8-11) and He saves the sinner who believes the gospel (John 3:3-7; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  But notice that the Spirit does not believe for us (a point even Calvinists admit to by the way).  The key point here is not whether the Spirit draws the sinner or whether He regenerates the sinner but rather can the sinner resist the Spirit.  Calvinists believe that the Spirit cannot be resisted by the elect.  The Arminian differs with this view arguing that when can resist the Spirit.  We believe this because we see this in Scripture even with the ministry of our Lord Jesus both here and in other passages such as Acts 7:51.

Even in the Old Testament we find the Jews rejecting the word of God.  Jeremiah 6:10 reads:

To whom shall I speak and give warning,
that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
they take no pleasure in it.

God goes on in Jeremiah 7:23-26 to say why He sent them prophets:

23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. 25 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. 26 Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

And bear in mind who the Lord God is speaking to and about.  If this was the case with the Jews in Jeremiah 6:10; 7:23-26, how much more through the Lord Jesus in John 10 for “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11) but “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

Effectual Call

In Calvinism, effectual call is the doctrine also known as “irresistible grace.”  The logic goes like this: if God has elected from among fallen humanity those whom Christ would die and if Christ did in fact secure their justification through His atoning death on the cross then it follows that those whom God chose and those for whom Christ died will be saved.  God sovereignly draws His elect from among the masses of fallen humanity by His grace, His gospel, and His Spirit (means of grace) and the elect respond to both the outward call (the gospel preached) and the inward call (given by God’s grace).  This calling is effectual in that it never fails.  Those whom God has chosen before time will be saved.  The cross is also not a failure since Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect of God.

The Arminian reply, in short, would be that God does draw sinners to Himself by His means of grace (the gospel preached) and sinners must have their eyes opened by the work of the Spirit for them to be saved since it is impossible for sinful humans to save themselves.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and He opens our eyes to our lost condition (John 16:8-11).  However, the Spirit does not make one believe.  Even Calvinists acknowledge this.  The belief, while given to us by grace, is not something God does for us.  We must believe on our own and God holds us responsible if we reject His Son (John 3:18).  When a sinner does repent, it is a work of the Spirit (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).  In fact, all of salvation is a work of God (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  When in glory, we will praise our Lord Jesus for His great work of salvation and not our working to earn our own salvation (Revelation 5:9-10).

So what is the key difference here?  If both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that God saves sinners and that salvation is the work of the Spirit, what is the major issue here?  The key question is whether the effectual call can be resisted by the sinner.  Calvinists say no.  Arminians say yes.  And therein is the key difference.

On a final note.  I was reading a Calvinist theologian today and he remarked that one has to prove their effectual calling to be sure of their salvation.  Of course he pointed to passages that I would point to as well such as 2 Peter 1:10-11.  He pointed out that where there is no perseverance, one can rest assured there is no true calling unto salvation.  While I would disagree slightly (as he would reject personal apostasy from the faith), I would add that no Arminian has an issue with this in regard to necessary perseverance in the faith.  Those who abide in Christ through faith (Romans 5:1) are saved.  We rest in our salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus is our salvation and we must rest in His grace alone (Hebrews 12:1-2).  When one perseveres in the faith they do in fact prove they belong to Christ and are saved in Him (Acts 14:22; Romans 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 12:21-13:5; Ephesians 3:17; Philippians 2:12-15; Colossians 1:21-23; etc.).

I pray that I was fair to my Calvinist brethren in this short post.

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).

The Sealing of the Spirit

In Ephesians 4:13 we read

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. (NKJV)

Several things I notice about this text.  First, notice that belief followed hearing the gospel.  We must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17).  This is why evangelism is so important to the disciple of Jesus.  We simply are following the command of our Savior to take the gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15).  We believe that none can be saved without the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Secondly, notice that our salvation is found in Jesus.  Not in our own election.  Not in our doctrinal system.  Salvation is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The focus of Ephesians 1:3-14 is not on you.  It is on Jesus.  Jesus is the main focus here.  Election in Arminianism is always Christ-centered and not man-centered.  Our focus is on Jesus whom God chose to send to die for our sins in our place (Isaiah 53:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 Peter 2:21-24).  Over and over again the focus is on Him in Ephesians 1:3-14.  “In Christ” (v. 3), “in Him” (v. 4), “by Jesus Christ to Himself” (v. 5), “His grace” (v. 6), “In Him” (v. 7), “He made” (v. 8), “His will” and “His good pleasure” (v. 9), “in Christ” (v. 10), “In Him” (v. 11), “in Christ” (v. 12), “In Him” (v. 13), and “His glory” (v. 14).

Thirdly, notice when the sealing of the Spirit takes place.  Paul writes that after believing, we are sealed with the Spirit.  This is important because the sealing of the Spirit marks ownership.  We become God’s elect when we believe the gospel.  We can debate about whether election is unconditional or conditional but the passage is clear that when we believe, we are then marked with the Spirit and become God’s possession.  This is detrimental to the teaching that regeneration must be before faith.  If this were the case, surely the Spirit knows those who are the elect already since He regenerates them before believing the gospel.  In fact, the regeneration before faith view teaches that the Holy Spirit must regenerate people before faith otherwise faith becomes and a work and a person has “worked” their own salvation through their own faith.  Yet this passage is clear that having believed, we are then sealed with the Spirit of promise.  Is then teaching a second blessing?  Is this teaching that the Spirit regenerates before conversion but then He does something else after conversion?

That someone receives salvation through faith as opposed to works is clear in the New Testament.  However, simply because someone has faith in the gospel and then is regenerated does not make this faith a work.  To receive a free gift that a person did not earn nor deserve does not make it less than a gift does it?  Even so salvation is through faith and a person is responsible to believe the gospel or reject it but salvation is always by grace through faith and not by works of righteousness that we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Yet a person is not force to believed nor could they not reject the free offer of the gospel if they so choose.  This does not make salvation by works but acknowledges that a person must believe the gospel to be saved.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/18/2012 at 5:29 PM

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