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Divine Sovereignty + Personal Responsibility = Calvinistic Salvation?

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

divine-sovereigntyA recent comment from a Calvinist friend caused me to pause:

“Our salvation is a combination of divine sovereignty and our responsibility.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like irresistible grace as advocated by ardent Calvinists i.e.:

http://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist (emphasis mine). God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted (emphasis mine).

So, when I asked my friend if he accepts Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace, he responded:

Yes, but [I’d refer to it as] initial sanctification based on 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Gal 1:11-17, Acts 16:14. Could Lydia have responded if God didn’t open her heart? The rub is that [God does this] only for the elect.

To me, all of Calvinism rises or falls on unconditional election. Irresistible grace, along with the other parts of TULIP raise secondary questions. But with my interest piqued as to something new relating to irresistible grace, I looked at the provided references. My $0.02 worth follows:

2 Thess 2:13

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose (emphasis mine) you to be saved through (emphasis mine) the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through (emphasis mine) belief in the truth.

Three key elements:

  • God chose you to be saved
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
  • And through belief

Chose is obviously the past tense of the word choose and per Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (c1983) means to select freely or to decide on. The way I understand this verse (and many similar verses i.e. Eph 1:4) is that God decided (past tense) that salvation would come through a two-fold process:

1) The sanctifying work of the spirit

2) Belief in the truth

As such, God decided the manner in which we would receive salvation and initiated a “two-part” plan wherein (1 – his part) God cleanses us of our sins and (2 – our part) is to simply believe. Therefore, election, simply put, is conditional on faith in Christ. That is, we’re “chosen” because we already have faith and believe. I don’t see this verse advocating God predetermining from the “foundations of the earth” who would be saved, and correspondingly, who would not be saved. To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

1 Pet 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God (emphasis mine) the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Lots of little “catch-phrases” and questions arise: Who are the elect? Who has been chosen? What is the foreknowledge of God? What is the sanctifying work of the Spirit?

1st Peter clearly says, “Who have been chosen.” However, what follows is vitally important – “According to the foreknowledge of God.” I would argue that God, being omniscient, knows in advance who’ll accept his grace. It seems to me, therefore, that Calvinists confuse foreknowledge with predestination and subsequently believe that God decrees and otherwise determines whatever happens. To Calvinists, then, foreknowledge is God’s decree. I believe Romans 8:28-29 confirms my thoughts on this matter:

And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him and have been called, according to his purpose. For whom God foreknew, (emphasis mine) he also predestined (after they accepted by faith – my interpretation) to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God set up his plan. And for those individuals who would receive his grace by faith, God had already determined that they would be conformed to the likeness of his son. Simply put, God knows the future. Therefore, God knows who will believe in Jesus. Those folks (the believers) are the elected individuals. I would submit that God’s election is because of his foreknowledge of who would come to believe and not the cause of it. Again, I recognize and agree that we have a responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Gal 1:11-17

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation (emphasis mine) from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Many Calvinists have used these verses to justify their belief in a predetermined election. Part of the continuing struggle I have with Calvinism is that many people have many different interpretations. Unfortunately, to a degree, arguments can often get reduced to ‘opinions’. And for me, my opinion is that the phrase, “I received [the gospel] by revelations”, to me, underscores one’s free will as to spiritual things wherein Paul 1) was told about the gospel, 2) Believed the gospel and then 3) accepted the gospel. And again, I recognize our responsibility to believe. But again, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Acts 16:14

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Bob George, author of Classic Christianity has stated that the same sun which hardens clay also softens wax. Some people’s hearts become tender and turn towards God while those with hearts of stone turn away from God. I believe God’s Spirit is at work in all peoples’ hearts trying to soften them to acknowledge him and walk in his ways. Perhaps some would call this “prevenient grace”. In that light, Lydia was already a worshiper of God and, I would guess, a keeper of the law. Subsequently, as she came to a full understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ, the Lord was able to do an amazing work.

With the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of all people, trying to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel and inherit eternal life, it seems apparent that there’re times when God sees those hell-bent on their own abject defiance and rejection of him to the point that God withdraws his Spirit (in reaction to the individuals defiance) and hardens those hearts by giving them up to their own desires (Rom 1:26). Pharaoh is an example that immediately comes to mind.

Similarly, then, John 10:26-27 doesn’t infer that from the “foundation of the world” some were “his sheep” meaning that God had already determined who was to be saved. Rather, Jesus was saying that at that specific time, some were “his sheep” because they believed. Others, who didn’t believe, were therefore “not his sheep”.

As people submit, their hearts and minds are opened to the truth. (2 Cor 3:16) Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is taken away. Coming to Christ is a process. Some have more tender and receptive hearts. For others, difficult experiences and circumstances may help to soften a heart. Unfortunately, there are those who will never accept God’s grace. Much as our lives are transformed after we believe (2 Cor 3:18), “And we [with unveiled faces] are being transformed into his image.” To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe, but do not see Gal 1:11-17 as supporting irresistible grace.

So, to bring this to a close – although I find it sometimes difficult to effectively argue against Calvinist doctrines, I remain unconvinced in a predetermined election as well as the concept of irresistible grace. The verses listed above don’t convince me otherwise. Much of my fundamental disagreement to Calvinist doctrine relates to definitions and implied meanings of words. Or, put another way – opinions. And, too, I can’t fathom a holy God determining who will (and also who will not) be saved any more than I can intentionally ‘cast off’ one of my own kids. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind and I believe that we, as his creation, do have free will. And whenever we, of our own volition, turn to God, he rejoices.