Reformed Theology: God's Grace

JeffLogan's picture

This discussion will be limited to the discussion of God's grace as it pertains to Reformed Theology.

Barry writes,

I would like to suggest that we explore the topic of "God's Grace " as it relates specifically to the process of one's coming to salvation. I personally am particularly interested in the doctrine of "Prevenient Grace", however, at ElderDad's suggestion which points out our primary forum theme, addressing the RT position termed "Irresistible Grace" first is the more appropriate approach.

So, if this approach is acceptable, I would invite someone to begin this thread by first defining the term, then giving a brief re-cap of the history of "TULIP", and concluding with Scriptural references supporting the concept. That should get us rolling.

Barring objections, I would encourage someone in the Reformed camp to please begin.

Grace and peace to all.


Suggested Structure: (Best if viewing options set: Threaded Collapsed | Oldest First | 200/page |)

(The first 3 headings are reserved for Reformed Theology Adherents ONLY)

Defining the terms (No opposing views here)
     Irresistible Grace
     Prevenient Grace
Brief re-cap of the history of "TULIP" (No opposing views here)
     Early History
     Later History
     Unfolding History/Current Understanding
Scriptural references supporting the concept (No opposing views here)
     Irresistible Grace
     Prevenient Grace
1st Discussion: Irresistible Grace
2nd Discussion: Prevenient Grace
3rd Discussion: etc...

michael_legna's picture

We cannot put God in a box, not even a sovereign one

bwarddvm said –
You pose some very relevant questions that need to be addressed, Dan. The whole realm of the topic of God's sovereignty vs. man's free will is a tense balance for us in all areas of life. It is a mysterious concept in so many ways because God simply does not explain it sufficiently to satisfy all the questions our minds conjure up. I would say, though, that IMO Scripture is much clearer about God's sovereignty than it is about man's free will.

But we cannot interpret scripture by letting the number of verses determine which of two difficult alternatives to choose to espouse. We must reconcile these two different and apparently contrary ideas or simply admit we do not understand the revelation God has presented to us. If we do that we certainly should not develop doctrine to teach others, when we ourselves know it is not self consistent.

bwarddvm said –
Thus, if, as it sometimes can seem to us, man does function merely as a type of "puppet" serving strictly at the pleasure of the Triune Creator, that still would not be evidence to condemn God as "unjust" so long as we agree that Adam was truly born with a will completely free of sin and yet completely, freely chose to sin, dragging the entire human race along with him. At that point, our perfectly holy and righteous God is "free" to deal with man in whatever way He chooses.

But you are assuming God choose to deal with man inside this inconsistent system, instead of looking for one that is self consistent. Remember God sent His Son to die for the sins of the world. That is completely unnecessary if the application of grace can do it all. But beyond that it shows that God does not deal with man anyway He wants, He chose to deal with man under a system of Justice. It is much like His promise to never destroy the world again by flood. Now we know that this promise does not make God less than all powerful, even though He can never again destroy the world by flood. It just means we have to understand omnipotence in a slightly different way. So too, just because God has given man free will does not mean He is no long sovereign. It just means we have to understand sovereign in a different way. This is the same way we learn to understand God’s role in any covenant. God is faithful and will not break His promise. To say God can give us a free will but sometimes treats us like puppets is not an adequate attempt to save this doctrine from its internal inconsistencies and contradictions. It is much simple to admit that God has set up a sense of justice that even He has chosen to act within, thus retaining our free will. Once we see grace in that light we see it is not irresistible and yet God does not lose His sovereignty.

bwarddvm said –
What WOULD be unjust, would be IF God MISLEADS us in His revelation to us in Scripture as to exactly what degree of freedom of will we truly have and how that "free will" is defined. Therein lies, IMO, the crux of the real issue that has led to the debates between the Reformed view vs the Arminian view or any other view that opposes the Reformed one.

No what led to the debates between the Reform and opposing views is the internal contradictions of the Reform view. God has not mislead us, the Reform view has just not seen the alternative interpretation of Scripture which does not require these inconsistencies.

bwarddvm said –
As to you first question, yes, the benefits and efficacy of common grace are solely of God's determination, yet still the framework of man's "free will" which is the means by which He brings these to pass.

How is this possible. Just because you say your doctrine is not inconsistent with free will does not make it so, you really need to have an explanation of how your doctrine remains consistent.

bwarddvm said –
So, yes man's choices are relevant and certainly have consequences in this life. We can all clearly attest to that in our own lives.

What we can attest to has no bearing on the truth. If we were completely without free will we would attest to anything God decreed we would attest to. This is no proof at all for free will existing in a consistent manner with your doctrines of common and special graces.

bwarddvm said –
Yet when all is said and done, God works within our choices to bring about His will in all things.

Then His grace is not irresistible, because if it is then God would not have to work around our free will choices.

bwarddvm said –
RT does not deny the mystery involved in such a statement, but it does not concern itself with solving the unsolvable but rather explaining what it believes Scripture clearly teach.

But when those mysteries make the understanding they have come away with turn out to be inconsistent or even contradictory then they do have to explain that because no one should be expected to hold two completely contrary beliefs at the same time. That is why it is not enough to simply side with the doctrine you think is more clearly expressed in scripture. Instead you need to reconcile your interpretations of both issues as expressed in scripture or else admit you do not understand the doctrine you claim to hold to.

bwarddvm said –
That is probably where a lot of our disagreements occur. Others appear to have the idea that RT professes to give an answer to these mysteries of God's hidden will when it does not do so. Hopefully that gives some level of answer to your question in paragraph 2.

Without answers to these questions and in the presence of the contradictions between the interpretations of individual scriptures the doctrine cannot be trustworthy as a representation of scripture because we know scripture never contradicts itself.

bwarddvm said –
I would concede that one could make the case (albeit unfair, IMO) that God is responsible for all the pain and evil in the world because it is ultimately the result of His judgement on the world and mankind for sinning. One could say "Well, God didn't have to pass such a severe judgment for one little bitty sin of eating a piece of fruit that He had forbidden, did He?" That doesn't seem either reasonable or fair to us, does it? We would argue that the punishment does not fit the crime. Thus we blame God for being so stern and unbending and picayunish to begin with.

But this example is a purposely weak example to undermine the real argument. That is what is known as a strawman attack. The argument is that if God’s grace is irresistible then we have no choice in being saved or in acting moral ways with the right intent or not, so we either sin or do not because His grace made it so. If that is the case then the sacrifice of His Son and the love He showed to us by that act is meaningless since salvation is determined solely on the gift of special grace or the withholding of the same.

bwarddvm said –
However we find that we have one HUGE problem and that is that this line of reasoning is not acceptable to any reasonable interpretation of Scripture. God is God and He alone determines what degree of punishment He will exercise on His creatures. And really, Scripture teaches, He is merely giving man over to His evil choice.

Oh but it is, as I have pointed out above and the Reform camp would see if they looked at the history of the Church and see that it has always held God to be all powerful, all knowing and all just as well as being all loving and not having a problem with any of these and doing so without any inconsistencies or contradictions.

bwarddvm said –
Granted Adam did not foresee the extent of the punishment that awaited him and all his progeny. Surely if he had known he would have passed on the fruit, we would think. But God in His sovereign wisdom did not do it that way, did He?

Even now with that last statement you imply that God knew in a irresistible way that Adam would sin, so Adam had to sin, else God would have erred. But this means that Adam even before being in a fallen state had no real free will. If that is the case then within your doctrine God does become unfair for He becomes the author of sin even for Adam and Eve.

bwarddvm said –
So to conclude this string of thought as pointedly and directly as I know how, I would remind us all that Almighty God presides of all of His creation in sovereign rule and our responsibility is to obey that rule in humble realization that we will not understand the divine wisdom and reasoning behind it all.

And I would conclude by saying that I would not recommend anyone teach a doctrine of salvation if they know there are inconsistencies and self contradiction in that doctrine as there is far too much at stake in our eternal life.

bwarddvm said –
For us to try to wedge it into a theological system that we find to be "fair and equitable" and yet remain true to Scripture is likely never going to happen.

But it already has, it is merely the insistency to hold onto a definition of sovereignty that is no more sustainable in the face of free will then the concept of omnipotence is in the face of one of God’s other covenants. But if one understands the concept of covenants and how they apply to God then the problem disappears as the man made terms and definition are simply revised. Remember God, being infinitely perfect in all ways, does not really have characteristics as understood by men or covered by our limited language. So if we have to come to a different understanding of these terms based on the revelation of God as we make consistent systematic theologies then that is what we must do. To demand that God fit in some box formed by such a small term as sovereign is not good exegesis.

bwarddvm said –
I know of no Reformed believer who delights in all of the tenets we believe; the fate of the unbeliever is unspeakable horror. However, we do all share in the opposite unspeakable glory and gratitude of having been elected to His eternal saving grace and the blessings beyond comprehension that await us in the life to come. We recognize the gravity of our sin and the amazing free grace by which we have been saved.

That is hardly consolation or even adequate explanation to those who are being asked to accept this unsystematic formulation of what revelation tries to reveal.

bwarddvm said –
Regarding your recounting of you own life experience with your father and brother, praise God that you stood up against "following your father to hell". Yes, God worked through the choices of the three of you to bring about different results. But can you not look at your brother without thinking "There, but for the grace of God, go I."?

I find it strange that so many resort to this statement when its basis was from such a prideful comment. The original use of this phrase was by a man named John Bradford (1510–1555). These words were uttered by Bradford while imprisoned in the Tower of London when he saw a criminal on his way to execution. It expressed not an attributing of his salvation to God, but the good fortune of his that another was being led to execution instead of him, as if he was better than that man. But more to the point for your position we have to consider - If God’s grace plays a role in everyday decisions such as these, affecting who some human chooses to go to an execution, then truly we have no free will.