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...

bwarddvm's picture

Over analysis; complete reply

Hello again, Noshi

Well, you have certainly touched on some practical matters that definitely must be considered as we each come to a personal understanding and belief regarding the whole process of how God saves lost sinners. And mystery is certainly a major factor in all of this. If there were no mysteries I am sure we would all be in complete agreement because God would have explained it all to us clearly and concisely and left no questions unanswered. Obviously that is not the case for reasons known only to Him. We are undoubtedly left with a number of mysteries which have to be taken into consideration. These are mysteries which we should not expect to solve because God has kept the answers to Himself. However, they must be dealt with for us to come up with logical Scripturally based answers which we can firmly embrace. But the fact is that we can only come to Biblically based speculations as best we are able to explain our understanding of particular concepts as we propose supporting Scriptures and refute those which seem to imply otherwise. In some instances, I believe, it is not even wise to speculate. But, when we do I believe we should always state for what it is. So with that in mind, I will give you my "informed speculations".

As you have pointed out "original sin" is a good example of a mystery. How can God justly condemn all men for a sin that, not we, but Adam, committed? And even greater, how is it that a single "relatively quite minor" sin deserves so great a condemnation? Does it honestly justify a "one and done" approach with such a horrible penalty as eternal damnation? Even baseball players get 3 strikes. The punishment simply does not fit the crime. God surely foreknew that His curse would result in all men thereafter being born in a state of "spiritual death", both unwilling and thus unable to respond to His offer of forgiveness and eternal salvation in Christ. How then would any be saved? And how could God justify offering a gospel to people whom He foreknows will not have the spiritual inclination or ability to respond positively to it?

These mysteries present monumental problems for us as we seek to understand. In our finite minds, the question immediately arises as to how a completely holy, righteous, merciful and loving God could bring a judgement against mankind right off the bat that seems much too cold, harsh, and unreasonable to our way of thinking. It is not at all in keeping with our way of understanding love, grace and mercy, especially for One whose character is love, grace and mercy.

It seems obvious to me that our only possible way of understanding and resolving these mysteries to the degree we are able in our tiny little minds is to search the Scriptures for answers. However, it is not so easy for us to abandon our preconceptions of what God's love, grace and mercy should look like. Now, here is a key distinction between the Calvinist approach compared to other approaches. I must say that, in my humble opinion, those who embrace an Arminian position often do so, at least subconsciously, in a effort to find plausible solutions to these mysteries. By that I mean they seek to provide a palatable answer to the apparent contradictions in the character of Almighty God that they see in Calvinism and "get Him off the hook", so to speak. Calvinism, on the other hand, again in my opinion, takes a more straightforward and objective exposition of Scripture with a willingness to "let the chips fall where they may" and, if necessary, leave God with the appearance of "remaining on the hook" and agreeing that those areas which do so are simply mysteries which God has not chosen to explain to us, His creatures, and is, in fact, under no obligation to explain. However, I think we all must ultimately agree that God never acts "unjustly" despite the fact that He does not treat all men equally and give each each one an equal chance to obtain His mercy. This certainly appears to us on initial examination as being "unfair". That, I would suggest, is because of our humanly limited understanding of "fair". The way we understand the concept of fair, is in terms that we simply cannot apply to God. He requires no rules or standards that define fair and just behavior, for His perfectly holy and flawless nature is such that He cannot be anything other than fair and just. We require rules and standards because we in our fallen state will always be prone to judge and treat others unfairly and unjustly. So, yes, as a Calvinist I am perfectly willing to live with those tensions and leave it to God to satisfy His justice and His fairness as it pleases Him, not me. We must constantly be reminded that the primary objective of God's will is to please Himself, not His creatures. (Psalms 115:3) And can anyone question that He is totally worthy within Himself to do that. Plus, in our attempts to reason with God's thoughts and motive we must always keep Isaiah 55:8-9 in mind.

Now, I would be less than honest if I said I am "happy" with the way God appears to have designed His plans of redemption and reprobation in the Calvinist view because I cannot understand why He chooses to do it that way. I grieve over the fate "good and kind" people, sometimes my family members and loved ones, who have never embraced the gospel. Why can't they just have what I perceive as a "fair chance"? Why did you choose me but not them, God?? I have no satisfying answer to this just as Paul had no satisfying answer to the questions posed in Romans 9:19. But as to why I study Scripture, pray, encourage and attend to the word preached, and evangelize is because God is happy for us to do these things. The fact that these might seem redundant to me is in no way a sufficient reason for me to disregard them. We prove our love for God by doing the things He commands us to do whether we can understand how they can possibly effect anything or not. If that really does reduce us to something akin to puppets and that is what is pleasing to God, then so be it. We are the creatures, not the creator. He never commands us to do things that are ineffective in His mysterious plans. That's what I believe.

But the Arminian type of believers do have an answer! God does give everyone an equal chance, the playing field is level because He gives an equal measure of sufficient grace ('prevenient grace') to all people; and thus a big problem for Calvinism that seems contrary to our perceived nature of God is solved. However, we must always come back to the question: is that what Scripture really teaches?

I did not come to the Faith with my Calvinist doctrines. I definitely held to an Arminian understanding of God's workings in salvation. I also had a very rudimentary knowledge of Scripture and was, I am sure, far more influenced in my "theology" at that time by cultural norms and perceptions of Christianity than true biblical theology. So, as I grew in my knowledge of Scripture and began to become aware of the primary two essentially contrasting views of soteriology I knew right away which camp I was in. I found Calvinist doctrines to be, on face value, ridiculous and totally incompatible with the nature of "my God". So I determined that I had to be convinced, through the study of the Scriptures and much prayer, of what I truly believed the Bible had to say about it all even if it came down on the side of Calvinism. Certainly I was instructed by human agents, but ultimately only I, and I alone, could make the decision as to which system I would embrace. It took a couple of years, it was a gradual step at a time process. My point here is that we all, if we consider ourselves believers, when presented with the options between Calvinism and Arminianism, can see the preconceptions we bring into our views and how those can influence the position we choose. And, yes, my perceptions and beliefs have changed. Could I be wrong? Surely could! But in my heart I am very comfortable embracing a Calvinistic theology. That does not mean that I totally agree with everything I have studied from Calvin or even agree totally with TULIP as it is classically presented, but I am close enough to it and certainly far from the Arminian view.

Let me conclude this rather lengthy reply with some brief references to Scripture that tipped the scales for me. I find that for me they affirm more, clearly, strongly and emphatically the positions of Calvinism than do any of those which the Arminian camp use for their case. Here are a few with key words highlighted:

John 6:44 and 6:65 "no one can come to me" The word "can" refers to ability not permission. Anyone "may" come (has permission) if he truly desires to and truly seeks.

Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 refer to unbelieving man as being dead in his sins. Is that not saying clearly that unregenerate persons are spiritually dead? Are they then not dead to the words of the Holy Spirit because such words are spiritually discerned? How can a spiritually dead person truly understand the gospel (1Corinthians 1:18-25)? Why would he even be motivated to want to apart from a heart changing form of grace from the Holy Spirit?

Then we move down to Ephesians 2:8-9 and see that we are saved by grace through faith (grace is the means of salvation, faith is the instrument the Holy Spirit employs). Then Paul goes on to say that this (being saved through faith) is not of our own doing but a free unconditional gift from God (that's what grace is, right?). Does this not mean that this faith is not something that I exercised on my own but rather something God alone gave to me? So, believing this, I cannot understand the rationale that says that God foreknows who would believe (have faith in) the gospel and thus "elects" them. Clearly none would believe unless He gave them the gift of faith (also see Romans 12:3).

And one final thought on this passage: Verse 9 clearly states that our salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast". Your understanding is that God has given an equal measure of grace to all, and all are completely free and able to choose on the basis of their own will. Well, if each has an equal opportunity to discern between the wisdom and obvious benefits of accepting the offer of the gospel compared to choosing God's dreadful judgment, would it not stand to reason that those who did choose the gospel would have exercised the "work" of making the right choice, the wise choice, the good choice while his brother who declined the offer did not and faces a terrible fate. Certainly we can see that the wise brother has something of which he could boast: he, from completely within himself and with no special outside influence from God that his brother did not receive, chose much, much more wisely than his brother. If we take the dynamic power of God sovereignly granting that wisdom to one brother but not the other out of the picture, then, yes, the wiser brother has much of which he could boast. He did it all by himself!

I just cannot ignore these Scriptures which, in my opinion, speak so obviously, directly and unambiguously to the issue at hand. I still remain quite open to someone, anyone, explaining to me that these Scriptures do not mean exactly what they say. No one has been able to do so. The best anyone is able to do is to reply: "Yes, but what about this Scripture_____(fill in the blank)". I humbly believe I, with the help of Calvinist teachings and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, can give a quite reasonable explanation of an alternate exposition of any Scripture anyone wants to choose to present supporting the Arminian position. I am still waiting for well base alternated explanations for the passages I have noted.

Again, I readily profess that Scripture does, certainly, teach that both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man coexist together. Exactly how God maintains them in "harmony" (as He understands harmony, not necessarily as I understand it) is quite mysterious. However, I believe we can clearly state that God does not "force" his will on anyone. But he certainly has the power and the prerogative of transforming the desires of the heart of His elect so that they will freely and willingly choose His offer of salvation. Can you not see the difference between "forcing" and "transforming"? If you want to term that as being seemingly arbitrary and capricious then go ahead and do so. All you are doing is being honest with God. He can handle that. As far as our being the equivalent of robots or puppets in His hands, I certainly do not feel like a puppet. But if I am, there are no better hands for me to be in. The major flaw in that thinking, which we Calvinists do not accept, is that, if we are completely under His manipulation, then while does He "lead" us into sin? That is totally incompatible with His nature. So to be as clear as I know how, I would state God's "manipulating" (if you want to call it that) our wills applies only to the context of salvation. He will save His elect by "manipulating" (we would say 'graciously changing') the desires of our hearts. Beyond matters related to salvation, I believe we are all on our own, so to speak. Certainly I can see many instances in my life where wrong choices as well as outright willful sinning have lead to bad consequence. I alone must and do accept responsibility for that

Well, I apologize for going on a such great length, but I feel you post required a fairly thorough response. (Oh, heavens! I'm getting more like Jeff all the time. LOL!!) I could go on much longer, but I thinks this presents enough evidence to support the Calvinist position. Please consider them as objectively as you are able. None of this is likely to change your mind but hopefully it will cause you and others to give a little more respect to the Reformed teachings.

Noshi, I know that you, too, rely on the Scriptures as the revelation of truth from God. You state that the whole of Scripture "proves" to you that God gives a form of grace to all people which frees them from their condition of spiritual deadness (my words, not yours) so that each can freely believe the Gospel or reject it. I, on the other hand, have stated my case as to why I believe Scripture teaches something else. I freely admit that one can certainly (as many do) read implications of your view into Scripture. But I do not see how those implications can stand against what I believe to be the more explicit Scriptures that state otherwise. We obviously are both quite convinced of the truth of our positions. For the life of us, we just cannot understand why folks in the other camp are unable or unwilling to see what we see so clearly. 8-) It has been that way for centuries and I suppose it will be until we get to Heaven or the Lord returns, whichever comes first. And I reckon we could also debate as to when that might be.....but let's not if it's okay with you. LOL

Grace and peace,