To choose or not to choose? That is the crux of the matter this week as we pluck another petal off the TULIP…
I want to talk with you for a bit about grace. What is it? Essentially, grace is – as Merriam Webster defined it – unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification. Grace is what God gives us: forgiveness for our sins through Christ. In fact, as one commentator put it, Grace can also be acronym reminding us the truth of the gospel:
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
We all need grace. It’s our saving hope, grace. Even so, what is the limit, if there is any, to grace? What are the boundaries thereof, the depths and heights to which it is limited? Again, we find conflict between the Calvinists and the Arminianists.
For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible. Since God’s elect have been chosen by Him, and atonement is limited to them only, His grace thus exceeds human ability insofar as it cannot be refused. The Calvinist leaves no room whatsoever for choice in salvation this way: God chose His elect, He paid for them, and they are His. Period.
Alternatively, the Arminianist perspective comes back to free will and choice, declaring that God extends His grace to all freely without cost, but humanity still has to choose to accept that grace.
Free will and freedom of choice again. Do you sense a trend amongst these discussions? Now, as we have seen numerous times already, free will and personal choice are matters that appear time and again throughout the Scriptures. You know, in Isaiah 65 (verses 11-12) we read:
“But ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number. Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.”
The people forsook the Lord, turning away from Him, choosing to do evil before Him. That really sums up our own culture in so many ways, but to the point of this particular discussion, we see a choice insofar as the people turning away from God, and arguably His implicit grace. We see the same scenario time and again with people groups called upon by prophets (through God’s instruction) to repent of their ways and change their course.
Jeremiah 18:8, for instance, says “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Does the word “if” tend to be a dramatic declaration of a concrete assurity? Absolutely not! It’s a conditional word, reflective of an event, a decision, a choice. Free will stands clear in the Scriptures, time and again.
With that, we touch again on the extent of Christ’s atonement and how it goes along with this debate of grace. You see, we see in several places that God desires all men believe in Him (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Jn. 12:32). There is an issue there though. All men are not going to believe. The fact that the language implies God has a desire – one which ultimately will not be so – seems to directly imply that we have free will and that personal decision we are all faced with is what stands responsible for this conflict between His desire and the reality that countless souls will bust Hell wide open.
The matter goes even deeper than this though…
You see, if grace is irresistible, and God has chosen to give it to only a relative few “elect,” then does that mean – by implication – that He actively decided to condemn all the rest to Hell? Think about that for a moment. If Calvinism is correct in its assessment, God has happily created the vast majority of mankind to ultimately burn in Hell, withholding from them the only thing that could save them, that being the irresistible grace of the cross. That’s monstrous!
As Dave Hunt once put it, “If I am in a barge and there are a thousand people drowning in this icy water, they can’t stay alive much longer, and I rescue … 975 and just because it’s my good pleasure I let the rest of them drown. I don’t think that the headlines in the paper would talk about how gracious and loving I am the next day. I think I would be faulted by any court and by the human conscience for failing to rescue those that I could rescue.”
You know, Calvinists will sometimes reference John 1:13 in their favor, declaring it speaks of the elect as born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” They say it puts the choice for election, indeed salvation itself, in the Lord’s court. If it stood alone, they may could have a valid point of reference to consider, but as is often the case the passage has been wrenched from the proper context. Consider the verse as it naturally fits with the verse just prior to it in John:
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It speaks of all who receive Him and believe in Him being given the right, through the will of God, to be His sons! Choice! An acceptance of grace is what is on the table here.
As noted last time, the evangelism of the Gospel – spreading it across the nations to bring the lost to the knowledge of Christ – simply doesn’t make a lot of since in the Calvinist perspective. Why? Because persuasion isn’t possible in their estimation of things. People are either predestined to end up in Heaven or Hell one, with no free will choice associated with that destination. The elect of God don’t need to be persuaded because they have already been chosen by God; they have already been won for Christ since time immemorial. Further, as Dave Hunt said, “Satan could go on a vacation because he doesn’t need to blind the hearts of anybody. He can’t blind the hearts of the elect and he doesn’t need to blind those who are not elect because God has damned them to hell already.”
Do you see the problem here with this perspective? There are some glaring inconsistencies between the message of Calvinism and the message of the Gospel.
I want to finish this week off with some thoughts on another passage, this time from Matthew 19:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
– verses 23 & 24 –
How do these word of Christ fit Calvinism at all? As Roger Olson said of the matter, “What sense does this verse make in light of irresistible grace? Is Jesus saying it is harder for God to save a rich man than a poor one? How could that be? If everyone, without exception, only gets into the kingdom of God by God’s work alone without any required cooperation on his or her part, then Jesus’ saying makes no sense at all.”¹
Grace is extended to all, but – as the Scriptures clearly (and implicitly) indicated – the choice to accept that grace through faith is ultimately up to us. Have you accepted the grace offered to you? Have you accepted God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense?
- Olson, Roger E. Against Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. 165.