Q&A: If God’s Grace Can Be Resisted, Isn’t the Decisive Factor in Salvation Man’s Choice Instead of God’s?

PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST IS CURRENTLY IN THE PROCESS OF BEING REVISED AND UPDATED

Question: If God’s Grace Can Be Resisted, Isn’t the Decisive Factor in Salvation Man’s Choice Instead of God’s?

Answer: In a sense, the decision solely rests on the individual.  The responsibility to repent and accept Christ as Saviour is man’s and man’s alone.  God won’t do our repenting for us.  But it’s important to note that the ability to repent is not inherent to the individual – it is only by God’s grace that we can repent.  As Arminius said,

“No man believes in Christ except he has been previously disposed and prepared, by preventing or preceding grace, to receive life eternal on that condition on which God wills to bestow it, according to the following passage of Scripture: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17 )” 1

So God does the enabling, but if a man wants to be saved, he must personally make use of the fact that he has been enabled by God’s grace, and choose to accept God’s gift of salvation.  The responsibility is on man to enter by the narrow gate, and not by the wide gate (Matt. 7:13-14); the responsibility is on man to seek for glory and honour and immortality in order to receive eternal life (Rom. 2:6-7); the responsibility is on man to sow to the Spirit and not give up in order to reap eternal life (Gal. 6:7-9).

So there is a sense in which the final decision is man’s, but it must be remembered that the decision is not based on man’s inherent ability; it is based on God’s grace, for it is only by the grace of God that man is enabled to respond in the first place. As Roger Olson said,

“The moral ability to respond to the gospel freely – by the graciously freed will – is a free gift of God through Christ to all people in some measure.  It does not mean that anyone can now seek and find God using natural ability alone!  It is a supernatural endowment that can be and usually is rejected or neglected.  According to Arminian theology, because of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit all people are being influenced toward the good; the deadly wound of Adam’s sin is being healed.  And yet their fallen nature is still with them.  This dual reality is analogous to the simul justus et peccator, or the war between flesh and Spirit within every Christian.  The inability to will the good is not merely hypothetical; it is the state of nature in which every person (except Jesus Christ) lives.  But no person is left by God entirely in that state of nature without some measure of grace to rise above it if he or she cooperates with grace by not resisting it.  Arminians agree with Peterson and Williams that ‘without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians.’” 2

Note especially the last sentence: “without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians.”  So yes, the final decision to resist or to not resist God’s grace is man’s, but without that grace, the decision couldn’t be made to not resist.  The decision to repent and believe the Gospel is the responsibility of man, but without God’s enabling grace, we cannot make the decision to repent and believe the Gospel. As Arminius said,

“This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.” 3

The fact that human choice plays a vital role in salvation can be illustrated by the words of Jesus when He was dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30).  When the young ruler asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18) we do not read of Jesus rebuking the young man for having the audacity to presume that he himself could make a decision and inherit eternal life.  Instead, Jesus told him that there was something he could do: sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor (v. 22).  Jesus’ words, of course, were not as much about money as they were about the heart.  The young ruler loved his money, possessions, and the myriad privileges that his position granted him.  So much so that he just couldn’t bear to live without them.  But Jesus was not going to grant the young ruler eternal life while he was proud, self-sufficient, and unwilling to forsake all to follow Christ.  The young ruler needed to humble himself and quite literally forsake everything he owned to follow Christ.  Unwilling to forsake all and make a full commitment to Christ, the young ruler went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, the passage says.  Noting the young ruler’s unwillingness, Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (vv. 24-5). 

The implications of this encounter are clear and undeniable – Jesus is suggesting that salvation is, in some measure at least, tied up in man’s response and commitment to Him and His calling.  Surely if the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace were true, then Jesus would never have said that it was harder for rich persons to be saved than poor persons.  Surely their wills would be irresistibly and invincibly bent to faith and conversion upon hearing the effectual call of God.  Surely it would be no harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s monergistic and irresistible call than it would be for any other person.  But of course, what Jesus is suggesting stands in stark contrast to the Calvinist’s doctrine.  Surely there can be no doubt that human choice is vital for salvation.

While human choice is certainly vital for salvation, it does not contribute anything to salvation:

“[I]n and of themselves, people’s choices accomplish nothing. Perhaps the best model is the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, the commander of the Aramite army, had leprosy. He asked for help. The prophet Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman initially rejected that notion, complaining about having to bathe in the dirty Jordan River. Finally, after his servants prevailed upon him, he did it, and his leprosy was cleansed. What was it that cleansed Naaman’s leprosy? Was it his dunking himself in the Jordan River seven times? Of course not! He could have dunked himself in the river a thousand times and nothing would have happened. On the other hand, what happened when he did not go bathe? Nothing! God allowed him to suffer the results of his own rebellion. But when Naaman responded obediently to God’s direction through the prophet, Naaman was healed.

So it is with our salvation. Humans do not do anything to earn or deserve salvation. Humans are too sinful in nature to seek God independently or take the initiative in their own salvation. Humans can come to salvation only as they are urged to by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and they are drawn to Christ as He is lifted up in proclamation. Cooperation contributes absolutely nothing to human salvation. God’s grace provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation. However, God in His freedom has sovereignly decided that He will give the gift of salvation to those who believe, who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. So salvation truly is monergistic – only God provides for human salvation, and He alone. Before He does so, He requires humans to respond. If humans do not respond, then He does not save. If humans do respond, He surrounds them with overpowering grace impelling them forward until they come to the point of repentance and faith.” 4

Notes

1 Complete Works of Arminius, Vol. 2, Letter to the Reader, ‘Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighed’, (On Faith)

2 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p. 155

3 Complete Works of Arminius, Vol. 1, Declaration of the Sentiments, (5)(3)

4 Steve Lemke, “A Biblical and Theological Critique of Irresistible Grace,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, p. 159

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9 thoughts on “Q&A: If God’s Grace Can Be Resisted, Isn’t the Decisive Factor in Salvation Man’s Choice Instead of God’s?

  1. Jack Hanley January 31, 2013 / 9:54 pm

    @In a sense, the decision solely rests on the individual.

    Why do you use the phrase in a sense. Either the decision rests solely on the individual or not. Therefore there is no need of saying in a sense, In Arminian theology the decision solely, only, completely, and as Roger Olson has said ULTIMATELY rests on the individual. Saying that we depend on God’s enabling does not lighten the load at all. What you are in essence saying is God has done His part the rest is up to us. The ball is now in our court.

    God therefore then, has no power in determining who, or if any at all will be saved. Wonder if He has His fingers crossed?

  2. Arminian January 31, 2013 / 11:25 pm

    God has determined who will be saved – those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).

  3. Jack Hanley February 1, 2013 / 2:31 pm

    Arminian,

    Don’t you think, that what you have said here is deceitful. According to this article above, God does not determine WHO will be saved, rather He only has determined that believers will be saved. He does not determine WHO these believers will be. Therefore, saying that God determines WHO will be saved is not true in the least.

    Let’s just cut to the chase here. would it be correct to say that,

    God has determined (past tense) that only believers will be saved. He does not in any way determine WHO these believers will be? Therefore saying God determines WHO will be saved is being a little less than honest, don’t you think?

  4. credulo February 27, 2013 / 12:24 am

    Jack Hanley, I think a Molinist approeach reduces your ‘finger crossing’ analogy to dead ashes =) :P

    God has determined to save believers, and the same God knows who would believe if He bestows some measure of sufficient-but-resistible grace. So, the determination of individuals comes logically after the determination of criteria.

    Read more here: http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com/2012/08/middle-knowledge-response-to-salvation.html

    And take care with the Slippery Slope!

  5. Jack Hanley June 29, 2013 / 1:24 pm

    It seems I made my first comment here on Feb. 1. I continued to check back to see if there was any other responses, and there were none. Today I happened to run back across this post and I see where there has been a response by Credulo. Therefore I would like to respond in hopes Credulo will see this, and respond in kind.

    As you will see above my initial point was,

    Why would an Arminian say, “In a sense, the decision solely rests on the individual?” In other words why say “in a sense?” The Arminian will have to say the decision is completely up to the individual. Saying that God enables the individual does not change this fact. God may in fact enable, but He in no way determines, according to Arminians. Calvinists, believe God alone determines who is saved, and they do not seem to have a problem saying this. My question is why can’t Arminians just come out and say, we as individuals determine if will be saved or not? Let me be clear here, I am in no way saying we determine salvation, rather salvation is of God, however, I am saying, according to Arminians, we determine our own individual salvation.

    The response I received in return was,

    God has determined who will be saved – those who believe,

    This is a non sensible statement for an Arminian. God has not determined WHO will be saved (that would be Calvinism), rather He has determined, only believers will be saved, however he does not determine WHO these believes will be. Now Credulo has responded by saying,

    God has determined to save believers, and the same God knows who would believe,

    Okay then, my question to this is. Does God’s KNOWING who will believe, therefore constitute, God determining that they will believe? As an Arminian, you will have to answer this question in the negative. In other words,God’s knowing, does not equate to God’s determining. This would seem to me to indicate that, God has only determined to save individuals who believe, He has not determined that any individual will be saved, that decision is left to each individual. If all this is the case then, my question still stands. Why use the phrase, “in a sense?”

    Lastly. I would like to thank Credulo for the concern over my being on a “Slippery Slope.” But I have a couple of questions in regards to his concern. 1) How is my posing these questions placing me on a “Slippery Slope?” Am I not to use my mind, and just accept what you have to say? 2) How is it that you are so certain that it is me on this “Slippery Slope?” And what causes you to be so sure that it may not be you on this so called “Slippery Slope?” It continues to amaze me, when you enter into this type of discussion, how there are so many people who are so certain that they are correct, and anyone who may disagree of question them, places that person on a “Slippery Slope.”

  6. Andrew July 31, 2013 / 4:52 pm

    @Jack.
    I agree with you that ” in a sense” was a poor choice of words. My personal opinion is that God does know who will be saved, only by him can we be saved, but he has given us the choice. It is up to us to make that choice and God will not force it upon us.

  7. gary September 1, 2013 / 8:46 pm

    Lutherans DO believe that a person can make a Decision for Christ

    Lutherans believe that one CAN make a decision for Christ…but it is AFTER God has saved him!

    We believe that God gives the free gift of salvation without any assistance or even any cooperation of the sinner. In this way salvation really and truly is FREE! God lays the gift of faith and salvation into your “lap” and you believe and repent. We do not believe that there is any decision making in any of these actions. We view the believing and repenting as reflexive REACTIONS. When a doctor strikes your knee with a reflex hammer, your conscious brain is not required to make a decision for your knee to reflexively jerk forward.

    Now that the new Christian has the free gift of salvation, he does have a free will in spiritual matters, where before salvation he did not. The believer can choose to reject Christ, turn from him, and live a life of willful ongoing sin two seconds after his salvation or forty years later…and when he dies he will most likely wake up in hell.

    Lutherans do NOT believe in eternal security. Our salvation in not dependent on how many good deeds we do, but a willful rejection of Christ (eg. converting to Islam or becoming an agnostic or atheist) or choosing to live in ongoing, willful sin, can cause the Holy Spirit to leave a believer as happened with King Saul in the OT. If the Holy Spirit leaves the one time believer, he is no longer saved, if he dies without repenting and returning to Christ, he will go to hell.

    Human beings DO have the opportunity to make a decision for or against Christ AFTER they are saved…they do NOT have the ability to make a decision FOR Christ before they are saved.

    So Lutherans and Baptists/evangelicals actually end up at the same place: a person CAN make a decision for Christ, we just disagree when the decision can occur. It is this point of disagreement that precludes Baptists and many evangelicals from accepting infant baptism. You require a decision before salvation. You are absolutely correct, infants cannot make decisions…but infants can REFLEXIVELY believe and repent, in the same manner an adult reflexively believes and repents, at the moment that God quickens his spiritually dead soul. This quickening and reflexive believing and repenting will ONLY happen to the Elect. This is why Lutherans do not run everyone in the neighborhood through the baptismal waters.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  8. Richard Stals June 18, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    A bit late in the piece, but I’ll add my 2c worth.

    Calvinists tend to paint the Arminian view as that a man’s choice tom believe is the final, determining factor in Salvation. That God’s will is captive to a man’s choice.

    This is not so.

    While a man’s choice is *a* determining factor, it is not the final one. Just because a man has faith for Salvation in no way obligates God to save him, in and of itself. To say it another way, God would be perfectly just and ‘within His rights’ not to save you even if you had faith – if not for one other factor.

    God, within His own will apart from Man, decided that he would save all who believe. The reason that anyone who has faith will be saved is not because this choice forces the hand of God against His will, but that God has determined that He will do so.

    The final and determining factor in Salvation is God’s will. His will is that He will save all who come to Him.

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