Monday, May 20, 2013

Irresistible Grace

OK, I know this is played-out. You probably already have a strong position. But, hear me out. Let me just get this out there - I'm reformed in my Christian doctrine. I subscribe to the doctrines of grace. But, I still love to engage and listen to both sides. I've just been watching a debate between a Calvinist and non-Calvinist and I cannot get away from one simple idea that, in my mind, is the deal breaker. 

The classic Calvinistic position is that man cannot choose salvation of himself - he is incapable of doing so because he is dead in his sin. Dead men cannot choose life. Just as Lazaras could not yell out to Jesus to resurrect him, man cannot reach out to Jesus to be regenerated into life. The classic Arminian position is that God has given prevenient grace to all men and have been gifted the ability to believe on Jesus for salvation. They would still say that salvation is a free gift of God to those who believe, but it is ultimately up to the free-will individual to choose God, to choose Jesus and declare him Lord. I absolutely believe both "reformed" Christians and "arminian" Christians are Christians. This isn't a debate about who's in or out. BUT, I do believe that this is an important distinction, both about ourselves and about God.

When I listen to debates on this subject I can truly relate to some of the emotions and perspectives of the Arminian. I really can. Left up to me, I'd probably be an Arminian. But, when I read scripture I cannot see that this is possible. Now, let's not make the mistake of saying reformed Christians believe the Bible is Calvinist. I simply believe that what we call "reformed" faith is what the Bible espouses. I believe this because the Bible is clear about it. To examine the whole of the issue is too ridiculously large to cover here. I just want to address one facet of the discussion.

I find, correct me if I'm ignorant here, that most of the people I hear argue against Calvinism do so because of a strong attachment to a certain philosophical perspective - namely, in their own free will and right to choose in all things. Of all the 5 points of TULIP, this is often the biggy (Irresistible Grace - the "I") that non-Calvinists most vehemently object to. This is what gets me excited. I don't think many people follow this rabbit trail deep enough.

To the arminian I say this: If God equally calls all men to himself, if he prompts all men equally with the Holy Spirit, if Jesus has reached out equally and fully to all men on the planet and offered his gift of life, what is the factor that determines whether this gift is accepted or rejected? I cannot find a way to think of any answer that could be offered than that the other factor is the man. And, it follows to ask, what is in any particular man that he would accept the gospel while his neighbor does not. Is he smarter? Is he more spiritually aware or softer-hearted? Let's say that he is. Is this of his own doing? Did this man choose to be a soft-hearted and spiritually aware person? If so, how was he able to do this? 

Does the man who was daily beaten by his religious "christian" drunkard of a father, the son of divorced parents, the child who grew up in poverty and is abandoned by this same father have an equal inner ability to make a decision for Jesus than the boy who grew up in a safe and loving home to believing parents who accurately modeled God's love for their child? Does this first man who has been abused and abandoned by what he knows as "father" and what he associates with Christianity and who will likely despise any father or faith have the same free-will choice as the latter example? It seems very plain that much of what we call choice is an illusion. We have all benefited or been harmed by our experiences, not to mention the fact that we all have certain genetic predispositions.

I cannot believe that a person who is born with a genetic predisposition towards anger and coldness, who then is abused and poorly raised and given a terrible example of Christianity can possibly posses the same degree of free-will choice as one who has not suffered from these same detrimental experiences. No man, and I mean NO MAN, can claim that there is something special within him that has enabled him to understand the gospel, repent and follow Jesus as Lord of his life because of anything within him. We can look at countless examples of people who have lived such incredibly difficult and tumultuous lives who believe in Christ and likewise just as many who have lived privileged lives who were brought up in Christian homes who do not possess faith. 

The Arminian believes that we cooperate with God in our salvation. He makes a move and we make a move. Moves are necessary by both parties. If 1 equals salvation and 0 is rebellion, we can look at it this way:

Arminian Perspective: 
1 (God) X 1 (Person who chooses Jesus) = 1 (Salvation)
1 X 1 = 1  (Salvation)
1 X 0 = 0  (Non-salvation)

The differences in the Arminian equations are the person, valued at either 1 or 0. The Arminian believes that God offers his "1" to ALL persons. The obvious difference in the equations is the person being a 1 or 0. To the Arminian, it is up to the person on whether he will cooperate with God to create the outcome of 1 for salvation. He can be a 1 or a 0 by his belief or unbelief. 

Reformed Perspective*:
IF 1 (God) THEN 1 (Person believes) = 1 (saved), where God's "1" is his election and man's "1" is his repentance/belief 
(1 --> 1) = 1
(0 --> 0) = 0

In the Reformed perspective, it is not a matter of offering your "1" value to end up with a salvation result. It is an if/then scenario. If God elects for salvation, if he draws one to himself than he gives the person life that he may have belief. There is no belief unto salvation without God's initial act. We are only able to "then" after God's "if" act. And, this is because we are all inherently "0s" in this illustration. 

There is a huge difference between these scenarios. My object here is not to guess at who's saved and who's not or any such thing. But, the answer to the question of whether it is in man or in God that anyone is saved is a truth of enormous gravity. To the non-reformed the answer can be nothing but that it is in man. Some men have the capacity due to whatever has lead them to be who they are (by chance?), that they find themselves in a unique moment in life where all the factors line up - they are soft hearted to respond, they have been given the gospel, they make a choice based on their own evaluation of the gospel message and choose life. They might argue that the spirit was working on them, but isn't he equally working on all others as well? So, why you and not another? It seems there is reason to boast or at last take credit for your faith-decision in this scenario.

To the reformed, there is zero claim to your repentance, but it is a direct and absolute result of the Holy Spirit's conviction. The Father draws the man by the Spirit and is convicted of sin and is drawn to repentance and faith. There is nothing in himself that distinguishes him from any other man that he can say, "I came to the decision because..." other than that the Holy Spirit has brought him to life. 

*The following scenarios do not exist:
(1 --> 0) = 1  (The Father draws a person to himself and the person resists but is also saved)
(1 --> 0) = 0  (The Father draws a person to himself and the person resists - is not saved)
(0 --> 1) = 1  (The Father does not draw a person to himself and the person believes and is saved - a person will not believe without being drawn by the Father)
(0 --> 0) = 1 ( The Father does not draw a person to himself and the person does not believe, but is saved)

Written: October 19, 2011

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