Grace is more than an attitude or
disposition in the divine nature. It is surely that, but an examination of the
usage of this word in Scripture reveals that grace, if thought of only as an
abstract and static principle, is deprived of its deeper implications.
The grace of God, for example, is
the power of God's Spirit converting the soul. It is the activity or movement
of God whereby He saves and justifies the individual through faith (see esp.
Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely
believe; it is something we experience as well.
Grace, however, is not only the
divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power
by which we are sustained in, nourished, and proceed through that life. The
energizing and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God.
After Paul had prayed three times for God to deliver him from his thorn in the
flesh, he received this answer: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Although Paul undoubtedly derived
encouragement and strength to face his daily trials by reflecting on the
magnificence of God's unmerited favor, in this text he appears to speak rather
of an experiential reality of a more dynamic nature. It is the
operative power of the indwelling Spirit to which Paul refers. That is the
grace of God.
We should also consider in this
regard the many references to the grace of God in Paul's opening greetings and
concluding benedictions (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2;
Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess.1:1; 2 These. 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 Cor. 13:14). This
no mere literary formality, but an earnest and constant wish of Paul that his
converts may continue to experience grace, that they may know afresh the
gracious power of God moving in their lives, that they may find in that grace
the spiritual resources by which to live in a way pleasing to Him.
It is interesting to observe that
without exception the blessing at the beginning of each of Paul's letters
says, "Grace [be] to you," while the blessing at the end of each letter
says, "Grace [be] with you." Why? Piper suggests that "at the beginning
of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter is a channel of God's grace
to the readers. Grace is about to flow 'from God' through Paul's writing
to the Christians. So he says, 'Grace to you’” (66).
But what becomes of this grace
after his readers are done with his letter? The answer is that grace is now to
be with you. "With you as you put the letter away and leave the church.
With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate
spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and
dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ
over lunch” (Future Grace, 66-67). Thus we learn that "grace is
ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to
read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the
Bible down and go about our daily living” (67).
Besides the general soteriological
usage of the word with which everyone is familiar, grace can also denote the
particular acts of God whereby He grants enablement for some service or
authorization for a specific duty or mission (Rom. 12:3; 15:15-18; 1 Cor.
3:10). It is not without significance that the word grace and its derivatives
are used in the description of what we call "spiritual gifts." We read in
Romans 12:6: "We have different gifts [charismata], according to the
grace [charin] given us."
Finally, the word grace is used in
a variety of ways in the course of Paul's discussion of Christian stewardship
(2 Cor. 8-9). It is used with reference to the supernatural enablement
bestowed by God, as a result of which one gives despite poverty (2 Cor.
8:1,9). It refers to the ministry of giving (2 Cor. 8:6, 7, 19), the privilege
of giving (2 Cor. 8:4) and even to the gift itself (1 Cor. 16:3).
So, how is all this relevant to the
subject of divine election? It is relevant in that it would seem that only the
doctrine of unconditional election preserves the integrity of divine grace.
According to the notion of conditional election, God graciously makes
possible, but not certain, the election of all people by restoring to each
that power and freedom of will of which they had been deprived by Adam’s fall
into sin. Whether or not God elects any person is therefore dependent on the
way in which he or she makes use of this ability. By establishing the
condition for election as faith, God is thereby obligated to elect all those
who, by means of their now purportedly free wills, believe in the gospel of
Christ. But surely, then, election itself can be neither of grace nor
according to God’s good pleasure.
I suppose one might say that it was
gracious of God to restore in all people sufficient ability to believe and
that it was gracious of God to impose the condition of faith in Christ (by
which one qualifies for election). But it is certainly not possible to say
that election is itself gracious. To choose men because they believe is an
obligation to which God is bound; it is a debt he must pay.
If it would be unjust of God,
having made faith the condition of election, not to elect those who believe,
then election is a matter of giving man his due. Election would be the divine
response to what a person deserves. He deserves being chosen because by a free
act of will he has fulfilled the condition (faith) on which election was
But grace is, by definition,
treating a person without any regard whatsoever to his or her merits or
demerits. How can election be gracious if it is something God must do
because justice requires it? Election is gracious precisely because it
is the bestowal of life on those who deserve only death.
The same may be said of election as
an act according to the divine “good pleasure” (See Matt. 11:25-30; Rom.
9:11,16,18; Eph. 1:3-11; 2 Tim. 1:9-10). If election is conditional, if it is
an act required of God in response to man’s free will faith, then it cannot be
according to God’s “good pleasure.” Why? Because it is impossible that God
might have willed not to elect such a man. In other words, if it is
conditional, election cannot be a matter of God willing or not willing the
salvation of a man in accordance with his (that is, God’s) desires. An
election that occurs only and always in response to a fulfilled condition is a
matter of law, of debt, of obligation. If election is conditional God cannot
will either to elect or not to elect. If the condition is met, that is to say,
if there is faith, God must elect.
Of course, it is true that even in
the Calvinistic understanding of election God must save if a person believes
in Christ. But there is an eternally significant difference. According to
Calvinism, the faith of a person in response to which God saves is itself the
gracious gift of God. Simply put, saving faith is the effect, not the cause,
of God’s sovereign good pleasure in election. Paul Jewett explains:
“If those in the Reformed
[Calvinistic] tradition insist on the ‘divine condition’ of salvation,
as obviously they do, why, it might be asked, do they speak of ‘unconditional
election’? The answer has been given that election is not conditioned on any
foreseen merit in the sinner – that is, faith is not the condition but
the gift of grace. The grace of salvation secures – if we might so
speak – the condition of salvation” (Paul K. Jewett, Election and
Predestination [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], p. 112, n. 87).
Let me now apply all this to our
hypothetical twin brothers, Jerry and Ed. Arminians who believe in the
doctrine of total moral depravity insist that although both Jerry and Ed are
by nature unable to come to Christ, the Holy Spirit graciously restores in
them the power they need to act in faith by their own free will. I will forego
making much of the fact that there is no clear and unequivocal text of
Scripture which affirms the idea, a point that I will take up in more detail
in a subsequent lesson. I will assume merely for the sake of argument (but
against Scripture, in my opinion), that it is true.
Our situation, then, is this. Both
Jerry and Ed (like every other human being, says the Arminian), have been
endowed from on high with equal ability to believe the gospel. Neither has an
advantage over the other. If Jerry acts and improves upon this power of will
so as to repent and believe the gospel, but Ed does not, to whom or to what do
attribute the difference between them? It seems clear enough to me that if
Jerry avails himself of the opportunity, but Ed does not, the reason or cause
must be something in Jerry that is not in Ed. It cannot be because of
something the Holy Spirit graciously did in and for Jerry that he refused to
do in and for Ed. The Arminian insists that if God, according to his sovereign
good pleasure, does for one (Jerry) what he declines to do for another (Ed),
he is guilty of partiality and injustice. To restore a greater and more
effective power of will in Jerry than in Ed is unfair, says the Arminian.
Justice demands that God must do the same for both.
Therefore, the fact that Jerry
believes and Ed does not can be explained only by what Jerry is and does in
himself, as over against his twin brother. That Jerry should suddenly be
sorrowful for his sin and repent can be due only to Jerry. That Jerry should
suddenly understand the gospel, humbly repudiate all reliance upon self, and
embrace by faith the redemptive merits of Jesus Christ can be due only to
Jerry. It cannot ultimately be because of God the Holy Spirit; otherwise Ed
and every other human being would repent and believe in like manner, since
they have received from God as much help as Jerry has.
It would appear that, if the
Arminian scenario is correct, in answer to the apostle’s question, “Who maketh
thee to differ?” (1 Cor. 4:7a, KJV), Jerry can justifiably (and with pride of
heart?) say, “I did!” It will not do to say that were it not for the
Holy Spirit no one at all, neither Jerry nor Ed, would have been able to
believe in Christ. For if it is not the Holy Spirit who guarantees and secures
Jerry’s belief in Christ, he has eternal life because of what he, not God, has
At best, the Arminian may say that
the opportunity to be saved is of grace. At best, he may insist that the
possibility for Jerry and Ed to get to heaven is of grace. But he simply
cannot say that salvation itself is wholly of grace. In the Arminian scheme,
God has said all that he can say and has done all that he can do once he has
restored in all people an equal ability to believe. From that point on, the
reason one person believes and another does not is a human reason. To
that degree, salvation is not of the Lord, but of man, and we could with
sincerity no longer sing:
“Pause, my soul! adore, and wonder!
Ask, ‘Oh, why such love
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s
Thanks, eternal thanks,