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Archive for August, 2009

Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan Sense?

by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner

 

The Nature of Fallen Humanity

This chapter explores whether the Wesleyan concept of prevenient grace can be supported from the Scriptures. Before examining this question, I want to emphasize that there is a significant area of common ground between Wesleyans and Calvinists. The disagreements that we have in some areas can cause us to overlook the extent to which we agree on major doctrines. In one arena of theology, namely, anthropology, the harmony between Wesleyans and Calvinists is of the utmost importance and our harmony in this area should be celebrated. Both camps acknowledge that fallen human beings are born with a corrupt nature that is in bondage to sin, and that human beings can do no good apart from the grace of God.

To sketch in the biblical data on the human condition since the fall is helpful. Thereby we will see the extent to which Wesleyans and Calvinists agree, and the gulf that the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace creates between Arminians and Calvinists will also be illuminated. Paul teaches that all human beings are born with a corrupt nature inherited from Adam (Rom. 5:12-19). Without specifying the precise connection between Adam’s sin and our condemnation-which is itself the subject of a long theological controversy-it is clear from the text that we are sinners because of Adam’s sin. Through Adam’s sin we died (Rom. 5:15, 17), are condemned (Rom. 5:16, 18), and are constituted as sinners (Rom. 5:19).

 Harmonizing with this portrait of humanity in Romans 5 is Ephesians 2:3, which says we are by nature ”objects of wrath.” Human beings by nature (physei) are deserving of wrath, indicating that they are all born with a nature that is sinful. The near context in Ephesians 2 confirms the depth of human depravity. Human beings are ”dead in transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. 2:5 and Col. 2:13). The deadness of fallen humanity indicates that we are devoid of life upon our entrance into the world. We have no inclination toward genuine righteousness or goodness. Paul proceeds to say in Ephesians 2:2-3 that we lived under the sway of the world, the devil, and the flesh before conversion.

 What is in the consciousness of those who are under the control of the ”flesh”? There is not necessarily a conscious awareness of rebellion against God. Life in the flesh consists in ”gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3). The desires of people who are “by nature objects of wrath” are naturally and instinctively sinful desires. In other words, unregenerate people sm by merely doing what they wish to do, by carrying out the motivations that are in their hearts. Sinful desires dominate those who are in the flesh.

Is there biblical warrant for saying that the desires of the unregenerate are dominated by sin? Ephesians 2:3 suggests such a conclusion in saying that people are dead in trespasses and sins and that they are ”by nature objects of wrath.” The trespasses and sins flow from a nature that is sinful and warrants God’s wrath. Titus 3:3 confirms such a conclusion. ”At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Note here that Paul says that we were ”enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures” (italics added). It is fair to conclude that people who are enslaved by their own desires are under the domination and tyranny of sin. This kind of tyranny is not externally coerced. People do what they want to do, in that they pursue their own pleasures and desires. Nonetheless, to describe this pursuit of their own desires as slavery because they have no desire, inclination, or aspiration to do good is appropriate.

The bondage of the will, then, is a slavery to our own desires. Unregenerate human beings are captivated by what they want to do! Jesus himself diagnosed sinning as an indication of slavery. ”Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34; cf. 2 Pet. 2:19). Paul confirms that unregenerate people are slaves of sin. He reminds the Romans that ”you are slaves to sm” (Rom. 6:17) and speaks of the time ”when you were slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:20). They had presented ”the parts of [their] bod[ies] in slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness” (Rom. 6:19). Believers have been crucified with Christ ”so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). If Christ died so that we should no longer be slaves to sin, the clear implication is that we were formerly slaves to sin. Sin is described in Romans 6 as a power that holds its captives in thralldom. Unbelievers are enslaved to sin in the sense that all they want to do is sin. They are free to do what is good in the sense that they have opportunities to do so. They fail to avail themselves of these opportunities, however, because they do not desire to do what is good. The captivity of sin is so powerful that they always desire to sin.

Do unregenerate human beings always sin? Is there not some good in their lives? We are not saying that they are as evil as they can possibly be. Jesus says, ”… you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children” (Luke 11:13). If people were as evil as they possibly could be, they would not desire to give good things to their children. They would presumably find ways to inflict only evil upon their children. Unbelieving parents often love their children and their friends (cf. Matt. 5:46-47). They also may do much that is good for society. It should be noted that Jesus still says that they are evil. Evil people still give good gifts to their children and do kind things for other people.

 If people are not as sinful as they can possibly be, then in what sense are they slaves to sin? It is crucial to establish a biblical definition of sm. Of course, sin consists in disobeying the law (1 John 3:4). But the root of sin is much deeper than this. Romans 1:21-25 clarifies that the heart of sin is failing to glorify God as God. The heart of sin is a belittling of God and a scorning of his glory, which involves a failure to glorify and thank him (Rom. 1:21). As Romans 3:23 says, ”All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinners do not give God the supreme place in their lives but exchange ”the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:23). In other words, people ”served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Sin is not first and foremost the practice of evil deeds but an attitude that gives glory to something other than God. People may be loving to their children and kind to their neighbors and never give a thought to God. The essence of sin is self-worship rather than God-worship. The serpent persuaded Eve and Adam to eat the fruit of the tree by promising them that they would ”be like God” (Gen. 3:5). They could dispense with God and worship themselves; they would worship the creature rather than the Creator.

Such a conception of sin helps us understand how people can perform actions that externally conform with righteousness yet remain slaves of sm. These actions are not motivated by a desire to honor and glorify God as God.

 They are not done out of an attitude of faith, which brings glory to God (Rom. 4:20). Faith brings glory to God because he is seen to be the all-powerful one who supplies our every good, and thus is deserving of praise and honor. Actions that externally conform with righteousness may still be sin, in that they are not done for God’s glory and by faith. The necessity of faith is underscored by Romans 14:23, where Paul notes that ”everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Slavery to sin does not mean that people always engage in reprehensible behavior. It means that the unregenerate never desire to bring glory to God, but are passionately committed to upholding their own glory and honor. Of course, the power of sin is such that all have fallen short of conformity with God’s law (Rom. 1:18-3:20). No one has perfectly done all that the law requires. The extent of our slavery to sin is, however, even deeper than this. It is not merely that the ”sinful mind is hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7). It is also true that it ”does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). Those in the flesh have an intense hatred of God burning within them, whether they are conscious of this or not. Moreover, they have no ability to keep God’s law. Paul is not saying that there is no opportunity to keep the law. Nor is he saying that people want to keep the law, but God prevents them from keeping it. His point is that those in the flesh have no moral ability to keep the law perfectly or to glorify God. The power of sin is so great that they ”cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8) and do his will. They are slaves to sin.

 The Wesleyan View of Fallen Humanity

 It is notable that John Wesley would agree with the preceding diagnosis. He writes,

“I believe that Adam, before his fall, had such freedom of will, that he might choose either good or evil; but that, since the fall, no child of man has a natural power to choose anything that is truly good. Yet I know (and who does not?) that man has still freedom of will in things of indifferent nature. “

Human beings since the fall are so enmeshed in the power of sin that apart from divine grace they cannot choose what is spiritually good. This point is often acknowledged by Wesley scholars. Harald Lindstrom rightly remarks that ”Wesley maintains that natural man is totally corrupt.” He is ”sinful through and through, has no knowledge of God and no power to turn to him of his own free will.” Robert V. Rakestraw says that in Wesley’s theology ”men and women are born in sin and unable in themselves to make the least move toward God.” Colin W. Williams affirms the same point: ”Because of original sin, the natural man is ’dead to God’ and unable to move toward God or respond to him.” Leo G. Cox says, ”By nature man receives nothing that is good. … He is free but free only to do evil and to follow on in the way of sin. Wesley did not believe that the will of fallen humanity was free. He says, ”Such is the freedom of the will; free only to evil; free to ’drink iniquity like water;’ to wander farther and farther from the living God, and do more ’despite to the Spirit of grace!’” The Wesleyan analysis of the human condition does not differ fundamentally from the Calvinistic one. Indeed, in 1745 John Wesley said that his theology was ”within a hair’s breadth” of Calvinism:

 (1) In ascribing all good to the free grace of God.

(2) In denying all natural free-will, and all power antecedent to grace. And,

(3) In excluding all merit from man; even for what he has or does by the grace of God.” Wesley’s analysis of the human condition and his bold proclamation of divine grace should warm the heart of any evangelical Calvinist.

Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan System

If Wesleyans and Calvinists concur on the human condition, wherein do they differ? One major place that Wesleyans break with Calvinists is through their doctrine of prevenient grace. Elton Hendricks says that this doctrine ”played a more important role in Wesley’s theological thought than in that of any other Protestant theologian.” Williams affirms that it ”has very great significance in his theology.” Even though Calvinists and Arminians hold much in common, H. Ray Dunning rightly says that ”the truth that holds them but a hair’s breadth apart at the point of the watershed is the doctrine of prevenient grace.” The differences between Calvinists and Arminians on this point should not be minimized. William Ragsdale Cannon is correct in saying that ”though Wesleyanism and Calvinism come in this instance so close together, they are in reality worlds apart.” How crucial is prevenient grace to the Wesleyan system? Wesleyans themselves seem to concur that their theology hinges on the doctrine. Robert E. Chiles says that ”without it, the Calvinist logic is irrefutable.” Williams asserts that Wesley’s theology of prevenient grace ”broke the chain of logical necessity by which the Calvinist doctrine of predestination seems to flow from the doctrine of original sin.” It seems fair to conclude that if prevenient grace is not taught in Scripture, then the credibility of Wesleyan theology is seriously undermined.

Before probing to see whether Scripture teaches prevenient grace, it is necessary to explore what Wesleyans mean by the term. We need to recall that Wesley himself was not a systematic theologian but a pastoral theologian who developed his theology in the course of his ministry. Thus, no systematic treatment of the theme of prevenient grace is found in his writings. In Wesleyan theology there are various conceptions of prevenient grace that we do not need to specify here since, as we shall see, there is common ground within the various positions on the issue that concerns us.

In some respects Wesleyans use the term prevenient grace in a way that matches with the Calvinist term common grace. The conscience, according to Wesley, is to be ascribed to prevenient grace. It is not to be understood as a natural gift but is supernaturally given by God. In addition, some moral excellence and virtue in the world exists even among those who are unregenerate. Prevenient grace is responsible for the goodness that is present to some extent in every society, even in cultures that are largely non-Christian. We are not surprised to learn, then, that the relationship between prevenient grace and natural theology has been explored by some, with a close connection being suggested.

The Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace differs from the Calvinistic conception of common grace in one important area. In the Calvinistic scheme common grace does not and cannot lead to salvation. It functions to restrain evil in the world but does not lead unbelievers to faith. For Wesleyans, prevenient grace may lead one to salvation. Cox rightly says, ”The Wesleyan teaches that the prevenient grace leads on to saving grace, prepares for it, enables a person to enter into it.” Indeed, in Wesley’s theology it seems that a proper response to prevenient grace could lead to the salvation of those who have not heard the gospel. What we are interested in exploring, however, is not how prevenient grace affects those who have never heard the gospel. The distinctive aspect of prevenient grace that is relevant for our discussion is that it provides the ability to choose salvation, an ability that was surrendered by Adam’s sin. Wesley describes it as follows:

 “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.”

What separates Calvinists from Wesleyans is that the former see electing grace as given only to some (the elect) and insist that this grace cannot ultimately be resisted.

The latter argue that prevenient grace is given to all people and that it can be resisted. What is common in all Wesleyan theories of prevenient grace is that the freedom, which was lost in Adam’s sin, is sufficiently restored to enable people to choose salvation. Prevenient grace provides people with the ability to choose or reject God. As sinners born in Adam, they had no ability to do good or to choose what is right. But as recipients of prevenient grace they can once again choose the good. Wesley said, ”Natural free-will, in the present state of mankind, I do not understand: I only assert, that Rogers’s own conclusions regarding Wesley’s understanding of prevenient grace, on first glance, seem to be radically different from that suggested by the other scholars. Further analysis, however, reveals that the difference is one of degree, not one of kind. Rogers argues (Prevenient Grace, 217-19) that prevenient grace, according to Wesley, does not provide people with the ability to choose salvation. Prevenient grace in Wesley’s thought is a gift given, not a gift that is offered and can be rejected. People are passive m the reception of faith, and there is no emphasis on the role of human decision in receiving faith. Thus faith is irresistible at the moment given. Rogers’s explanation may lead one to think that Wesley was a Calvinist! But this is not the whole story. Rogers contends that prevenient grace in Wesley’s thought plays a decisive role before one comes to faith. Prevenient grace operates through the law and conscience to bring conviction of sin and despair of ever pleasing God. People have the freedom to resist the conviction of sin that comes from the law and conscience. If they do not respond appropriately to the conviction of sin mediated by the law and conscience, then they will not be saved. Prevenient grace leads one to the very brink of salvation if one responds positively to the ”means of grace” that precede saving faith. Thus, prevenient grace is irresistible at the moment one exercises faith, but long before one receives faith the grace of God can be resisted. Only those who satisfactorily respond to prevenient grace come to the point where saving faith can be exercised. It seems that Rogers is in harmony with other Wesleyans in his conception of prevenient grace, for the grace God gives can still be resisted. Human beings may choose to respond to or resist the influence of the law and conscience. The final and ultimate determination lies with human choice. Rogers differs from other Wesleyans in locating the point of resistance in another place in Wesley’s theology, namely, one’s response to the means of grace before conversion.

For views that are quite similar to Rogers’s see Royster (Missiological Perspective, 90-91) and Robert E. Cushman, ”Salvation for All: Wesley and Calvinism,” in Methodism, ed. W. K. Anderson (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1947). It is clear from Royster’s concluding definition that ability to choose what is good is included in his understanding of prevenient grace, for he says that prevenient grace provides ”the freedom/power to respond positively to subsequent directions from God.” There is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which ’enlightens every man that cometh into the world.’” Prevenient grace does not guarantee that the good will be chosen. It simply provides the opportunity or liberty to choose salvation. People may stifle the grace given and turn away from God, or they may respond to God’s grace and turn to him in order to be saved.

 Obviously, prevenient grace fixes a large gulf between Calvinism and Wesleyanism. Calvinists contend that the unregenerate have no ability or desire to choose God. God’s election of some is what brings them from darkness to light, from Satan’s kingdom to God’s. Wesleyans believe that God has given prevenient grace to all people. As descendants of Adam they were born with no ability or desire to choose God, but God has counteracted this inability by the gift of prevenient grace. Now all people have the ability to choose God. The ultimate determination of salvation is the human decision to say no or yes to God.

Wesleyan Arguments in Favor of Prevenient Grace

 For all Bible-believing Christians, the most important question in matters of doctrinal dispute is this: what is the Bible’s teaching as it pertains to the issue at hand? Calvinists and Armimans likewise must turn to the Bible. The critical question is whether or not the doctrine of prevenient grace is supported by Scripture. We cannot examine this issue until we see the arguments that are put forward to defend the doctrine. Wesleyans use at least four arguments to support the idea that prevenient grace is a doctrine rooted in Scripture.

 First, the Scripture text that is appealed to quite often is John 1:9. ”The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” The meaning of this text is not analyzed in detail by Wesleyan scholars, but their understanding seems clear enough. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world brought enough light to all people so that they are now able to reject or accept the message of the gospel. The illumination (photizet) refers to the granting of grace that overcomes the darkness that penetrated human hearts as a result of Adam’s sin. This illumination does not guarantee salvation; it simply makes it possible for men and women to choose salvation.

Such an understanding of the verse may be confirmed in the subsequent context. Some rejected the light and ”did not receive him” (John 1:11), while others responded to the light and ”received him” (John 1:12). It should also be noted that this illumination is not restricted to a few. It is granted to ”every person” (panta anthropon). This would support the Wesleyan view that prevenient grace is given to all people.

A second argument employed by Wesleyans is that prevenient grace is granted in the atonement of Christ (e.g., Tit. 2:11; John 12:32).[35] This argument is bound up with the universality of Christ’s atonement. His death for all necessarily implies that grace is given to some extent to all. The argument is that Christ would not die for all unless all were granted the opportunity to accept or reject him. John 12:32 can be understood as supporting this theory. Jesus says, ”But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Henry Thiessen says about this verse, ”There issues a power from the cross of Christ that goes out to all men, though many continue to resist that power.” In the death of Christ grace is operative so that all people are ”drawn” (helkuo) to him. The drawing does not guarantee salvation but makes it possible, supporting the idea that grace is given in the atonement that reverses the total inability of people to choose God. In addition, it should be pointed out that John 12:32 refers to ”all people” (pantas). The grace given in the atonement is not limited to some but is universally distributed, giving all people everywhere the opportunity to respond or reject it.

The third Wesleyan argument in favor of prevenient grace has a theological cast. God must have granted the power to choose him because otherwise the warnings, invitations, and commands in Scripture are meaningless. Why would God give commands to people if they are unable to put them into practice? There are numerous texts in Scripture in which cornmands, invitations, and warnings are employed. Perhaps Romans 2:4 is a particularly appropriate verse to cite in support. ”Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” God would not cornmand people to repent and be waiting for them to repent if he knew that they could not do so. His kindness is such that he has provided the means for every person to repent if they would only avail themselves of that means.

Fourth, prevenient grace is supported by the very nature of God. A God of mercy, wisdom, justice, and love would not leave human beings without an opportunity to repent and choose salvation. A God of love and mercy who desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) would see to it that all have the chance to partake of salvation. If God elects only a few, he is guilty of partiality.

A Critique of the Wesleyan Arguments for Prevenient Grace

We now proceed to analyze the four arguments for prevenient grace advanced by Wesleyans. I will argue that their case is unpersuasive and that their doctrine of prevenient grace is not found in Scripture. Wesleyans, however, advance some exegetical and theological arguments in defense of prevenient grace that will be considered here.

 We turn first of all to John 1:9. The crucial phrase for our purposes is photizei panta anthropon (enlightens every person), which enlightening is ascribed to ”the true light.” Wesleyans understand this enlightenment to refer to prevenient grace, which is given to all people, but there are serious reasons for doubting that this is the meaning of the verse. In fact, the verse can be understood in three other ways that do not yield the Wesleyan interpretation. First, the illumination could refer to general revelation, which is granted to all people through the created order. This shifts the debate to different ground, for some argue that general revelation is sufficient for salvation. Such a view is unpersuasive given Paul’s estimation of general revelation in Romans l:18-32. In any case, D. A. Carson is correct in dismissing a reference to general revelation since this would have been more appropriately dealt with earlier in the prologue (i.e., John l:3-4). The specific context is not general revelation but the response of people to the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Second, the illumination may refer to an inward illumination that leads to conversion. In this case, John would not be saying that illumination is given to all people ”without exception” but to all ”without distinction.” The light is not confined to the Jews, but also has an effect among the Gentiles. Other sheep that are not of the fold of the Jews will be brought in (John 10:16). Jesus died not only for the Jews but also for the children of God scattered throughout the world (John 11:51-52).

The context of John 1:9-13, however, suggests that another interpretation is the most probable. The word enlighten (pbotizo) refers not to inward illumination but to the exposure that comes when light is shed upon something. Some are shown to be evil because they did not know or receive Jesus (John 1:10-11), while others are revealed to be righteous because they have received Jesus and have been born of God (John 1:12-13). John 3:19-21 confirms this interpretation. Those who are evil shrink from corning to the light because they do not want their works to be exposed (v. 20). But those who practice the truth gladly come to the light so that it might be manifest that their works are wrought in God (v. 21). The light that enlightens every person does not entail the bestowment of grace, nor does it refer to the inward illumination of the heart by the Spirit of God. Rather, the light exposes and reveals the moral and spiritual state of one’s heart. C. K. Barrett rightly says that ”the light shines upon every man for judgement, to reveal what he is.” Or, as Carson remarks, ”Inner illumination is then not in view” but ”the objective revelation” that occurs at the coming of the ”true light.” John 1:9 is not, therefore, suggesting that through Christ’s coming each person is given the ability to choose salvation. The purpose of the verse is to say that the coming of the true light exposes and reveals where people are in their relationship to God.

Wesleyans appeal to grace given in the atonement and Christ’s death for all as an indication of prevenient grace. I shall not examine the question of the extent of the atonement since that is treated elsewhere in this work. Indeed, Calvinists have typically seen grace as bestowed upon the elect in the atonement, but in this case the grace bestowed is effective and guarantees salvation. The question is whether in the atonement of Christ the Wesleyan conception of prevenient grace is taught; that is, does Scripture teach that people are given the ability to choose or to reject God by virtue of the atonement? Doubtless grace is manifested in the atonement. For instance, Titus 2:11 says that ”the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Calvinists usually argue that this text teaches that the atonement secures and accomplishes redemption for the elect. It is not my purpose to defend or refute that interpretation. Even if the text were suggesting that salvation is potentially available for all people (cf. 1 Tim. 4:10), that is a far cry from saying that through the atonement God has counteracted the effects of Adam’s sin so that all people have the opportunity to accept or reject him. Titus 2:11 says that God’s grace has been manifested through Christ’s work on the cross, but it does not say that God has thereby supplied the ability to believe to all people. Wesleyans conclude from the atonement effected by Christ that enough grace has been imparted to all people so that they can now choose whether or not to believe. But it is precisely this point that is not taught explicitly in the verse. It does not necessarily follow that since grace was manifested in the death of Christ that all people as a result have the ability to believe in him. Specific exegetical support for this conclusion is lacking.

A text that might lead to the Wesleyan conclusion is John 12:32. But this involves a misreading of the text. In John 6:37 Jesus says, ”All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Note that this text specifically teaches that only some will come to Jesus, namely, those who have been given by the Father to the Son. In other words, the Father has not given all to the Son; he has selected only some, and it is they who will come to the Son and believe in him (cf. John 6:35). The teaching of John 6:37 is reaffirmed in 6:44. ”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him at the last day.” The word draw (helkuo), which is used in John 12:32, is also used in John 6:37. The point of John 6:44 is that the Father does not draw all people, only some. Carson rightly remarks, ”The combination of v[erse] 37a and v[erse] 44 prove that this ’drawing’ activity of the Father cannot be reduced to what theologians sometimes call ’prevement grace’ dispensed to every individual, for this ’drawing’ is selective, or else the negative note of v[erse] 44 is meaningless.” The Johannine conception of drawing is not that it makes salvation possible, but that it makes salvation effectual. Those who are drawn will come to Jesus and believe in him.

 Does this definition of drawing mean that John teaches universahsm, since 12:32 says that Jesus will draw all to himself by virtue of the cross? The context of John 12:20-33 helps us answer that question. Greeks, that is, Gentiles, approached Philip because they wanted to see Jesus (vv. 20-23). Jesus ignores the request and instead speaks of the need for a gram of wheat to die in order to bear fruit (vv. 24-26), and of his commitment to carry out his commission (vv. 27-28). Jesus’ death is the means by which God’s judgment of the world and his triumph over Satan will be accomplished (v. 31). He concludes by saying that if he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself (v. 32).

 The context is of paramount importance for understanding John 12:32. Jesus appears to ignore the request from his disciples to meet with the Greeks who wanted to see him. But the point Jesus makes is that the only way Gentiles will come to him is through his death. He must die in order to bear much fruit and bring Gentiles to himself. The power of Satan as the ruler of the world will be broken only by the cross. Thus, when Jesus speaks of drawing all people to himself by virtue of the cross, the issue in the context is how Gentiles can come to Jesus. The drawing of all does not refer to all people individually but the means by which Gentiles will be included in the people of God. Carson again rightly interprets the verse. ”Here ’all men’ reminds the reader of what triggered these statements, [namely,] the arrival of the Greeks, and means ’all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike’, not all individuals without exception.” The Wesleyan theory that prevement grace is provided in the atonement so that people are given ability to choose salvation cannot be supported from the context of John 12.

The third Wesleyan argument for prevement grace is probably the most powerful one. Why would God give commands unless people were given some ability to obey them? Romans 2:4 says that his kindness is intended to lead people to repentance. Does this not imply that people have the ability to repent if they would only choose to do so?

It should be acknowledged that Wesleyan logic is coherent here, and one can see why Wesleyans would deduce human ability from the giving of cornmands. Nonetheless, even though their logic is impeccable, it does not necessarily follow that their conclusion is true. An argument may be logically co-herent and not fit with the state of affairs in the world because the answer given is not comprehensive. To put it another way, one of the premises in the Wesleyan argument is not in accord with the reality of life as it is portrayed in the Scriptures. They are incorrect in deducing that God would not give commands without giving the moral ability to obey them. The distinction between physical and moral ability is crucial. For instance, human beings are physically able (in most cases) to walk up steps, but they are physically unable to jump over houses. In a similar way, God gives commands to unbelievers that they can physically obey; that is, they could observe his commandments if they desired to do so. Unbelievers are morally unable to keep God’s cornmands in the sense that they have no desire to obey all of his commandments. God commands all people (Gal. 3:10; Rom. 1:18-3:20) to obey his law perfectly, but no one is morally able to do this. Because all people are born with a sin nature inherited from Adam, they will inevitably sin. Even though people cannot morally obey God’s commands, biblical authors assume that they should keep his commandments. They should keep his commandments because they are right and good (Rom. 7:12) and are not physically impossible to keep. People could observe the commandments if they wanted to do so. The biblical view, however, is that unbelievers as slaves of sin have no desire to keep God’s law.

 The state of affairs that obtains under the law remains when Christ comes. That is, all people should come to Jesus in order to have life (John 5:40). Jesus upbraids those who do not believe despite all his works (Matt. 11:20-24), and he invites all to come to him (Matt. 11:28-30). Yet he also teaches that no one can come to him unless drawn by the Father (John 6:44), and only those to whom the Father and Son reveal themselves will come to know him (Matt. 11:25-27). All people are summoned to believe in Jesus and are censured for not believing. Nonetheless, the Scriptures also teach that they have no moral ability to believe, and that the only way they will believe is if they are given by the Father to the Son. This revelation is not vouchsafed to all people but only to the elect. Jesus commands believers to be perfect (Matt. 5:48), but the need for forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15) demonstrates that perfection is impossible to attain.

The problem with Wesleyanism at this point is that it is guided by human logic and rationality rather than the Scriptures. Their view that commands would not be given that people could not morally obey is certainly attractive. But our counterargument is that such a notion is not taught in the Scriptures. The doctrine of original sin and human inability is an offense to reason. This is not to say that it is irrational. The distinction between physical and moral ability goes a long way toward resolving the difficulties. Nonetheless, not all the difficulties are resolved by the Calvinist view, for ultimately we do not fully understand how people can be responsible for sin when they are born with an inclination that will inevitably lead them to sin.

An example from another area of life might help. Robert Wright in an article on alcoholism was musing on the theory that it might be determined by one’s genes. If so, could we conclude that people are not responsible for alcoholism? Wright correctly says no. If we draw this conclusion, then the reality of human responsibility will be slowly whittled away as we discover the impact of genetics on human behavior. Even if alcoholism is determined genetically, people are still responsible for their behavior. We may not fully understand how both determinism and human responsibility can be true, but both are necessary to account for the nature of humanity and genetic research. So too, sinners who have inherited a sin nature from Adam and who have no moral ability to obey God’s law and no inclination to respond to him are still responsible for their failure to respond to God’s grace.

The preceding comments prepare us for understanding Romans 2:4. The wording of this text should be taken seriously, but our own philosophical presuppositions should not be read into it. It is the case that the kindness of God should lead people to repentance. God’s kindness is not a charade but is profoundly present in that he spares people and does not immediately destroy them for their sin. The kindness and patience of God should induce people to seek him and to confess their sin. But this text does not say that people have the moral ability to repent and turn to God. It simply says that they should repent and turn to him. Wesleyans read into this verse their theology of prevenient grace, thereby squeezing more out of the verse than it says.

 What we have said about Romans 2:4 leads us naturally to the fourth argument used for prevenient grace, that is, the justice, wisdom, mercy, and love of God. What I have been arguing is that the fundamental problem with the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace is that it is not taught in the Scriptures. It is a philosophical imposition of a certain world view upon the Scriptures. This world view is attractive because it neatly solves, to some extent, issues such as the problem of evil and why human beings are held responsible for sin. But the Scriptures do not yield such neat solutions. God is wholly just in condemning sinners who have no ability to obey his law (Rom. 8:7-8). They fail to keep the law because they do not want to obey it. In sinning they carry out the desires of their hearts. God is merciful and loving in not destroying them immediately and offering them salvation. It is a mistake, however, to say that God’s love and mercy will provide every person an equal chance to believe. God would be just in sending all to hell since all have sinned. The love and mercy extended to the elect is undeserved. God is obligated to save no one, but out of a heart of mercy he saves some (Eph. 2:4-7). Those who believe that God must extend mercy equally to all are subtly falling into the trap of believing that God would not be good without showing mercy equally to all. This comes perilously close to the conclusion that God should show mercy to all to the same extent, and that such mercy is obligatory. But if God should show equal mercy to all, then mercy is no longer viewed as undeserved. In this view mercy extended to all is demanded by justice. This kind of reasoning should be rejected because the Scriptures make it clear that no one deserves to be saved, that all people could be justly sent to hell, and that God’s mercy is so stunning because it is undeserved.

The scandal of the Calvinist system is that ultimately the logical problems posed cannot be fully resolved. The final resolution of the problem of human responsibility and divine justice is beyond our rational capacity. The doctrine of prevenient grace in the Wesleyan sense is read into the Scriptures because it solves so many logical problems and attempts to clarify how God is just and loving. Calvinists also affirm God’s mercy, wisdom, justice, and love. We trust that he is good, and that no one will perish who does not deserve judgment. There is significant evidence to vindicate the justice, mercy, and love of God. Nonetheless, we cannot comprehensively explain how these attributes of God fit the reality portrayed in the Scriptures. There are finally some mysteries that we cannot unravel.

 Conclusion

 The doctrine of prevenient grace should be accepted only if it can be sustained from a careful exegesis of the Scriptures. What was most striking to me in my research was how little scriptural exegesis has been done by Wesleyans in defense of prevenient grace. It is vital to their system of theology, for even Wesleyans admit that without it ”Calvinist logic is irrefutable.” Nonetheless, not much exegetical work has been done in support of the doctrine. This is particularly astonishing when one compares the biblical data for prevenient grace to Calvinist texts that support unconditional election. The Calvinist case has been promulgated, rightly or wrongly, via a detailed exegesis of numerous texts. The plight of humanity due to Adam’s sin (which we investigated) is reversed only by the electing grace of God, according to the Calvinist. Wesleyans contend that prevenient grace counteracts the inability of humanity due to Adam’s sin, but firm biblical evidence seems to be lacking. One can be pardoned, then, for wondering whether this theory is based on scriptural exegesis. Millard Erickson rightly says about it, ”The problem is that there is no clear and adequate basis in Scripture for this concept of universal enablement. The theory, appealing though it is in many ways, simply is not taught explicitly in the Bible.”

Prevenient grace is attractive because it solves so many problems, but it should be rejected because it cannot be exegetically vindicated. But if prevenient grace is rejected, then all people are in bondage to sin. They will never turn to God because they are so enslaved by sin that they will never desire to turn to him. How then can any be saved? The Scriptures teach that the effectual calling of God is what persuades those who are chosen to turn to him. God’s grace effectively works in the heart of the elect so that they see the beauty and glory of Christ and put their faith in him (2 Cor. 4:6). Because God’s choice lies behind our salvation, we cannot boast before him that we were noble or wise enough to choose him. We can only boast in the Lord who chose us to be his own (1 Cor. 1:29, 31).

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A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace …
by John Hendryx
The term “prevenient grace” – a distinctly Arminian doctrine – refers to a universal grace which precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will or inclination toward God and it explains the extent or degree to which the Holy Spirit influences a person prior to their coming to faith in Christ. The Arminian, together with the Calvinist, affirms total human moral inability and utter helplessness of the natural man in spiritual matters and the absolute necessity for supernatural prevenient grace if there is to be any right response to the gospel. Like Calvinists, Arminians agree that, apart from an act of grace on God’s part, no one would willingly come to Christ. This point is important to distinguish so as to not confuse Classical Arminianism with either Finneyism or Semi-Pelagianism, which both reject the need for prevenient grace. So Christ’s redemption is universal in a provisional sense but conditional as to its application to any individual, i.e. those who do not resist the grace offered to them through the cross and the gospel. Prevenient grace, according to Arminians, convicts, calls (outwardly), enlightens and enables before conversion and makes conversion and faith possible. While Calvinists believe the inward call to the elect is irrevocable and effectually brings sinners to faith in Christ, the Arminian, on the other hand understand God’s grace as ultimately resistible. In short, they affirm that prevenient grace, which is given to all men at some point in their life, temporarily brings the sinner out of his/her condition of total depravity and puts them in a neutral state of free will wherein the natural man can either accept or reject Christ.
 
Prevenient grace defined as follows by “Wesley’s Order of Salvation“:

“Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace doesn’t save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us WANT to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.”

Furthermore, in reply to the orthodox assertion that the sinners’ generation of faith itself implies merit the Arminian will often respond by affirming that the human will, aided by prevenient grace, is free, even in accepting pardoning grace; that though this acceptance is no more meritorious than a beggar’s acceptance of an offered fortune, yet it is accepted freely, and with the full power of rejection, and is none the less grace for that. In other words, every sinner determines for himself, whether or not he will be saved, and thus determines his own election based on whether or not he responds positively to the gospel offered to him by God while under the influence of prevenient grace. The Arminian contends or reasons that anything else would be unfair of God.

Response:
While the example of the beggar may sound reasonable at first glance, I propose we look more closely at these concepts. What are the similarities and differences of Arminian theology with orthodoxy on the concept of saving grace?
Arminian Similarities with Reformed Theology:
(1) All men need to be saved from God’s wrath through the atoning work of Christ
(2) Both Reformed and Arminians believe, that, without the grace of God, man is totally incapable of responding to the Gospel. In this both positions are in total agreement.

Arminian Differences with Reformed Theology is in its understanding of the meaning of grace:
Let’s observe at least three ways in which prevenient grace sharply differs from the monergistic view:
(1) The Arminian doctrine of “prevenient grace” is exhaustively universal; meaning, it is extended to all people regardless of whether or not they have heard the gospel. This appears to be in direct contradiction to the Bible, for instance the apostle’s question: “how can one be believe if they have not heard?” and “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” – Rom 10:14-17. This view, then, affirms (or at least make room for) the idea that the gospel is not cognitively necessary for one to be saved. In spite of the overwhelming case made by Paul against the Gentiles in Romans 1-3, some Arminians believe that if a person is faithful, that is, responds believingly to, the degree of revelation made to them then God will accept that faith and impute it to them as righteousness, whether or not that have actually heard the gospel. This is, of course, purely speculative and not derived from revelation.

(2) Prevenient grace is not effectual but rather renders the sinner “neutral” – able to decide for themselves whether they will accept or reject Christ. First, since we must always go to Scripture as our authority in matters of faith (especially maters of this magnitude) we must seriously inquire whether there is any biblical evidence whatsoever to substantiate the Arminian dogma that there is a state of being that God places sinners into that is neither regenerate nor unregenerate, an in-between state which is neither corrupt nor good.  It is imperative that this “state” is substantiated biblically, not merely by unaided speculation or logical necessity. Where does the Bible say that when God’s gives grace to people they become partly regenerate but not fully regenerate?
 
Assuming for the sake of argument that such a state was shown to exist, more questions quickly arise. If, as the result of prevenient grace, our desires are suddenly “neutral” what, then, causes a man to choose one way or another? In Jesus eyes, a person’s decisions and acts are inevitably determined by their inward condition, “A good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit,” to think otherwise is impossible.  What then of a tree that is neither good nor bad, what determines its fruit? You simply cannot have a will that doesn’t care (or is disinclined) and simply believes or rejects Christ by chance. To argue such would imply that God elects his people based upon their chance selection of Him. On the contrary, people believe in Christ because they see the awfulness of their sin, their great need of a Savior and the beauty, truth and excellency of the gospel of Christ. Only the spiritual regenerate man can see understand and see goodness in the gospel (1 Cor 2:14), an impossible supposition for one with a unrenewed heart. A blind man cannot see unless his eyes are opened. Likewise, those blind spiritually can only see if they are healed and when they are healed, they see. It is both biblical and self-evident that we always choose something based on who we are by nature – an apple tree will never produce grapes.
 

Moreover, we should take notice that Jesus tells us many times in Scripture why some do not believe. “You do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10).  The order here is of great importance.  Jesus does not say, “You are not my sheep because you do not believe,” thereby making belief a condition of becoming a sheep. Rather, he says the exact opposite, “You do not believe because you are not my sheep.” To believe therefore, far from being a condition, is the sign (or fruit) that one is already a sheep. So too, Jesus speaking to some of the Jews said, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The nature of the person determines the choice he makes. And who exactly is “of God”? Jesus answers clearly in his prayer to the Father in John 17: 9 when he says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” The Father has set apart certain persons for Himself and, in His prayer here, Jesus is seen to only pray for them, while simultaneously excluding others who were not “given” to Him.
 
Ironically, the Arminian believes in compatibilism prior to prevenient grace … meaning that man makes necessary moral choices based on his nature. Yet after prevenient grace, he believes that man is freed from nature (without being given a new one), yet no biblical evidence is forthcoming to show the source of this doctrine. In other words, prior to God’s grace the Arminian, like the Calvinists see the impotence of the human will, but when grace comes, he switches gears by speculating that man now does not choose according to nature (as before) but is now granted a libertarian free will, i.e. that man can choose otherwise regardless of who he is by nature. Baffling, since never once does the Bible give a shred of evidence that people are given a temporary libertarian free will. Instead, returning again to Jesus’ words, we hear, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad” (Matt. 12:33). The doctrine of Arminian prevenient grace would therefore appear to have its origin in the idea that God must be “fair.” Arminians logically conclude that since God is good he must treat those opposed to and in rebellion against Him with absolute equity. In order to preserve this definition of “fairness,” the Arminian declares that God must give all people an equal chance. However, God is not obligated to give children of the devil (John 8:44) any chance at all if He does not want. God would have been perfectly just in doing to man what he did to the fallen angels, for whom He did not die. And if God could justly let all mankind go to hell (which we all agree) then why would it be unjust of God to forgive the debts of some, passing over the others? Does not Jesus Himself tell the parable of the landowner which ends by saying “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15).
 
And regardless, if this is the case, then why would God be pleased with a choice of a person that is indifferent about the choice, someone that does not love the object of its choice? If the motive for believing the gospel is indifferent, so is the act … If we do not desire God, choice is either impossible or it is by mere chance.
 
Again, the Bible never teaches in a clear and open manner the concept of prevenient grace. The above response is, therefore, simply to further render absurd this untenable belief. Arminians awkwardly force this on the Scripture in order to hold their system together. This alone should lead us to reject it. Unaided reason should NEVER be the foundation of our theological insights, especially one of such critical importance.

(3) Arminians hold that while still unregenerate (or partly regenerate as they would have it) some can and will improve on that grace. In other words, God’s prevenient grace takes us part of the way to salvation (makes us partly regenerate) but man’s will (or nature) does the rest (or completes it). Given this were the case, if all human beings have this prevenient grace at some point in their life, consider, if two persons hear the same gospel, why does one man believe and not the other? What makes them to differ? Obviously it was something in nature which made the difference, not grace. From this we surmise that it wasn’t prevenient grace that makes these two persons to differ from one another, but rather, something in the man who made use of prevenient grace that made them to differ. Simply put, if we desire to believe in Christ, where did this good desire come from? Grace or nature? The Arminian may say “grace”. If so, why did not the one who rejected him also have this much grace? Since grace is not what ultimately sets the two men apart it must be something else. In other words, one man somehow had the natural or innate ability to create a right thought, generate a right affection, or originate a right volition toward Christ… and if these thoughts were themselves autonomous and independent of this prevenient grace that led to their salvation, springing from the heart of natural man, then this is quite a troublesome doctrine. This leads us to ask, why do some men make use of prevenient grace and not others? The Arminian, therefore, still sees the grace of God as only a penultimate cause of salvation while the sinners’ faith is what is ultimate, the sine qua non of his salvation. It can therefore be demonstrated that Arminian prevenient grace does not teach salvation by grace alone but salvation by grace plus nature. So whether or not God extends prevenient grace you still have the same result: one man from his unregenerate will generates belief, another man from his unregenerate will does not generate belief and rejects Christ. Does one have a natural humility lacking in the other? Is not humility itself a gift of grace? The Apostle says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). In the case of believing the gospel, one person is making a morally good choice and the other a morally bad choice. In fact, any way to look at Arminian prevenient grace, it comes down to one person’s internal principle of merit that ultimately makes him to differ from others. This then leads to boasting that they are unlike others who don’t have faith. But again, even more importantly, prevenient grace has no biblical support and this is what makes the position untenable. Arminians are making the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is the effectual gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble. I guess Arminians believe that some beggars are more equal than others. 🙂 Click here to see how one Arminian Phd. attempts an answer to this question.

In the end the problem with Arminian prevenient grace is that it is guided by unaided human logic and rationality rather than the Scriptures.The Scriptures testify that the man without the Spirit cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). Even with prevenient grace theoretically putting humanity in a neutral position, we would still lack the quickening Spirit to give us what we need. How is it then that the natural man can understand or desire God independent of such quickening and renewing grace? Can a blind man see prior to his eyes being opened? Can a man with a heart of stone love and desire God before His heart is made flesh? How can an ox desire flesh to eat …can water rise above its source? We believe that salvation is of the Lord from beginning to end. He deserves all the glory. While we were still helpless Christ died for us and His death purchased everything we need to be saved, including our regeneration. For an unregenerate man would not ever desire the things of God on his own. If God’s grace does not save us then man still ultimately decides based on some principle within, either good or evil.
 

Lastly, I want to make clear that I am not here trying to show that Arminians are unsaved. On the contrary, I write this in the hope it will raise awareness of the inconsistency among our Arminian brethren. It is true that God often saves us in spite of our bad or inconsistent theology, or else grace would not be grace. In fact, He saved all of us in spite of ourselves and our incorrect views. If we know or understand anything it is because God chose to reveal it to us (Matt 16:17). But we must make clear that Arminian theology is not orthodox in its view of grace, since it has no biblical support to speak of. (Obviously only one of these positions can be true so one or the other is orthodox). But their inconsistency is such that I believe most are sincere believers. For example, that the Arminian affirms, together with us, that they justly deserve the wrath of God, save in the mercy of Jesus Christ alone, means that perhaps we need to give them some slack. But we should never let up or grow weary on challenging them to see the deeply flawed problem in their theology of grace, since God has made it abundantly clear that He saves us by grace ALONE. Consider: to the degree that we think wrong thoughts about God and how He saves us, to that same degree we are guilty of idolatry and, in this God is not pleased. So we must declare such an ineffectual view of grace to be wrong, but at the same time, also see it as a battle taking place inside the camp. It is serious enough to warrant a fierce debate that may continue to the end of the age because the idea of prevenient grace is really just a lesser degree of the same error as semi-pelagianism (that is, it is synergistic: i.e. that faith is produced by our unregenerated human nature) and still gives a man too much hope in himself and his own natural abilities. Of the true believer, Paul says that they worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus alone and have no confidence in the flesh (Phil 3).

 

My prayer for the universal church is that we would all come into the unity of the truth as God has revealed it to us … and that God-dishonoring theology, wherever it may come from, would be trampled under foot.

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Does the Bible teach Prevenient Grace?

– R. C. Sproul

 As the name suggests, prevenient grace is grace that “comes before” something. It is normally defined as a work that God does for everybody. He gives all people enough grace to respond to Jesus. That is, it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with and assent to this grace are “elect.” Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost. The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man’s spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God’s grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?

On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn’t everyone get the same amount?

Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn’t God give the same gift to everybody?

Perhaps it wasn’t because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?

 To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, “No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him.” That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn’t? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent?

 The question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is. The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?”

We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God’s saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it

. [R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God. Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton, Ill.]

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Theology…It’s more important than you thought!

Gary Chaffins

Today I write about a topic that I have found that turns the stomach of most Christians.  It has been said that this topic can cause the hair on many Pastors necks to stand up on its own. As a result,  I have also found that in most churches, this could be one of the least taught subjects, yet it is the only thing that a Christian should know and stand upon. It comes about in every decision, every piece of advice and every word that flows from your lips.  The topic I am speaking of is “Theology”.

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words meaning “God” (theos) and “word” or “body of knowledge” (logos).  Combine the word together and you have “theology” which simply means, the “study of God.”  However, over the years the meaning of theology has expanded.  It is not necessarily just studying the facts about God but in a broader perspective it is the study of what the Bible teaches and what Christians believe.  Although we understand that we will never fully be able to explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are.

Romans 11:33-36 

 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things to Him be the glory forever. Amen

This should not stop the believer from studying God, His ways, His attributes and how He deals with humanity.  God has clearly revealed what He desires for us to know of  Himself to us through His word and wants us to know and learn Him, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner.  A proper understanding of biblical theology is necessary for teaching of God’s word.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

As previously mentioned, when you mention the word theology, many will run (especially in the Bible belt).  The word theology in and of itself is somewhat intimidating to most. They view theology as something that will divide and because of that, many in the Church have decided to avoid it altogether.  In all actuality, theology should unite!  The Bible teaches only one thing and that is truth.  This truth should unite believers.  Yes, I understand that there are disagreements and disputes when it comes to theology, but should there be as much as there is today?  In the event of a theological disagreement, shouldn’t Christian brothers and sisters be willing to sit down and discuss these things.  Instead of agreeing to disagree, shouldn’t we agree to work through our disagreements?  Pray, study, discuss, pray study, discuss, pray, study, discuss-until a proper understanding comes.  Instead, as soon as disagreement comes, the automatic response is well “you are just following man” or “that is just your opinion”, and there is immediate seperation, which from my experience, ultimately leads to character attacks.  This should not be a issue of pride but an issue of submission to God’s word.  Who cares who is right and who is wrong?  Shouldn’t the issue be that the Word of God is right and we will eagerly seek to agree upon that?  The Bible will divide believers and non-believers but should it divide believers from believers?  The church is to be unified.

With a proper theology the believer will come to know God as whom He has revealed to us in His word. Here is just a few attributes that we can find within the pages of the word:  God is One (in the form of the Trinity), God is Great & Perfect, God is Eternal, Self-Existing & Immutable, God is Omnipotent, Omnipresent & Omniscient, God is Holy, God is Righteous, God is True & Truthful, God is Faithful, God is Love, God is Creator & Sustainer, God is Lord Over All (Sovereign), God is Lawgiver & Judge. If we try to remove even one of His attributes or we try to stress one over the other we do not have a proper understanding of the God of the Bible.  If you would do a survey of your neighbors, asking them what they know about God?” chances are that you will get an overwhelming response of the answer “God is love”.  Although God is love, if love is all that people know of God, they know just enough to spend eternity in Hell.

  “What right do we have to make God out to be Someone other than He really is in order to make people like Him more? Honor God by declaring the truth about Him!”

-Jim Elliff

 When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM indicates personality. God has a name, even as He has given names to others. The name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not just some cosmic giant or some barrel of love in the sky. He is the almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with a mind and a will—the “personal” God who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The purpose of studying God is in order that we may know and glorify Him through our love and obedience.  Similar to the way a marriage works, the more you learn your spouse, their personality, their traits, etc., the more you grow to love them.  In the same way we must get to know Him before we can love Him, and we must love Him before we can desire to obey Him. Poor theology and a superficial, inaccurate understanding of God will only make our lives worse instead of bringing the comfort and hope we long for. Your methodology will flow from your theology.  This explains most of the shenanigans that we see within the “church” today.  It can also be blamed for a large percentage of false conversions in the church.  Poor theology can and will lead you into false teachings and to churches in which would not be considered as a biblical church.  Reject theology and you doom yourself to life with no sense of direction. Without theology, we waste our lives and lose our souls.

Think about it your theology will come out in everything that you do and say. Here are a just a few examples of when and where your theology will come out:

How do you view Gods word?  How do you Worship? How do you know you are Worshipping properly? When asked what you believe, what will you say? When asked for advice, what will come out of your mouth? When making decisions, what will be the basis? When going through trials, what will you cling to? What is your approach to defeat sin? How will you raise your children? How do you know if you are in a biblical church? How will you handle doctrinal disagreements? How do you interpret scripture?  The list goes on and on and on. 

All Christians should be consumed with theology—the intense, personal study of God’s word—in order to know, love, and obey the One with whom we will joyfully spend eternity. 

Below are the various categories of Christian theology. Understanding what the Bible says about the various areas of Christian theology is key to spiritual growth and effectiveness in the Christian life.

Theology Proper/Paterology- the study of God the Father.

Christology – the study of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Pneumatology- the study of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. 

Bibliology – the study of the Word of God.

Soteriology- the study of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Christian Anthropology- the study of the nature of humanity. – the study of the nature and effects of sin.

Angelology- the study of angels.

Christian Demonology- the study of demons. 

Ecclesiology- the study of the nature, history and mission of the church.

Eschatology – the study of the end times / last days. 

and in the words of a former Pastor of mine:

Kneeology-getting on you knee’s and praying

(which is the only “ology” that will truly bring you to the proper understandings of the rest)

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Study of John 6:37-39

Study of John 6:37-39

Gary Chaffins

 

The more I study the Word, is the more I grow to understand the doctrines of Grace and the biblical truths they hold.  Things begin to stand out so clear, but yet, as I listen to people talk and preachers preach, I find that the very things that are uttered from their lips are in complete contradiction to the very Word itself.  They will put biblical truths against other biblical truths without any desire to reconcile them, but instead they try to cancel the other out, leaving the scriptures with some sort of unexplained contradiction that nobody dares to explain.      

I hope that this study of John 6:37-39 is just one of many exegetical studies that I will be doing.  In this passage of scripture I believe that Jesus is sharing with us the complete picture of salvation.  His very words are unmistakable and therefore, leave no room for denial of His sovereignty in salvation.  All though there is much more information to be taken from this text such as the decretive and permissive wills of God and the irresistible call of the Spirit, however, I am going to place most of my focus on Sovereignty of God and the security of the believer. Sometimes we are guilty of just speedily reading through a passage with not that of what is actually being said.  So, let’s slow down and look at what is being said here in this wonderful passage of scripture.

John 6:37-39

  37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  

39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

 

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me”

It would do us much good to look at the order of which Jesus says this.  “All that the Father gives to Me (Jesus)” – every single one of them, no exceptions, all of them – “will come to Me (Jesus)”. Please note that the word “All” is defined by the context of the verse.  This doesn’t mean that every person in the world will come to Christ (only those given by the Father). We must also note that this wasn’t a group of people who first made some choice to come to Jesus according to their own free will.  Actually this scripture states the complete opposite. The first thing to happen is that the Father gives a group of people to the Son.  Jesus teaches us, in verse 37, that there is never the possibility of a single person given from the Father to the Son who will not come to the Son.

So let’s look again, Who comes to Christ?

 

If we believe the words of the Jesus, we would have to agree that the answer rests in the Sovereign choice of the Father.  The Father does not draw every human being to the Son. Every human being may hear the outward call of the Gospel but only those whom are His, the elect or he that has ears, will hear the inward call of God.   Romans 8:30 these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.  This is the golden chain of salvation.  Predestined=Called=Justified (declared righteous by God)=Glorified (raised up on the last day).  There is no broken links in this chain.

John 6:44No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

*** (the greek word for “draws” is “helko”-which means to draw or drag off by an inward power)

 John 6:65 “And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

Ephesians 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as)He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

 So we must remember what exactly it is that Jesus says “All that the Father gives to Me, will come to Me”.  This passage also explains why some come and others do not. It is the Father’s gracious act in giving people to the Son that will come without question, which guarantees  that each of these will come to the Son and will remain in Him forever.

 Verse 37 ends with “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

 This is also a true statement (of course it is, it is the Bible).  Jesus affirms the security of those given to Him by the Father. He says that He will never cast them out. In the original language, the aorist subjunctive of strong denial is used, this is an affirmation, which makes it clear that it is absolutely impossible for Jesus to reject, turn away or lose anyone who comes to Him. He will never do it!

 Why is it that Jesus will certainly not cast out anyone who comes to Him?

Jesus continues, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

 What is the will of the Father? “That of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 So when you are pondering the doctrines such as the security of the believer or the perseverance of the saints.  Please make note of this-There is no possibility whatsoever that Christ will fail to perform all of His Father’s will! 

Parallel passage:

John 10:25-30 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.”But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

 Such a thought is unthinkable. Christ is the obedient Son of His Father, and is also, as God, omnipotent in power, so that no opposition or force could stop Him from achieving His desired goals. There is simply no way at all that the Son will fail to fulfill the will of His Father. This being the case, we have Christ’s own testimony and the Holy Spirit as the seal (2 Corinthians 1:22) that all those given by the Father to the Son, will without fail come to the Son, and will never be cast out, but raised up at the last day to eternal life.

 The basis of the keeping power of Christ is not found in mans efforts. Jesus makes this very clear. In Him we find rest, peace and security.  He has defeated Satan and has moved us from being children of Satan and wrath to children of God and His righteousness. He has tasted death in our place, became our substitution, taking on the wrath of God instead of us (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:8).  We were chosen in Him, by Him and for Him, a love gift (Bride) from the Father to the Son. All of the chosen will, in time, come to the Son. Our confidence is found in the objective promises of God, the fact that Christ’s merits has justified us before the Father, not upon our own efforts, knowing that the Father’s will is that none of those given by the Father to the Son will be lost.

 These clear words give us complete and assured security in the Father (He gives His elect to His Son as a gift) and security in the Son (He will never fail to do His Father’s will). God is the Redeemer and does the saving.  Man is the recipient of the gracious working of God. Man is the object of salvation, but it is God, and God alone who acts to save man. God was not lost, you were-therefore He does the seeking and finding, not you (Luke 19:10). That is the basis of our confidence. Like Paul, we can say, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)

 Can a person know they are eternally secure?” I would answer, “most definitely, yes.” That’s because all those given by the Father will come to the Son, and be kept by Him and raised up to eternal life. Not one of these…will nor can, fall through the cracks. But the question then becomes, “how do we know if we are of this group?”  Well, that’s a fairly easy question to answer, believe it or not.

 Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.”

Let me ask you, “Have you truly come to Christ?” Not just going to an altar or repeating a prayer. I mean, have you genuinely come to the Christ of the scriptures, have you come to a point in your life where you realized how filthy and wretched you are before a Holy and pure God. Have you understood that you have done nothing but break the Laws that represents His very nature (lying, stealing, lust, using His name in vain, not putting God first in thought word and deed). You have sinned against Him and Him alone and deserve nothing but His just punishment-death (Romans 6:23).   After coming to this understanding were you broken to the point that you had no choice but to repent from your sins and turn from them to Christ, placing your entire faith and trust upon His righteousness, instead of your own?  How about your affection for Christ? Do you have a genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you desire to please Him?  Does it crush you to when you sin?

 If you can, with an honest heart, answer “yes” to these questions, and have truly come to Christ, then scripture is clear that you could not have come unless you were first among those given by the Father to the Son (John 6:37).

 If you have come, and continue with Him, then without a doubt you were given to from the Father to the Son.  Only the elect genuinely come and continue.  Only the elect genuinely love Christ. You would have no desires for the biblical Christ unless God had not first changed your heart. By nature, we do not seek God or want Him. We were actually enemies of His, haters of Him. But the fact that you love Him, and truly desire His ways, indicates that you are one of Christ’s sheep.

 As you ponder and meditate upon the clear teachings of the Master here in John 6:37-45, allow it to sink down deep into your heart and mind, your spirit will rejoice in the amazing grace that He has lavished so freely upon you.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1)

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                   We are very excited about this opportunity that the Lord has given us to serve our community in this manner.  We are asking you to help us promote this Faith based family film to your church, family and friends!

Grace Community Church

presents

banner-logo

 

COMING TO PORTSMOUTH CINEMA

Sept. 18th

A portion of the proceeds from this movie will go to the

“Support for Miles Ferguson Fund”

for more information:

garychaffins@thegracecommunity.com

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