There is one thing that I can’t get over, it’s been about 4 years since The LORD opened my eyes up to the truth of His sovereign grace, and that is the beauty and wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the short while I have come to see, and ever increasingly understand, these truths God has brought me into many conversation with those who do not hold to sovereign grace.
I’ve been thinking on the doctrine that the non-Calvinist (yet non-Pelagian) holds to – prevenient grace. This is the notion that God gives grace to all men equally which they are able to improve on in order to be saved. This prevenient grace doesn’t save them, but somehow nullifies the effects of sin without giving any certain inclination to righteousness either. It, in essence, is thought to put the will in neutral so that it is absolutely free to choose good or evil. There are a multiplicity of issues with this view: 1.) it’s not taught in Scripture anywhere, 2.) it must divorce the actions and choices of man from the seat of action – the heart – which is completely against the clear teachings of Scripture, 3.) it cannot account for the difference between two people who hear the gospel and have two different responses, apart from claiming there was something within the individual that made the difference; 4.) It negates the work of Christ on the cross, bleeding it of all it’s power, making it nothing more than the work of a mortal as it was merely done to aid us in our getting ourselves out of hell. Thus prevenient grace still is a system of works, or merit based, salvation. It adds grace into the equation in an attempt to be more faithful to the Scripture than the pelagian system, yet still falls short of Scriptural. Rejecting God’s sovereign choice to save whichever condemned sinners He will, they wish to make the playing field completely equal. Thus they say that what God has done, He has done equally for every individual male/female, inevitably placing their destination in their own hands. They make man the master of his fate and the captain of his soul, ultimately denying God’s control over His creation, and effectively placing man at the position satan promised him he would hold – “you will be as gods”.
Let’s examine an instance of how this prevenient grace is said to work. Greg is lost in his sin, but one day “happens” to go to church (he was actually itch’n for a hitch’n and was hoping to find a good girl at the local baptist church; so he had a reason, but to others it appeared to be chance). While he is sitting there, scoping out the girls, the preacher is giving a clear presentation of the gospel. He hears it with his ears, he can’t help but hear it as the man is literally screaming, Jack Hyles style, from the top of his lungs. The invitation is given as they sing 32 stanzas of “Just as I am”. Now here is what those who espouse prevenient grace believe is going on inside the man:
As the gospel is being preached, the man is hearing it, and God is trying to convince the man that he needs Jesus and to place faith in The Christ. God doesn’t change the man, for the man has to ask God to do that first. Instead, God is thought to somehow nullify the fallen state that Adam’s sin has placed the man without giving him any desire for righteousness. This man is thought to be morally neutral. Having been given this grace that doesn’t really save the man, he is left with his salvation in his own hands. If he meets the condition to merit salvation, namely making the right choice at that moment, then God will grant him saving grace. If not, then the man will be placed back into his sin bound state from which he was momentarily freed.
How does this line up with Scripture? Jesus clearly taught that we must have a definite change in our constitution before we will believe. Jesus said, “unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” He also said, “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” and “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” directly tying the actions we do as the result of the wickedness of our hearts. Christ clearly stated this relationship when He said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” Prevenient grace not only violates the clear teaching of Jesus by assuming that a man can make a choice for good without actually having had his heart changed to desire good over evil, but it also violates the law of non-contradiction as well. Those who ascribe to prevenient grace declare (by the very nature of it being necessary from the start) that a man cannot choose contrary to his desires; yet after the assumed prevenient grace is given, they say that man can choose contrary to his desires. They say that he has somehow been freed form his bondage to evil, yet not bound to righteousness. Thus being neutral, per what Scripture teaches, no decision would be made; yet they claim that he can now decide for a thing he has no like or dislike for. Trying to take away all influences upon the will of man so as to make it sovereign in itself they have negated effectiveness of the work of Christ. Prevenient grace essentially claims that the death of Christ didn’t save anyone, but merely made man savable if we provide our part with it. Per prevenient grace, Jesus’ death only accomplishes the task of placing us back in some sort of pre-Adamic state to where we can decide our own fate for ourselves. This makes the work of the Trinity ineffectual unless we work with it. For although, as they claim, Jesus has done the same work for every man, and the Holy Spirit has given prevenient grace to every man (or at least every man who hears the gospel), the only difference between the man in heaven and the man in hell is the man himself – the work that he has done.
Standing or falling on his own merit, the man is taught to say alongside William Earnest Henley:
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, he turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 21:1
I can’t tell you how many times it has bees suggested to me that because I believe in the sovereign LORD, Who controls all things down to the smallest detail, that I should cease prayer. Yet, some of those people who tell me that, are the ones who would use the very verse to encourage prayer for the President of America, or some other political issue which they are concerned about.
I believe it was J. I. Packer that said something to the effect of every Christian is a Calvinist on his/her knees. It is precisely the sovereignty of God that drives us to prayer and gives us the assurance that He can accomplish what we ask. If God did not have control of the the hearts of kings, then why ask God to change the direction a ruler is headed, to cause him to veto a bill, or alter his allocation of troops? If God doesn’t hold sovereign sway over the hearts of men then why ask God to save the lost? Why ask God to bring a straying child back? If words mean anything at all, at the heart of the one asking these things is the belief that it is really God who does these things. They may claim free-will as a God frustrating factor, but when they go to seek God’s face they leave their man made notions of freedom behind. If they are to pray biblically, then they must do so.
The believers in Acts prayed like this (chapter 4:24-30… note their appeal to God’s creatorship and control over all things, and their plea for the grace to be bold instead of trusting in their own determination to preach the gospel) “And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
We serve the Almighty God, and it’s is precisely because He controls all things that we go to Him in assurance that He can do what we ask.
Soli Deo Gloria.
I know posting a link to another page isn’t really considered blogging, but I wish to direct those who read the blog to this article as something to ponder.
I watched Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” with the family last night. My wife thought it didn’t make sense, my 4 year old was captivated by it (loving the Jabberwok, which concerns me a bit), my 2 year old was scared of it before I even hit play, my 7 month old could care less, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Anyone who knows me, knows that it’s not far into a story before connections begin to be made in my mind to illustrate truth. I think that’s one of the things I liked about the movie so much – the connections were plain as day. I’m not saying Tim intentionally made them that clear; but even with the cover of gnarled tree branches, a protagonist that looked like death warmed over, and a villain with a head to match her ego; theological connections were not masked much at all. Although there are various rabbit trails that we could follow, I will follow what I believe to be the white rabbit – the one, over arching theme of the entire film. I’m not trying to do any injustice to Burton’s or Carrol’s genius by being reductionistic; I simply want to let the trees fade a bit so we can more clearly see the forest.
There was one statement Alice made that summed it all up: “Since the moment I fell down the rabbit hole, I’ve been told who to be and how to act, but I’m going to make my own path!” Shortly after her entrance into Wonderland, she was shown a scroll of the history of Wonderland. Interestingly enough the history of the place had not all taken place as of yet. To whoever wrote it, it was history although it hadn’t happened yet. And here is where Alice’s struggle comes in. She says she couldn’t kill anything if her life depended on it, yet everyone (everyone good that is) is telling her that she has to. The villains of the movie also know about the historical scroll, and they are attempting to stop Alice, although Alice still doesn’t think she is the one to slay the Jabberwok. So sure are Alice’s friends that the record of the scroll is correct that they are all anticipating “Frabjous Day” – a day yet to come that celebrates what is yet to occur (another glorious illustration I may elaborate on in another post). For the entire movie it looks as if all who believe this day will come are lunatics. And yet there’s another twist, one I think we all can identify with more closely. The White Queen tells Alice how to kill the beast, but that Alice must choose to do so. There is even a point where the queen asks for volunteers, waiting for Alice to step forward (which she doesn’t do at that time).
To make a short story even shorter… Frabjous Day comes, and Alice is there, voluntarily, decked out in full battle attire, just as the scroll recorded she would be. She voluntarily slays the Jabberwok, just as predetermined in the scroll and does so in the exact place as foretold by the scroll. What had always been history in the scroll became history to the inhabitants of Wonderland. Their anticipation of what was to happen was fulfilled. What appeared to be insanity was really faith in what had been promised ahead of time (again, something I’d love to blog about later).
But for now, I ask you… how did all this work out as it did? By mistake, or by design? How is it that Alice, seemingly forging her own path, actually fulfilled the path predetermined for her? How is it that the antagonists willingly played right into the hands of “destiny”? Although through the movie it seemed possible that the scroll could be wrong, that Frabjous Day may not take place, that Alice wouldn’t fight the Jabberwok or be victorious if she did – was that actually the case? Was someone in control of the entire situation? If so Who?
Now, I encourage you to climb back out of the rabbit hole and make application to your own life.
I realize that I have a link to monergism.com listed here on my blog, but some don’t check out the links.
Each month they have a column on the home page; this month’s is on the will, and since it falls withing the realm of my previous post, I thought I would post it here.
Bondage of the Will
“Many today build a theology around the idea which assumes that God’s commands to us in the Bible somehow imply our moral ability to keep them … but we soon forget that Romans 3:20 declares that “…through the law comes knowledge of sin.” In other words, the commands exist to reveal our moral inability, not our ability. This inability also includes God’s command of all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, an impossible act of natural will apart from a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit uniting us to Christ. Only the quicking grace of Jesus Christ applied by the Spirit can turn our heart of stone to flesh and illumine the Text in such a way (to open blind eyes and deaf ears) wherein we and able to see Christ’s beauty and excellency. Those who are unregenerate cannot see Christ’s excellency and thus have no capacity to love what is spiritual and so are not partly but wholly dependent on God to translate them from darkness to light. This means that man’s affections are in complete bondage to sin until Christ sets them free … and if the will is in bondage, it is not free. It chooses, not by coersion but by necessity to sin.”
“What if you don’t want to be a Calvinist??? What if you don’t want to be a Christian??? Are you stuck with God anyway???”
As I was reading through a thread of some people arguing for and against the doctrines of grace (AKA Calvinism) I found the statement above. This is one of the most ludicrous things I have ever read, yet I used to believe this way as well. As I read, one thing became evident. Those who reject Calvinism reject it because they do not understand it; whether willfully or just plain blindness to it. As Charles Spurgeon said, “We are made Calvinist by the grace of God.” People who don’t like the thought that God chooses some before the foundation of the world, as is clearly taught in Scripture, do so because they have a man-centered theology. They do not see themselves as they truly are – wicked, sinful creatures who are absolutely worthless and deserve nothing but HELL at this very moment. We were all born God hating, and apart from the sovereign grace of Almighty God, none of us would be saved.
It is not about one’s believing a thing to be true. The believer’s faith doesn’t make the blood of Christ effective in his/her life, the blood of Christ purchased that faith and made it effective in their life.
If you are one of those who despise these biblical truths, listen to what you are saying! You exalt your unbiblical logic above the very words of Christ. Read John 6, 10, 17; the entire book; all four accounts of the gospel for that matter; Ephesians 1, 2, etc. The Sovereignty of God in all things is all through Scripture. The doctrine of election is taught by Jesus. He told the Jews in Matthew’s accounting of the gospel that there were many widows that were starving, yet He chose to only send His prophet to one. He said there were many lepers, yet He chose to heal Naaman. The Jews understood Christ to be saying that He chooses who to have mercy on. This angered them and they wanted to push Him off the cliff.
I am not upset at the attacks people make on Calvin, as he is a man who was imperfect. Although he loved The LORD and sought the glory of God above his own, he was just as human as any.
It grieves me that men are so adamant at holding on to the one thing that gives you “god-status”. Free will. This is the very lie Satan propounded to Eve. Men like this because they think this allows them to control their destiny. But all this false teaching does is make man the center and reason why God does all He does. It reduces God to a powerless pleader, like a little high school girl begging for Johnny to call her and ask her out, but unable to convince him to do so; all she can do is try to doll herself up and attempt to catch his eye and hope. They remove all power from the atonement in order to maintain their perceived concept of free will. What is being forgotten is that Christ did not pay man, He did not pay Satan. He bore the wrath of Almighty God for the sins of His people. When He cried, “It is finished!” He was right. He ransomed men from every tribe and tongue to God. When He said He came to seek and to save the lost, he was successful in His mission. God is not a failure. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ shall have the prize for which He died – His church, those bought with His blood. This enrages some- The fact that Christ did not ransom all men. But those who it enrages are such because they have somehow fancied mankind as worth saving.
At the heart of all their disputing is their failure to see man as he is, and it is only by God’s grace that we will see ourselves as we truly are – dead in our trespasses and sins. We would always reject God, apart from His saving grace. “For by grace are ye saved…”
No man wants to be a Christian, it is by God’s grace that his heart is changed and he desires The LORD. “We love Him because He first loved us.” He loved me before the foundations of the world, I can not help but love Him back. By His grace He changed my stony heart to a heart of flesh and I willing love Him. “It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (emphasis added)
May God, by His grace, open our eyes to the truth.
“The Sovereignty of God is the stumbling block on which thousands fall and perish; and if we go contending with God about His sovereignty it will be our eternal ruin. It is absolutely necessary that we should submit to God as an absolute sovereign, and the sovereign of our souls; as one who may have mercy on whom He will have mercy and harden whom He will”
I have found this to be the main point of contention. Many in “Christian” , and even non-Christian, circles like to think of a sovereign God when they see they have no control on the situation (death of a loved one, in debt to their eyeballs, etc); but dare not relinquish their perceived control to Him if at all possible. I was told by one, “I don’t know where the sovereignty of God ends and man’s free-will begins.” To which I replied, “It doesn’t.”
Man likes to think God rules all things but him. It’s the same lie Satan propogated in the garden, “Ye shall be as god’s.”