Why Does One Person Believe in Jesus and not Another?

This is a question I sometimes get from Calvinists.  They ask, “Why does one person believe in Jesus and not the other?”  The short answer to the question is: One person chose to believe and the other did not choose to.

Now, let’s take a look at the question and flesh it out a bit.  The root problem is that the question is posed from a deterministic framework, and assumes the answer.  In effect, the questioner is asking, “What necessitates a choice that is not necessitated?”  Arminians reject the assumption of the question.  Through the drawing of Jesus, each person is given the capability to make the choice to believe.  Because of God’s grace, any person and every person can chose to believe.  There is nothing in the person or in his experiences that necessitates him choosing one way or the other.

This is what makes us responsible to God.  A person is accountable for what he does when he has the ability to do it, or to do otherwise.  I can’t demand that my son flap his arms and fly, and then punish him for not flying.  That would be unjust.  Similarly, if a puppet pulls out a gun and shoots someone in the audience, the puppet is not accountable for his action, the guy pulling the strings is.  The puppet can’t do anything other than what he has been determined to do.  Only the ability to make genuine choices is what makes us accountable to God.  And this is what Calvinists misses.

Everyone innately understands who God is, because God has revealed himself to everyone.  Paul writes that God has shown himself to everyone, that he has made his nature plain to us, and that we understand who he is.  It is for this reason we are without excuse (Romans 1).  Paul also writes that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to everyone (Titus 2). And John tells us that Jesus is in the process of drawing everyone to himself (John 12).  So we have an understanding of who God is, we have an innate desire1 to seek him, his salvation has appeared to us, and he is drawing all of us.  That is why the conscious rejection of Jesus is such a serious matter.  Because we can do otherwise.

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1This post has also been translated to Portuguese. You can find it here: Por que uma Pessoa Crê em Jesus e Outra Não?  The person who translated it had a concern that the phrase “we have an innate desire to seek him” might be interpreted by some to be a denial of “Total Depravity” (which I do hold to). Here is my clarification to her:  Hi Gloria, Thanks for translating the post, I’m excited that you are sharing it with others! What I mean by “innate desire” is not that the non-believer has an ability to seek God, but rather that that the non-believer has a need that only God can fill. Before believing each one of us has an empty place in our heart, and this emptiness can only be filled by God. When he draws us through grace, we realize that we need him and that he will replace our emptiness with joy. C.S. Lewis stated it like this: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I hope that helps! Thanks again for the translation, and God bless!

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19 Comments

Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism, Prevenient Grace

19 responses to “Why Does One Person Believe in Jesus and not Another?

  1. Why do Calvinists believe that an omnipotent and totally soverign God would be incapable of giving mankind the ability to choose to believe in Jesus or not.

    They believe it because God gave us all the freedom and the ability to believe whatever we choose to believe. And amazingly God has never felt threatened by our possible choices.
    Maybe He’s far more secure in His Sovereignty than HE’s given credit for by some theological viewpoints.

  2. Dane

    The Calvinist will argue that our choice is determined by our (sin) nature. So then Calvinist will come back with the “dead man” argument, and the Arminian then must believe in a partial regeneration, where the person is brought to a “natural” position to make a choice, and this is where Calvinists say, “Why does one person believe and the other does not”. If one then believes, they save themselves, or they are somehow intrinsically better than the one who does not believe and then has something to brag about.

    I then argue from a regenerate position. Why does a regenerate Believer, who has a fallen nature, choose not to have an affair, and the other believer to have an affair? Is one believer somehow intrinsically better because he resists temptation, compared to the other person who gives into temptation? Or, did God then determine the believer to fall into sin, and the other to avoid sin? Is the Calvinist version of sanctification “works based”, so that those who “choose” to obey have something to brag about?

  3. Dave

    Hi Kevin,

    I hope that you and your family had a blessed time of Thanksgiving last week and that your time this Christmas brings you (and the rest of us) closer in the knowledge of Him and the promises to His Children, thereby increasing our worship of Him.

    I think that your position as stated is a bit skewed and not representative of the general Calvinist position, but then again we have discussed this before and there is no need to rehash.

    I fear that by our (the Church) focusing on Arminianism OR Calvinism OR …, we lose sight of and therefore remove our attention from the main thing, that being the proclamation of the gospel to the world. Whether we are Arminians or Calvinists, we are called to do the same thing – Worship Him, grow in spiritual maturity, and to be His agents to deliver the good news to non-believers, through which people are saved (Romans 10:14-17).

    It is a fine thing to discuss these matters, as I do believe that they affect our worship and our spiritual growth, but as for the matters of action to the world, they do not.

    In all matters, may the name of Christ be lifted high, and may we give glory to Him in all things.

    God Bless,
    Dave

  4. My thought on reading your title was, The question assumes Calvinism, which you aptly put as, “The root problem is that the question is posed from a deterministic framework, and assumes the answer.”

    One could answer why does God do one thing and not another? He chooses to. And God’s attribute of choice is a communicable attribute given to man.

  5. Dave

    Well, I guess I will throw a few more things into this discussion…

    1) Motivation: Why is it that we should discuss such things? Ask/Check yourself about why I am choosing to discuss/argue/probe this specific topic. Is there biblical warrant for me doing so (and yes, there is), if so, for what purpose is that (and yes, there is one), and lastly is that my actual motivation (or is it just various forms of pride).

    2) Method: If we are to discuss such things and are doing it for sound, biblical reasons, then let’s do it in a way that is also biblical. This past Monday night, our study included Proverbs 28:26 – “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool.” Our culture today says (and indeed our natural bent is to do) just the opposite – it puts glory in being self-informed, self-defined, and self-directed. God says to be such a man is to be a fool. So, in these discussions (which I would classify as “meat” and are thus for the “mature” Christians), we must not be defined, informed, and directed by the philosophy of man, but by God’s Word.

    Now, I mention #2 because of how the “argument” was put forth. Kevin, I know that you agree with me (on using scriptural basis rather than philosophy, as you normally have shown in the past), but in this instance, someone could read what you said and be mistaken. Your argument first put forth a philosophical position on man, choosing, and responsibility, and then after that put forth a view of reading the scriptures. So in this sense, you have said that it is ok to interpret God’s Word through the lens of man’s thinking about himself. Prov 28:26 says we are a fool to do so. This is not to say that we can’t use our brain, but our minds are corrupted, so we must not put these thoughts above what God has already informed us about.

    So, in this specific question and what you put forth, I would say that we need to see what the Scriptures say about the state of natural man, what directs his decisions, etc. On the matter of choice, is there scripture that says that “There is nothing in the person or in his experiences that necessitates him choosing one way or the other”? This is how these things should be viewed, not just because it makes sense to our minds, but because God informs us that this is indeed the case.

    I’m sure that you can cite scriptures that support this position, and of course I can cite scriptures that would support the opposite (and thus we don’t agree on this topic).

    May our lens be “clear” so that we see what we see, and hear what we hear as we read God’s Word to us.

    • Hey Dave, thanks for the comment.

      Arminians are not particularly interested in philosophical expositions of choice. We’re interested in the goodness of God as taught by scripture, and as illuminated through the Holy Spirit who lives in us and in other believers. And the conundrum is that Calvinists hold that God commands non-believers to believe when he doesn’t enable them to believe. God damns a non-believer when he has decreed every evil thing that person does, and when he has withheld the grace from the person that would make it possible to believe. That is non-scriptural. In our view it makes God disingenuous as best, and evil at worst. That is always our motivation – the goodness and faithfulness of God.

      To clarify, we both agree that man cannot believe in his natural state. The question is, when God gives grace, can a person believe or not believe? God is the one who enables us. And as Paul writes, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

      It’s a basic assumption of scripture that we have been enabled to make the choices that God sets before us. See Deut 30:11-20 for example. “This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off….the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil….I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”

      Part of the problem here is that the original question I’m answering (Why does one person believe and not another) is at root a philosophical question. It is not a scriptural question, because the default scriptural position is that anyone can believe with God’s grace. We can make choices because God has enabled us to make them. That is what makes us responsible.

      I believe we’ve discussed this before. Calvinists have some huge philosophical assumptions. They’re not aware of them (or at least don’t acknowledge that they have them). When Calvinists quote scripture (and Piper is one of the worst at this), they bring non-scriptural a priori assumptions. From the Arminian view, the root problem is that Calvinists use a definition of sovereignty that is not Biblically grounded. Things go offtrack from there.

      Arminians have assumptions too, and I think they are scriptural rather than philosophical. God is good. He keeps his word. He loves everyone and draws everyone. He enables us to do what he asks.

  6. Dane

    Could I also add…

    Rom 2:14-16
    14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

    Dave said, “I would say that we need to see what the Scriptures say about the state of natural man, what directs his decisions.”

    We both agree there is nothing “in” Man that directs his decisions to righteousness, for Man is totally depraved. The issue is… does God allow man to be totally “unable” to make a moral choice other than evil at every turn? Or, does God by grace “able” Natural Man to make a contrary choice to evil, thus by grace granting limited free will, or a freed will? I would say God does and the scriptures bring this out. Even Calvin references this verse in Romans 2:14-16 to show how God’s common grace enables the bound will to be freed to recognize “by nature” God’s moral laws, for natural man could never see this, it is only by God’s enabling grace that can Man do anything good.

    Our nature does indeed influence our choices, but our nature does not make the choice, our will does. If our will is given an alternative option by grace, and the ability to see something contrary of our nature, it would be like someone who is in the dark that sees a great light (Matth 4:16). God can bring things into focus. A Mother can look at her newborn daughter with real love, affection and sacrifice that our nature is not inclined to do; this can only come from God, and not depraved man. If you deny the grace that God gives the unregenerate, you either have to say that every human desire and motive is pure evil, including a parent’s love, or you end up being Pelagian, and neither is Biblical, and Romans 2:14 show this. We look to God’s grace and not Man, that allows for an alternative choice; vs Calvinistic determinism.

  7. Exactly, Kevin. It’s the grace of God that allows us the ability to choose. Calvinists have misinterpreted many of the scriptures; thus, building their faulty theology. God told us about His grace to show us that without it we would never be able to come to Him, not that He only graces a few “chosen” ones. He teaches us about grace simply to show the depth of our depravity. Everyone receives God’s grace, it’s what we choose to do with that grace that determines our destiny.

  8. I hadn’t read Dane’s comment before I wrote mine. He and I are saying the same thing.

  9. theinconsistentarminian

    This is one of the hardest points to understand in Prevenient Grace Theology, I think. But I like what Ken Keathley wrote, “If all hearers are equally enabled by grace to receive the Gospel, and one person accepts the Message while another person rejects it, then does not this mean that in some way the first person is more virtuous than the second? This is a difficult objection, but two points should be kept in mind. First, this objection seems to see faith as some sort of work while the Bible consistently contrasts faith from works (Rom 3:21-4:8). Faith, by its very nature, is the opposite of works because it is an admission of a complete lack of merit or ability. The beggar incurs no merit when he opens his hands to receive a free gift. Second, the mystery is not why some believe, but why all do not believe. This again points to the mystery of evil. There is no merit in accepting the Gospel but there is culpability in rejecting it.”

  10. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | Why Does One Person Believe in Jesus and Not Another?

  11. Phil (whose comment I decided not to post), See the posting rules here. Pay particular attention to #6 and #7. You’re welcome to post again if you follow the rules. :)

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