Category Archives: Prevenient Grace

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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Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism, Prevenient Grace

How Revelation 3:20 Creates a Dilemma for Calvinism

In Revelation 1,2, and 3 John prophesies to the seven churches in Asia. The last group he addresses is the church in Laodicea. After addressing the Ladocians, he concludes with the following prophesy:

(Jesus speaking) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:20-22

This passage can be interpreted in two ways, both of which present problems for Calvinism.

Interpretation #1: This passage is applicable to everyone. Although Jesus is addressing the Ladocians, he uses universal language (“If anyone..”, “he who has an ear…”). Thus this passage has application to everyone and helps to establish the doctrine of prevenient grace. This is usually the Arminian position.

Interpretation #2: Jesus is speaking only to the church in Laodicea, or to only to the seven churches in Asia. This passage is meant to apply to the original audience, and has no application to non-believers today. This is usually the Calvinist position.

If interpretation #1 is correct, we have a clear example of prevenient grace. The passage illustrates both the universal scope of grace, and the ability to resist grace. Jesus knocks on the door of each person, and the person can choose whether or not to open the door.

If interpretation #2 is correct, the Calvinist unwittingly creates another problem for himself. He disproves the doctrine of eternal security. Immediately prior Jesus speaks of “spitting out” the Ladocians because they are neither hot nor cold. If Jesus is addressing only Ladocian believers, the passage indicates that those same believers can become apostate (bold mine):

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.Revelation 3:14-16

So the Calvinist is left with a dilemma. If the passage applies to non-believers, it teaches prevenient grace. If the passage applies to Ladocian believers, it teaches the possibility of apostasy.

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Filed under Prevenient Grace, Revelation 3:20

Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is grace that God gives to begin the process of drawing a person to Himself. Its purpose is to prepare the heart of the non believer to respond to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Because of the sinful nature, no person seeks after God on his own. The Holy Spirit convicts a person of sin, shows him his need for the Savior, and urges the person to repent. Prevenient grace is universal, given to all. It is resistible – a person can spurn it to his own detriment. It works in combination with the hearing of the Word. It shows the non-believer that he has a further need for salvation. It results in saving grace when a person positively responds and perseveres in faith.

Describing prevenient grace, Thomas Oden writes:

Prevening grace antecedes human responsiveness so as to prepare the soul for the effective hearing of the redeeming Word. This preceding grace draws persons closer to God, lessens their blindness to divine remedies, strengthens their will to accept revealed truth, and enables repentance. Only when sinners are assisted by prevenient grace can they begin to yield their hearts to cooperation with subsequent forms of grace.

Prevenient grace has some commonality with the Calvinistic teaching of irresistible grace. Both attempt to explain how God draws the non-believer to Himself. Thus, Arminians and Calvinists often appeal to the same passages when explaining their concepts of drawing grace (John 6:44, for example). The two primary differences between prevenient grace and and irresistable grace are scope and resistability. Arminians believe that God draws everyone to Himself, while Calvinists believe that He draws a limited number. Arminians believe that drawing grace can be rejected, while Calvinists believe that drawing grace is always effectual.

Does scripture teach the concept of prevenient grace? There is no one passage that lays out a systematic definition of it, however, the concept becomes apparent throughout the overall tenor of scripture. Here are some passages that refer to the different aspects of prevenient grace:

Prevenient Grace Draws:
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 12:32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.

Prevenient Grace is Universal:
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

John 1:9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

John 16:7-8 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

Romans 1:18-19 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Prevenient Grace Convicts the Non-Believer:
Acts 16:14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Acts 16:29-30 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Prevenient Grace Works in Combination with the Hearing of the Word:
Acts 2:37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Romans 10:17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Prevenient Grace is Given Generously:
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Acts 17:26-27 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Prevenient Grace Can be Rejected:
Matt. 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

John 5:34,39,40 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved…You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Acts 7:51 You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

Heb 4:2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.

Heb 10:29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Prevenient Grace Results in Saving Grace when it is Accepted:
Ephesians 5:14 For it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Recommended Resources for Further Reading:
The Transforming Power of Grace (book), by Thomas Oden
A Brief Consideration of Prevenient Grace (online article), by Dennis Hartman
Prevenient Grace (online article), by Jeff Paton

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