God’s will and God’s swill in salvation: thoughts on the Arminian-Calvinist controversy

In “How have you personally dealt with the Calvinist-Arminian issue?,” I came across the following two responses. My comments appear after each response:

1. Ryan on February 13, 2010 at 2:30pm

Derek said: ‘I think its also important that Christ’s first commandment when He began His ministry was “repent!”, thus seeming to suggest some human response to the divine calling.’”


Derek seems to assume that a human response to God’s call implies that the believer must have cooperated with God in his salvation. Obviously “responding” involves doing something. The question is whether the act of responding is what saves you.

God not only chooses the ends but also the means, namely, in this case, the desire to respond. At the back of this desire to respond lurk secondary causes, often in the form of misfortune. We’re all familiar with  “man’s importunities are God’s opportunities.” One good example of misfortune is Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son.” The secondary means God provided in that story – the son’s final straw – was pig swill. The primary means God used was his miraculous raising the prodigal son out of that swill by an act of pure mercy and grace. It wasn’t the son’s will that saved him; it was God’s will and God’s swill.

So, the “means” of God’s provision for salvation embraces far more than the human reponse, and covers all that Jesus makes explicit in the “Great Commission” – Go and preach: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).

When we turn over the page of our Bible to Mark 1, what was the first thing Jesus does in his ministry? “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Great Commission in a nutshell is: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” But before one can repent one needs to hear, to read, to learn the Gospel. The means is the Gospel, the end is repentance, and all that comes with repentance such as faith, assurance, and the desire to obey God’s commands. God grants the repentance (like faith, repentance is a gift of God) as the Bible clearly points out in several places. God enables a person to repent. He also commands us to repent. How to reconcile this apparent contradiction. “Commands” is the means, while “repentance” (which is a sign of salvation) is the end.

So whether you are an Armenian Arminian or an Armenian Calvinist, you must have repented to become one or the other. Every believer will repent, and will also will to do so. When God regenerates a person, he makes him free to repent. It is that truth that will make you free.

Here is the second response at “How have you personally dealt with the Calvinist-Arminian issue?”

2. Lisa Robinson on February 13, 2010 at 4:04pm

The question I really had to grapple with was, is it regeneration or some type of prevenient grace that enables the person. If it is the former, then response will be given but not so if it is the latter.”

This is what I understand her to be saying:

  1. If regeneration occurs before believing (faith), that is, if salvation is 100% of grace, THEN a response will be given.
  2. If regeneration occurs after believing (faith), that is, if the believer cooperates with God’s PREVENIENT grace, then NO response is necessary, and so, is not given.

Isn’t she perhaps confusing her “latter” with her “former” because no Arminian (a believer in prevenient grace) will say that he does not make a response. So perhaps Lisa means the following?

1. If regeneration occurs before believing (faith), that is, if salvation is 100% of grace, THEN a response will NOT be given.2. If regeneration occurs after believing (faith), that is, if the believer cooperates with God’s PREVENIENT grace, then A response WILL be given.

But say Lisa did mean the second set of propositions, there would still be something wrong, because a response is given in both the synergist (Arminian) and the monergist (Calvinist) siutation. The difference lies in the cause of that response. The synergist says “I made the decision to be saved,” in other words, “I saved myself, whereas the monergist says “God made the decision, that is, “God saved me.” The Arminian will probably object, “I didn’t save myself, God saved me.” Not so. You did save yourself. All God did was – in your view – make you an offer that you could refuse; but if you accept the offer, you’re saved. So, it’s what’s in you, in your “flesh,” and not what is in God that determines that you are saved. When I says “determines” I mean “inwardly determines” (coming from you, the Arminian).

Even if an Arminian says, “I only did .000000000000000000001% and God did 99.000000000000000000099%, the fact of that matter is that it is that flick of that floating eyelash that redeems you from the pit and makes you a child of God. By the same logic it would be the same eyelash response that sends you to the pit. Such eternal consequences determined (inwardly) by an eyelash!

The question is: “Is God really knocking at whosoever’s heart, begging to come in, but failing – sovereignly so – most of the time?

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