Friday, August 7, 2009

Calvinism 4: Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace:

We all know basically what irresistible means, but do we know what grace is? As a child, I was taught that grace is “a free gift that I don’t deserve.” While this is true, what is the gift? In English, if we could not use the word “grace,” what would be used instead to convey the same meaning?

The first use of the word is in Genesis, when God decides that He is sorry that He made man.

"But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."
Genesis 6:8

Grace was free, as we can see, no trade or exchange of goods here. Grace is an attitude of God toward those who find His favor. Grace is why Noah didn’t die by inhaling a lungful of water. Grace can be called “help,” or “the attitude of one to give help to another.”

We are also told to act in a gracious way to one another:

"A good man deals graciously and lends; He will guide his affairs with discretion.”
Psalm 112:5

"Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good
for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."

Ephesians 4:29

God is said to give grace even to Christians.

"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain
mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Hebrews 4:16

Notice that wording: Grace to help. Whatever the problem, grace is the answer. It’s like the band-aid of the spiritual world. And who does God give this help to?

"But He gives more grace.
Therefore He says:
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:6

The humble are those who will ask for help, and God enjoys helping them. The proud don’t think they need any help.

This equation will be simplistic and not thorough, but it will help you remember this point I’m trying to make:

Now sure enough, we all know that we can give people help when they don’t want it. Hospitals, if they receive someone who just took too many sleeping pills, will pump the person’s stomach without that person’s permission.

God’s help, though, is not forced. It is help that can be rejected or turned away from.

"We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to
receive the grace of God in vain."

2 Corinthians 6:1
"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law;
you have fallen from grace."

Galatians 5:4

By the way, I don’t believe that “falling from grace” being to lose one’s salvation, but rather to reject the day-to-day help that God offers us. And trust me, as Christians, we need all the help (grace) that we can get!
Most of the verses that mention grace in the New Testament say something like this:

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Ephesians 1:2

Amen to that! With all our sin and weakness, it’s a good thing that God offers us so much grace/help. It is by God’s help that we are saved. We, helpless sinful beings, can ask God for help, as discussed in the last email.
God, because He’s just so awesome, chooses to help, and it’s His help that saves us. “By grace you have been saved.” If God wouldn’t have gone out of His way, and by that I mean if He hadn't been willing to die a painful death, we would not have anyone to help save us from sin and death no matter how hard we cried for it.

The Calvinist view of irresistible grace is that when God gives us grace, we don’t want to resist. God regenerates our hearts and minds, and then we have faith.
I have a couple problems with that:

  • A. The Bible does not say be saved and then believe, but rather believe and then you will be saved.
  • B. The common term for that sort of thing is mind-control.
  • C. God gave man free will, and seems to prefer interacting and relating to people who can choose to respond to Him.

God, though what I’ve seen in His interactions with humans throughout the Bible, likes to use external, rather than internal, forces to deal with people. Consider Jonah for a moment. He didn’t want to go to. God could have, I’m sure, used mind control. Now when I say "mind-control," I don't mean forcing people to do something against their will, because of course if you control their mind, you control their will! You simply make sure that everyone wants to do what you want them to do, and then they just do what they want.

He could have given Jonah “grace” to see with compassion the lost souls of Ninevah so that Jonah would have happily trotted off to follow God’s command, but no. God had Jonah tossed in a large fish, and even after that Jonah had attitude! God’s will of reaching the Ninevites was accomplished, but He didn’t even need to pull out His mind-control super weapon. God can rule just fine without mind-control, and He prefers it that way.

Think of the garden of Eden. God’s perfect and ideal set-up for mankind. It was “good.” But man still had a choice to follow and love God, or not. It’s always been that way. God seeks a relationship with mankind. A real relationship.

We can see all through the Bible, His love letters and longing to have a close and trusting relationship with us. He didn’t want robots, who have no choices but do what they are programmed to do. Even His angels who praise and serve Him all day long had the option to leave. Even so, when God created man in the garden of Eden, He gave man a choice: love or leave. Sadly, we choose to give up perfection for some tangy fruit and the promise of “being like God.”

We didn’t love Him, we were jealous of His position. God didn’t draw them back to Him using the mind-powers of grace. No. He kicked them out of the garden. He’s very straightforward that way.
Calvinists will hear me, and respond that God is recorded to have “hardened” people’s hearts, or that:

"The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water;
He turns it wherever He wishes."

Proverbs 21:1

God does harden people’s hearts; but only those that choose for themselves to harden it. If you desire hardness, He will give your heart hardness. But if you desire grace, then He will show mercy and regenerate your heart. He does do “open-heart surgery,” but only with your consent.
You’ll notice that before God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart only after this:

"But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also;
neither would he let the people go."

Exodus 8:32

In the same way, God turns the heart of the King wherever He wishes. And where does He wish for it to turn?
We find the answer here:

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows,
that he will also reap."

Galatians 6:7

So I maintain that God does not use mind-control grace, which is not, I believe, a Biblical meaning of grace, to change people’s minds. He many times gives people what they want. An excellent and very frightening example of this is how God dealt with the Israelites in Isaiah. He tells them to listen, and they do not heed His Word. Then they ask for an explanation of God's will, not to heed it but so that they can judge it and make fun of it. At that point, God says that He will close their ears so they will not hear and understand until He is done judging them. For the next probably fifteen chapters, God judges them, and not once does He tell them to listen. That just goes to show you that God is not an unreasonable being who commands people to do what they are not able, through His help, to do. Finally, He is done judging and tells them again to listen and repent, and they do!

The point is, is you ask God for Himself, then He delights to reveal Himself to you.

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart"
Psalm 37:4

However, if you want to shut your ears, or if you prefer a lie to truth like King Ahab did, then He will punish you by giving you what you want. If you want to close your ears, God will punish you by closing your eyes. If a person wants their heart to be hardened, God will harden their heart. If a person wants none of God, then through eternity, they will get none of God, which is Hell. C.S. Lewis once said that in the end, there are two types of people: those that say to God: "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says: "they will be done." This is astonishing. This is unbelievable. This is what the Bible tells us is true. I don't claim to understand why God gives people what they want - why He is so kind, so harsh, or even why salvation is so "human-focused" and "man-centered." [The whole point of salvation being to save us humans, you know] I don't claim to understand why God is so loving and witty. I just read the Bible, and am left in Awe.

God does not give people irresistable grace. He chooses to offer people grace that they can say "no" to. He wants man to have free will, and if that's what He wants, then that's what He is going to make happen!

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