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What is referred to as “saving grace” is in essence a profoundly important theological viewpoint within biblical Christianity. Although it’s frequently associated with John Calvin or what’s come to be called “Calvinism,” its source and substance are purely biblical. Its the theological idea that God’s sovereign nature is such that His grace, which is initiated exclusively by Him, is effectively applied (without fail), to those whom His omniscient preordination has determined for salvation. That is, those who are among the “elect.” The elect are thus saved in accordance with God’s providence which overcomes all obstacles, sinful and otherwise, to the chosen person’s faith in Christ.

This way of thinking logically dictates that those who receive God’s forgiveness do not do so of their own volition or “free will.” Rather they are effectively saved by the preordained, sovereign grace of a merciful God. This isn’t to say that a believer’s free will isn’t as free as that of those who remain among outside the elect. It’s just that in accordance with God’s omnipotent nature and His omniscience as revealed in Scripture, it only stands to reason that what He sets out to do He effectively does, otherwise He would never intend to do it. Thus, persons are forgiven when they yield to God’s grace. Their sudden willingness and ability to do God’s will is evidence of God’s own fully effective faithfulness that saves persons from the power and penalty of sin. Since we are the children of Adam, we’re described by Paul in Ephesians 2 as, “dead in our trespasses and sins” and thus unable to decide or even be consciously wooed to follow after God. Instead, God must powerfully and effectively intervene to save us by what Scripture describes as “grace.” Thus, regeneration precedes faith, and not vise-versa.

John Calvin described this divine intervention as “not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.”[1] The great Baptist, John Gill explained that the “act of [God’s] drawing is an act of power, yet not of force; God in drawing of unwilling, makes willing in the day of His power: He enlightens the understanding, bends the will, gives a heart of flesh, sweetly allures by the power of His grace, and engages the soul to come to Christ, and give up itself to Him; he draws with the bands of love. Drawing, though it supposes power and influence, yet not always coaction and force: music draws the ear, love the heart, and pleasure the mind.”[2]

Christians associated with a less definite theology of grace, have historically argued against the above view and have suffered needless spiritual anxieties because of it. They alternately offer the notion that God’s prevenient grace, based on His omniscient view of the future, is what provides all human beings alike the equal offering of grace, drawing them—under their own mortal power—toward God’s love and salvation. While it’s agreeable that God’s prevenient ability is such that He knows before a thing can be known, it isn’t agreeable that this way God is influenced into granting His grace. It may describe His gracious generosity in the theological terms that give Him His due credit, but as for explaining the actual application of grace, such a view is grossly misguided at best. In this view, once God’s universal disclosure of grace is made known to humankind (via the gospel), that somehow the will of man, formerly averse to God and unable to obey, suddenly and of its own free will chooses to obey God as though our kinship to Adam is overcome by shear human will rather than divine grace. And what’s more, they argue, that although God’s grace is strong enough to affect salvation, it can be equally resisted and rejected by the human will as though the human will were somehow an equal to God’s will.

While we can agree that the resistibility of grace is bound up in whatever theological system a person chooses. It all has to do with one’s view of humanity’s inability to respond to God and the extent of God’s grace. As Hodge has aptly said, “The (Arminian) and (Roman Catholic) doctrine is true, if the other parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that system be erroneous. If the (Calvinistic) doctrine concerning the natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of God in election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will.”[3] Thus passages discussing such doctrines are relevant.