Resisting God’s grace. (Don’t!)

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October 2016

God dispenses his amazing grace to everybody, as Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5.43-48 KWL
43 “You heard this said: ‘You’ll love your neighbor.’ Lv 19.18 And you’ll hate your enemy.
44 And I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
45 Thus you can become your heavenly Father’s children,
since he raises his sun over evil and good, and rains on moral and immoral.
46 When you love those who love you, why should you be rewarded?
Don’t taxmen also do so themselves?
47 When you greet only your family, what did you do that was so great?
Don’t the foreigners also do so themselves?
48 Therefore you will be egalitarian,
like your heavenly Father is egalitarian.”

Our Father doesn’t skimp on the grace. He provides it, in unlimited amounts, to everybody. To those who love him, and those who don’t—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love those who hate us. To those he considers family, and those he doesn’t consider family—which is why Jesus instructs us to be like our Father, and love pagans. Be like our Father. Be egalitarian. Love and be gracious to everyone, without discrimination.

Yeah, Christians suck at following this command. It’s why we’ve come up with excuses why we needn’t follow it. Or invent theological beliefs which undermine it altogether, like limited grace, and irresistible grace.

Irresistible grace is a Calvinist invention. Basically it claims God is so almighty, so sovereign, so powerful, that if he pours grace upon us it’s impossible to resist. We’re gonna get it. We’re in no position to reject it. When God shines his sun on the good and evil, the evil are unable to duck into the house and turn on the air conditioner. When God showers his rain on the moral and immoral, the immoral find it impossible to book a trip to Las Vegas and dodge the rain in the desert.

Okay, obviously people can resist sunshine and rain. But Calvinists claim that’s because there are two kinds of grace:

  • Common grace. The resistible kind. Like sunshine and rain. Like free coffee, tax breaks, a good parking space, and all the other things God and our fellow humans generously offer us.
  • Saving grace. The irresistible kind. Infinitely powerful. There’s no defense against it. If God decides you’re getting saved, that’s that.

If irresistible grace sounds kinda rapey… well, it is kinda rapey.

That’s why it doesn’t accurately describe God in the slightest. God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and love behaves patiently and kindly and doesn’t demand its own way. 1Co 13.4-5 But when Calvinists picture what they’d do if they were God, love comes second to sovereignty. (You know, just like love comes a distant second to our own selfish will.) If they were almighty, and wanted you saved, you’d have no choice in the matter; no free will. You’d be saved, period, no discussion. ’Cause they love you. And you may not love them now, but give it time, and you’ll learn to love ’em back. Just stop fighting them, ’cause there’s no way you’re strong enough to resist the grace they’re sticking inside you.

…And I’d better stop this simile now, before it gets any more icky.

Different kinds of grace?

There’s actually only one kind of grace. Simply put, it’s when God generously gives us things.

We might give it different adjectives, like “common grace” or “saving grace.” That doesn’t mean it’s a different grace, a different thing, a different substance. That’s only to indicate what God’s giving us. Saving grace means he’s giving us salvation. Common grace means he’s giving everybody a commonly available gift, like fresh air or clean water. Even cheap grace has nothing to do with what God’s doing, or the quality of what he’s offering: It has to do with how we respond to his grace—by taking it for granted.

Yeah, God will give one person one thing, and another person another. Different abilities. Different strengths. Different supernatural gifts. Some folks are gonna object this is unfair of him. But it’s only because they forgot about love: God doesn’t grant us these things so that we alone benefit by them, but so everyone can benefit by them. “With great power comes great responsibility,” as Stan Lee put it. It’s hardly God’s fault people won’t share what he’s given them. And if we still have deficiencies or needs, ask him!—you do realize requests are what prayer’s for, right?

So why do people insist there are resistible and irresistible types of grace? So they can explain how we humans are clearly able to resist all God’s other forms of grace… yet teach we can’t resist saving grace. That’s the big exception. God decides we’re saved, and if we don’t like it, “who are you to talk back to God?” Ro 9.20 If God decided to save you, yet take a dump all over somebody else, hasn’t he every right to do so? Ro 9.21 But no, it’s not because he’s arbitrary. He’ll save everybody who calls to him. Ro 10.12-13 It’s just some won’t. They resist his grace.

Ezekiel 33.11 KWL
“Tell them, ‘The LORD my Master swears by his life: Do I delight in the wicked person’s death?
I want the wicked person to turn back from their way, and live!
Turn back! Turn back from your evil ways! Israel’s house: Why must you die?’”

God wants to save everybody, 1Ti 2.4 but people won’t accept his free gift of salvation. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, 1Jn 2.2 and they could accept God’s grace, become his kids, Jn 1.12 and inherit his kingdom. But just like someone who doesn’t appreciate nice weather and stays indoors, they’d rather sit out the kingdom. They’re reprobate, a Christianese word meaning “won’t be getting saved.” They think they have it better.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world? Yep; that’s what St. John wrote.

1 John 2.2 KWL
He’s the atonement for our sins.
Not only for ours, but for the whole world’s.

Yet Calvinists insist atonement is limited to Christians. Doesn’t matter what John wrote. Yeah, John wrote ólu/“whole,” but Calvinists insist sometimes “whole” doesn’t really mean “whole.” And kósmu/“world” doesn’t really mean “world.” Sometimes ólu means “some,” and kósmu means “church.” Depends on the context… and no, not grammatical or historical context. It’s their special category, theological context: If it doesn’t suit their beliefs, just redefine all the words till it does. (To be fair, they’re not the only ones who do it. Any intellectually dishonest Christian will.)

Where’d they get license to redefine biblical words till they mean what they want ’em to? From John Calvin himself.

[T]he design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. Commentary on 1 John 2.2 

So really we should translate 1 John 2.2 as “Not only for ours, but for the [non-reprobate] whole [Christian] world’s.” How nice that Calvin provided us the correct clarifying ideas, lest we wrongly believe God is unlimited in his generosity. You know, like Jesus instructed us to be, in order to be like our Father. Guess since he’s not unlimited, why should we be? So let’s only love those who love us, be kind to fellow Christians but not outsiders, and be no better than taxmen or pagans.

Okay, enough sarcasm; back to grace. The usual argument is if saving grace can be resisted, it means salvation is up to us. If we choose whether to be saved or not, we can take credit for our own salvation.

Which is ridiculous. If I’m choking to death, and an emergency room surgeon performs an emergency tracheotomy and sticks a tube in my throat so I can breathe, did she save me, or did I save myself? Obviously she saved me. If anyone claims, “No, actually Leslie saved himself, ’cause he chose to start breathing after she put that tube in him,” or “No, he saved himself because he didn’t fight her off,” that person would be rightly looked at as an idiot. Yet for some reason, when Calvinists say essentially the same thing about not resisting God’s grace, other Christians respond, “Ah, good point. We don’t save ourselves; therefore saving grace must be irresistible.” No; we never do save ourselves. Can’t do it; didn’t do it. You expect some of the credit because you didn’t fight God off? You must have way too many unearned “Participant” youth soccer trophies.

Calvinists insist the very idea of resistible grace means we’re talking about Pelagianism, the heretic ideas of Pelagius of Wales. (They tend to call it “semi-Pelagian,” ’cause Pelagius taught we totally save ourselves, whereas they claim we teach we partly save ourselves. They claim a lot of slanders about non-Calvinists.) Or we’re talking about synergism, the idea God and humans cooperate on salvation.

Yes, we Christians cooperate with God on lots of things. 1Co 3.9 There’s an awful lot of synergy going on in Christianity—as there should be. But our “cooperation” in salvation barely counts as cooperation. It entirely consists of not getting in God’s way. He does all the work, and we passively let him do it. There’s no –ergy in our synergy! I did nothing to save myself. Neither did you.

However, humans are active when it comes to resisting grace. And that’s why it totally falls upon us when Jesus, someday, judges us for resisting salvation. ’Cause it wasn’t a passive act. It wasn’t just standing there and missing out on grace when God was passing it out. He handed grace it out to everyone—but people fought it. Fought him. Chose sin and death instead of life and peace. So that’s wholly on them.

The fear the Spirit won’t finish the job.

As I said, when Calvinists imagine what they’d do if they were God, they imagine they wouldn’t give people a choice in the matter: You’re saved. Done deal. No backsies. You can’t refuse salvation, and doom yourself. You can’t follow Jesus for a little while… then when the going gets rough (or when, say, mental illness takes over), you decide you’ve had enough and quit Jesus. Salvation has to be a done deal. ’Cause they don’t want us humans to have the ability to undo it!

I can’t say I blame them. I certainly don’t wanna undo my salvation. But that’s the thing about grace: God forgives all. Really, truly, all. There’s nothing I can do that’ll make God respond, “Okay, I’m done with you,” and whoosh the Holy Spirit comes out of me and I’m eternally damned. Isn’t that a frightening idea?—but it’s never gonna happen. He’s never gonna leave. He 13.5 I have to leave.

Just like all those folks who used to follow Jesus, but while they could swallow his bread, they couldn’t swallow his teachings about it, Jn 6.60 and quit. Jn 6.66 Calvinists tell themselves these were never really Jesus’s students, even though that’s precisely what John called ’em. But Calvinists are in denial. Fear’ll do that to you.

Still, if any relationship with God is ever gonna break, God has never been, and will never be, the party who breaks it. That falls on us. Speaking for myself, my attitude is the same as Joshua to the Hebrews, Js 24.15 or the students who stuck with Jesus: I’m not leaving. Where else am I gonna go? Jn 6.68 I’m never divorcing God, and since he’s not going anywhere, there’s your done deal.

Yeah, free will is a mighty scary power God’s granted us. But if we didn’t have free will, how we willingly respond to him wouldn’t really be love. It’d be programming, codependency, Stockholm syndrome, or some other distortion which can’t fit the definition of love. And love is meant to be the foundation of our relationship with God. Not irresistible grace; love. We love him because he loved us first; 1Jn 4.19 we stay in Christ’s love, stay in his joy, Jn 15.4-17 and trust him because we’re living in his presence. Not because we imagine he forced us into eternal life, and we’re never getting away.

As I also said, there’s only one kind of grace. As the Holy Spirit works on growing fruit in us, sometimes we resist this grace too, and don’t grow very fast. Don’t participate, won’t obey, and take God’s forgiveness for granted. We’re figuring to become the lowest in the kingdom—but hey, we made it into the kingdom! Pathetic, but y’know, grace extends to sucky Christians too. Still, it’s just as dumb to resist God’s other gracious gifts, as it is to resist salvation. So don’t.

For God has every intention of finishing what he started. Pp 1.6 That’s why he put the Spirit in us Christians. Ep 1.13-14 That’s why he interacts with us and empowers us. He’s not a big tease: He’s laying the groundwork for our permanent relationship. He’s not gonna ditch us when we screw up; he already knows we’re gonna screw up, and how much, and when. He’s adopted us regardless.

Anyone who still, despite God’s obvious interest in us, worry he won’t hold up his end of our relationship: You got some abandonment issues you really oughta work out in therapy. Because he’s not leaving. Quit trying to rewrite the scriptures so they put us (or even God!) into shackles. Trust his presence. Live in his love.