Prevenient Grace And Other Myths:
According to the theological system known as ‘Arminianism’, God supposedly did or does something in some sovereign, supernatural (and evidently irresistible? ) way to all men without exception, which “temporarily frees” the sinner enslaved by and to both sin and satan, renders all humanity totally free from those influences and thus “able to believe the gospel” when presented with it, if they will choose to do so. This doctrine is known as “prevenient grace” (PG), which means “grace coming before”, hence preceding the sinner’s response. In this way, Arminians think they do justice to the biblical teaching that it is only by grace that anyone is saved and believes. But since they interpret passages like 1 Tim 2:1-4; 1 Jn 2:1-2; Jn 3:16 as slavishly literal, rather than obvious and common scriptural synecdoche, they invariably ans simultaneously both affirm and then deny grace. Here’s how and why:
Scripture in the present tense expressly denies “PG”. Stating that so far from all men being mysteriously “temporarily” feed from the power of satan and sin, and thus freely able to understand and believe the gospel if they simply choose to do so, that they are currently “enslaved by the evil one, held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:24-26). This hardly jives with the idea of PG! And in fact, openly contradicts andvthereby disproves it. This pathetic spiritual state described by Paul, requiring a hope in true servants of God – that God may (might) yet “grant repentance” to them. Note, this is a “hope” all God’s true servants have in what GOD may do. Which of course flies smack in the face of their erroneous doctrine of PG. Because if God had already or does automatically in some sovereign, mysterious way impart PG, then such a description as Paul here gives is not merely misleading, it would be openly false!
This “hope” Paul speaks of – in who is it placed? God or man? Is it in what God “may grant”? Or in what the sinner will choose? According to the text, the answer is crystal clear – this hope is in GOD and only HE may yet grant! Arminianism takes the emphasis off where Paul placed it – the sovereignty of God and the hope in what He may grant, and places it where Paul did not place it – the supposed “free will” choice of the sinner. But ok, let’s play along for a moment.
Q. All things being suddenly spiritually equal then by means of PG, then why do only very few (comparatively) respond in a positive way to the gospel? Why do only some see in the gospel the beauty of the love of God in Christ? Where most see mere foolishness? (1 Cor 1:18). So that there is nothing in or about Christ which they find attractive? Or necessary?
Arminian’s love to cite “This is the verdict: light came into the world. But men loved darkness” (Jn 3:19) or something similar.
Ok, but they just said PG did something supernatural, obviously irresistible and sovereign to all men without exception – which all men did NOT first “choose nor ask to have done to them” by the way! Isn’t it strange…or convenient, how Arminians who argue God cannot or will not “force His grace on anyone”, always miss this obvious ‘elephant in the room’! This supernaturally wrought, irrisistable PG somehow, in someway, changed the spiritual moral condition of all humanity, from bound by sin/satan and blinded in darkness, to a state of some supposed neutrality. And managed to do all without the consent of the vast majority of humanity the t was supposedly done for! So the Arminian answer here, in fact answers nothing! In fact, it merely evades the obvious and is both circular and self-contradictory.
I’ll ask again; All things now being equal for all men spiritually speaking, thanks to PG, why then do only some see the beauty of Christ in the gospel and most hear only foolishness? (1 Cor 1:18). All have supposedly been somehow temporarily freed from the influence and deception of sin and satan, so what then is still hindering their “seeing (understanding) the light”? And desiring to embrace it? Surely under the PG model, we ought to see if not all, at least many more embrace Christ than do! You see, the only way the Arminian answers this obvious flaw in their false theology, is by in the end denying the sufficiency and efficacy of grace alone, and thereby, to that degree affirming self!
Since this PG made nothing certain, but only “possible” (they say), then obviously there must be some virtuous moral quality – some degree of personal wisdom or virtue in those who choose to say ‘Yes’, whereas most say ‘No’ to Christ. The PG is consistently applied to everyone, but does not result in all embracing Christ and the gospel. Therefore, the “X factor” is not and cannot be grace. It must therefore be the person his or herself. Thus, in the end a consistent Arminian, attributes their salvation NOT to the grace of God alone – as the scriptures do! But manifestly to some virtuous work, power or wisdom in themselves, not present in the rest of the unbelieving world. And it is here, in this personal quality of self that they boast in and of! Friends, a denial of grace alone is thereby an exaltation of self. Jesus clearly warned “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Lk 18:14). The only alternative to exalting one’s self is to exalt God and His grace alone. Not grace and…Nor grace plus…Just grace, period! (1 Cor 15:10)
“Their free will simply chooses to reject what they could just as easily accept” would be the Arminian non-answer. I say, WAIT A MINUTE! Their enslavment to sin (which consists in desires, intents and actions) and satan, has supposedly been in some mysterious way “temporarily” lifted, altered…changed by PG! So why would they then still knowingly choose eternal fire rather than salvation? Why do they still desire sin rather than Christ?!? Via PG, they aren’t “enslaved” to sin or satan (so the myth goes), so what is it about the truth and the light that is still so repugnant to them?!? So, they knowing with full understanding that eternal agony in fire awaits them, simply say ‘Who cares?’ Really?! Is that what Jesus prayed from the cross? The Bible I read says He said ‘Father forgive them. For they know not what they do‘. Did you get it? They did not know yet do anyway. They did not know and that is why they did what they did. Otherwise the Lord’s precious prayer from the cross becomes meaningless. Paul affirmed the same truth ‘Had the rulers of this world known they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Clearly, in both instances, the life-principle is unmistakeable: > Ignorance and deception prevent positive response. Understanding and illumination generate a positive response. Exactly as Jesus stated so clearly in Matthew 13:19, 23! So confident was Paul that he stated the Jews and Romans would not have crucified Jesus IF they truly understood who He was! Arminian theology has no credible answer here for this obvious principle. Instead, they cling to their scripture-twisting, self-exalting errors.
Paul described the moral spiritual condition of those who do not believe the gospel, as “Blinded by the god of this world so that they cannot see the light of the glorious gospel” (2 Cor 4:6). Um, ‘Houston, we have a problem!’ This sure doesn’t sound like they are transformed by PG and thus able to see/understand the gospel. In contrast to those thus blinded by satan, Paul states that the same power of God unleashed at creation no less, was the same power whereby He commanded His light to shine in our hearts (2 Cor 4:4-5). Paul did not say we chose to believe. That idea is wholly absent from the text. He says God MADE His light to shine in our hearts. Paul did not say we “cooperated” with God when He “offered” to shine His light in our hearts! Such a convenient (and absurd) idea is wholly forced into the text. Paul here mentioned nothing we did, emphasizing again, only what God commanded/made to happen! THAT is the very essence of sovereign-grace. IT is what the Christian scriptures plainly teach.
But apart from the obvious flaw and error in the theology of PG stated above, let’s continue our dissection of PG.
IF PG is true, why then, did the Lord Jesus say of some that they “Hear the message of the kingdom and do not understand it”? (Matt 13:19).
I mean “faith comes just by hearing” (Rom 10:17), as we’ve been so glibly, superficially taught, right? Wrong.
Even a cursory reading of scripture will reveal that by “hearing” Paul and Jesus at times clearly meant “hearing with understanding”. Not merely the physical audible sense of sound. They meant it theologically, not merely literally. Symbolically, not physically.
This is abundantly verified by the following examples:
I. After personally verbally explaining all in the scripture concerning Himself to the two on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:23), the risen Lord still needed to DO something in addition to that verbal explanation for them. What did He do?
“Then He OPENED their minds TO BE ABLE to UNDERSTAND the scriptures” (Lk 24:45).
Q. Why was this additional work necessary? Oh and please note, this was post-resurrection. Satan had already been disarmed by the cross (Col 2:15). And they had already audibly heard His teaching.
II. Lydia was a worshipper of YHWH (according to the teaching of the Law, but evidently not yet a believer in Christ), who was audibly hearing Paul teach the word of God to her (Acts 16: 14). Based on the way Arminians interpret Romans 10:17, that was all that was needed for faith to come, right? Wrong again! The scripture says in addition to her audibly hearing the word from Paul, that “God OPENED her heart, TO HEED the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Q. Why was this necessary?
III. Jesus while physically talking to the Jews who audibly heard Him, said to them, “Why is My speech UNCLEAR to you? It is BECAUSE you CANNOT HEAR My word” (Jn 8:43).
Does this sound like the Arminian version of PG? Obviously Jesus did not here mean they were physically deaf! 😉 He meant they were not merely unwilling to understand. He said, They were unable to do so! “You cannot hear” is not “you will not hear”. But EVEN IF, we allowed that they could not because they first would not, we must ask, does God not give people second, third, fourth… fiftieth chances to “turn”? Did Thomas instantly embrace the truth Jesus had risen again, when told by the women and the other disciples? No. Did Saul of Tarsus instantly embrace the gospel when he was first exposed to it? Hardly! He vehemently persecuted the church of Christ. So what changed for both Thomas and Saul who were initially unwilling to accept, but later did? The POWER OF GOD!
So make no mistake about it, while true that “faith comes by hearing”, Paul clearly meant hearing WITH understanding. Matthew 13:19, 23 is utterly meaningless IF God gives to all alike the same ability to understand the gospel when presented with it. I have yet to hear any credible answer or rebuttal to this obvious fact from any synergist I’ve encountered in debate, personal or on line. Jesus clearly contrasted those who hear and do not understand the message (Matt 13:19) with those who hear and do understand (Matt 13:23). So what is the “X factor” in those who hear and do understand compared to those where hear and do not? Is it self? In which case those with this “X” quality can legitimately boast of it. Which would nullify the scripture which says “Let not the wise man boast about his wisdom, nor the strong in his strength” (Jer 9:23). Or, it is the grace of God alone. In which case the scripture which says “So that no flesh should boast before Him, it is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:29-30). Did you see it again? Paul did not say “It is because of Him and your own…” Friends, this ought to be obvious, you see had Paul added that “and your own…”, that would have immediately contradicted his insistence “So that NO flesh should boast”!
> This. therefore CLEARLY proves that passages like Titus 2:11 –
“For the grace of God has appeared BRINGING salvation to all people“, is clearly scriptural synecdoche. For all people literally are not saved. Grace has NOT actually brought salvation to literally all men. IF it had, there would be no need for any more Christian witness, evangelism and the false doctrine of universalism would in fact be true
Note: The NIV translators, butcher this verse, by their use of a word which brings an obvious change in meaning to it. The NLT, BSB, BLB, NASB, KJV, ISV, ESV, Holeman, New Heart, Weymouth, Webster, all have the word “BRINGS”, or “BRINGING”. Whereas the NIV inserts the completely unwarranted term “OFFERS” – “offering salvation” (thereby deliberately seeking to change the meaning). The text said nothing about “offering salvation”.
Some versions render the same verse quite differently. It is grace itself that has “appeared TO ALL men”, as per the KJV, ASV, KJV2000, Jubilee, Douay-Rheims. Ok, so which is it? The grace of God has appeared BRINGING salvation to all men? Or the grace of God that brings salvation has APPEARED TO all men?
> Either way, this is scriptural synecdoche. OR, it is in fact untrue! For the grace of God has NOT in fact “appeared” to literally all men. IF it had, then again, what Jesus said in Matthew 13:19, 23 is, meaningless. The parable of the “Sower” is comprehensive. Meaning it applies to HOW each person ever has or ever will “hear” the message of the kingdom. But when we understand the common and pervasive use of synecdoche by Jesus and the writers of the New Test, then we know that by “all men”, Paul meant more than Jews only. Gentiles in general, not every person without exception. Nor has it actually saved all men. Either way, the Arminian interpretation of this (and so many) is completely false. It is based on an absolutely superficial a-priori reading of the text, while assuming a meaning, then dogmatically saying it is there.
Consider yet another example of obvious synecdoche by the Lord.
Lk 16:16 – “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and EVERYONE is forcing their way into it.”
Q. So Jesus meant this literally? He thought that literally every person was “forcing” their way into the kingdom of God? Seriously?
Wow! Who knew that literally EVERYONE wants to be saved and is trying to hard to get in!…sure makes our job easy then, right?
Self-boasting arrogance has NO credible answer to these obvious “elephants in the room”. However, SCRIPTURE speaking to the elect (chosen) of God DOES answer HOW it is that one may know themselves to be chosen OF God.
“Knowing, brethren beloved by God, HIS choice of you; FOR our
gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5).
IF God did/does the SAME work in, on, for, to all humanity as He did in, on, for, to those at Thessalonica who received the gospel, this statement is absolutely meaningless. For the gospel does NOT come to all who hear it with spiritual “power and FULL conviction”. For most, it does come “in word only”. For most, it is viewed/perceived as nothing more than “foolishness” as Paul said of the unbeliever. >> Hardly evidence of God having granted repentance SO THAT the one who formerly opposed the truth, now comes to their senses and acknowledges it!
The very qualifier that the gospel did NOT come to the Thessalonians believers “in word ONLY”, is also at best redundant and at worst, meaningless unless it also comes to many others “in word ONLY”. Saying it came to them in particular with power and full conviction is meaningless IF in fact it comes to all alike that way. Thus, Arminian arrogance and ignorance, denies the truth of scripture, in the end, paying lip service to grace, while ultimately affirming self where scripture has only God.
May God give light
John M. Platanitis (2017)