A Perilous Position
The position that says “God wants to save all men; He sent Christ to die for all men; and He sends His Holy Spirit to call men, but He can’t save man because man is able to resist the Holy Spirit” is a dangerous one and dishonoring to our sovereign God. The doctrines of Arminianism teach that man does need the Holy Spirit’s help in order to be saved. This help comes after faith. But, this help may be resisted by man, so that he does not believe.
When asked the question of “Who did Christ die for?”, the answer often given is “For all believers.” While that may sound correct, it betrays a lack of understanding, and possibly the misunderstanding of Arminianism, which says that Christ died for those who were elected by the “foresight” of God (based on God being able to foresee who would believe and then electing them). It is more accurate, if we want to use this type of language, to say that “Christ died in order that His people might believe and be saved.” It must be the Spirit that brings the elect people of God to believe, or they never would.
When the Bible speaks about quenching the Spirit (“Do not quench the Spirit” —I Thess. 5:19), this is not in reference to the act of regeneration or conversion, but the actions of believing Christians who sin against God. It is the quenching of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (not the regenerating work) that this refers to. The old nature of Adam that still clings to Christians causes them to quench the work of the Spirit in their lives. This is a sin and must be repented of. Certainly all unbelievers do resist the Truth of God — this is the very essence of their depravity. “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith” (II Tim. 3:8). However, neither of these passages teach that these men resisted the attempt of the Holy Spirit to regenerate their hearts.
At best, according to Arminianism, God can only expect some sort of cooperation between His grace and man’s choice. The result of this is to view man and God on an equal basis. We are on very false and dangerous ground anytime the Creator and the creature are seen as equals. Even worse, if the creature can halt the will of the Creator by his stubbornness, then man is god and is his own idol.
It is said by some that God will never coerce or never force you to do His will. This is also a false and dangerous statement. As we have seen, the method that God employs to carry out his will is to change the will of man that it surrenders to His. While He does not force His will on man in a human sense, He does cause the mind of man to accept His will. In the conversion of the Apostle Paul, it certainly does appear obvious that God overpowered him. Certainly, there is no indication in Paul that he was “softening up” to the message of the gospel prior to Christ confronting him on the road to Damascus.
It is dangerous to say that God can do no more than present you an offer. This makes Him no more than a salesman trying to convince mankind to buy His product. We see this attitude displayed in the methodologies employed by some to market the gospel in today’s churches.
Arminianism says, ‘There is one area of your life that God will never touch – your will. He will never cause you to believe. That’s your job. Only you can do it.’ This is simply contrary to the Bible. Lydia knew the efficacious grace of God: “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Jesus express this in John 6:65: “And He said, Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
It is very important to see what regeneration is and that it precedes faith. Regeneration is the sovereign act of God by His Holy Spirit whereby he implants new life (a new heart) into man so that the thoughts and inclinations of man’s heart are disposed unto holiness. God creates a hunger and thirst for the bread and living water which comes from heaven. The Bible calls regeneration being “born again” or “born of the Spirit”). John 3 relates the conversation of Nicodemus and Jesus: “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. Jesus answered and said to him, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In order to explain to Nicodemus that this new birth is from above, He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:2-3, 6-8).
Without doubt regeneration is necessary for a Christian to understand the Scriptures, to be convicted of sin, to repent, and to believe. This is the miracle which God performs in us. “Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3, 5). It is impossible to see or to enter the kingdom of God apart from this rebirth.
Likewise Paul says in I Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The “natural man” is the unregenerate man fallen in Adam. Man cannot know or discern the gospel message spoken to Him unless he has the Spirit of God. Notice what I Cor. 2:12 tells us, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”
Question 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, “Are we so depraved that we are completely incapable of any good and prone to all evil? Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.” And again in Question 21 in defining “true faith,” the catechism says that “true faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Ghost works in me by the gospel….” It is the knowledge, the holding for truth, and the heartfelt trust that are the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
While regeneration is the beginning of the Christian’s new life, it does not end there. It inevitably results in conversion – in true repentance and faith. After that, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify His people – to cause them to live lives of godliness, holiness, and thankfulness as Paul says in II Cor. 5:17, 18: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is quite unique in its suddenness and miraculous fashion. Immediately after our Lord came to him, the work of the Holy Spirit was clearly displayed by his words, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Paul did not resist, even though, of all men, we might think that he would have fought fiercely against it. What God does as He plants faith in the hearts of His people is to take away the sinful will to resist.
While each Christian’s conversion may not be that dramatic, Paul’s conversion is to be seen as a pattern of what takes place in the life of the unbeliever as he becomes a Christian. Notice what Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-16, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
God’s grace is always efficacious. It always accomplishes the purposes of God, and cannot be cast aside by man. As Isaiah says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:8-11).
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.