Christians in the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition believe that each person who engages in:
- Confession of sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10),
- Remorse (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13),
- Repentance (Mat 3:8; Rom 12:2, 13:14; Eph 4:23-24; Rev 2:5, 16, 3:3, 19),
- Faith (John 6:29, 3:16-17; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-10) and
- Obedience (Mat 28:20; Luke 11:28; John 14:15; Rom 1:5, 6:16; Heb 5:9)
receives the great gift of salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 7:10; 1 Thes 5:9; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:9, 18-19). This gift of salvation includes but is not limited to the following:
- Redemption (Rom 3:24; 8:23) - You are freed from the bondage of sin for the first time in your life.
- Forgiveness (Mat 6:9-15; 1 John 1:8-10) - You are forgiven your sins by God.
- Justification (Rom 3:21-26) - You are declared righteous by God; this legal declaration is valid because Christ died to pay the penalty for your sin and lived a life of perfect righteousness that can in turn be imputed to you.
- Adoption (Rom 8:23; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:2) - You are a joint heir with Jesus to the Kingdom of God.
- Regeneration (John 3:1-21) - The Holy Spirit makes known to you the will of God and helps you discern truth from lie. He occupies and purifies all the rooms of your heart into which He is invited. For the first time in your life you are not a prisoner of sin. You are free to pursue the path of righteousness. This is the first day of your Christian life and you are a new creature in Christ. This is the mechanism of your redemption.
- Sanctification (Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 1:13-16) - You are led by the Holy Spirit along the path toward holiness; this is a lifetime journey.
- Reconciliation ( Eph 2:11-22) - You are reconciled with all other believers.
- Unification (Eph 3:1-11) - You are united with all believers in the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Glorification (Rom 8:30) - You will complete the journey along the path of sanctification when your mission in this life is done.
Salvation is an astounding, unmerited gift of God and is, therefore, an example of grace. But how do you get to that point in time when you are ready to receive this great gift of salvation? What would cause you to engage in confession, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience? The answer is the grace of God that comes before salvation.
God is the overwhelmingly dominant player in the synergistic effort to save your soul. He tosses a life preserver into the raging waters of life, pushes you to within arm’s length and urges you to stretch out your hand and take hold. God’s part is called Prevenient Grace which means the grace that brings salvation. The word prevenient derives from pre (before) and venio (come). God attempts to call, awaken, draw near, convict, save and empower every person who will ever live including you. He initiates, advances and perfects every good thing in your heart, intellect and will. He leads you from one step to another as he finds response in your heart and disposition to obedience. Some men allow God to quicken, assist and nudge their free will to facilitate confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience so they may receive the great gift of salvation (1 Pet 1:9). Other men choose to resist and reject the grace of God (2 Thes 1:8-9).
The Prevenient Grace of God has many faces but the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all persons (Titus 2:11):
- The requirements of the law are written by God on every heart (Rom. 2:15),
- Jesus Christ knocks at the door of every heart (Rev. 3:20),
- The Holy Spirit calls and convicts each person (John 16:8) and
- God's eternal power and divine nature are evident in the world around us (Rom 1:20).
But nevertheless, many resist the grace of God (Mat 25:46; 2 Thes 1:8-9). Only by the Prevenient Grace of God is it possible for you to receive the great gift of salvation. (See Sections 1.3 and 4.2 of Theology Corner)
John Wesley had much to say about the grace of God that brings salvation. Writing in 18th century prose, he used the term preventing grace instead of prevenient grace. Preventing grace is an appropriate, alternate description since the purpose of this grace is to prevent you from going to Hell! In the words of John Wesley:
“So that the salvation which is here spoken of might be intended to be the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory. If we take this in its utmost extent it will include all that is wrought in the soul by what is frequently termed natural conscience, but, more properly, preventing grace; all the drawings of the Father; the desires after God, which, if we yield to them, increase more and more; all that light wherewith the Son of God ‘enlighteneth every one that cometh into the world;’ showing every man ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God;’ all the convictions which His Spirit, from time to time, works in every child of man; although, it is true, the generality of men stifle them as soon as possible, and after a while forget, or at least deny, that they ever had them at all…
For allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this is not natural: it is more properly termed preventing grace. Every man has a greater or less measure of this, which waiteth not for the call of man.”
Wesley held, as did Arminius, that no ability remains in man to return to God. Cooperation with grace is of grace. Prevenient grace is a cornerstone of Wesleyan/Arminian theology. Without God working in your corrupted heart, intellect and will, without God calling you, trying to awaken you, trying to draw you near and convict you of your sins, you could never be saved! You are drowning in a bottomless sea of sin and the Holy Spirit is nudging you to within arm’s length of a life preserver. You need only grasp the preserver and be pulled to safety. This describes the synergistic view of salvation set forth by Wesleyan/Arminian theology. There is another view of salvation, called monergistic, which characterizes the Reformed view of salvation. The vignette that follows will illustrate the difference.
Imagine every person is swimming in a dark, bottomless, violent ocean surrounded by wind, rain and terrifying, towering waves – the perfect storm. Jesus Christ is the captain of a magnificent, unsinkable ship. He is supervising as the crew throws doughnut shaped flotation devices, with ropes attached, into the violent waters. Calvinists believe that, occasionally, a flotation device will land exactly on a person's head. Such persons will be encircled and buoyed by this life preserver while being pulled aboard ship. These are the elect of Calvinism. Jesus obviously instructs that "ringers" be thrown to catch the elect without any effort whatsoever on their part. Of course, the greater portion of mankind is so far from the nearest life preserver that rescue is impossible; they are the reprobate of Calvinism and surely deserve to drown.
In contrast, the Arminian believes the ship's captain never instructs the crew to throw a ringer for anyone at any time. Instead, He dispatches His First Mate, a powerful swimmer, to dive into the water and push each person to within arm's length of the nearest life preserver. Then the First Mate says, "Confess your sins, repent and believe; take hold of this life preserver and you will be saved." The Arminian believes many will accept this gift of life made available by Prevenient Grace. Many will reach out their hand, grasp the flotation device and be pulled aboard ship. But the Calvinist insists that the First Mate has never been dispatched by the Captain to push anyone to a life preserver. Even if He had been dispatched, not one person would have the ability to take hold by exercising their own free will. All persons would be stopped by the Total Depravity of their miserable souls. Furthermore, even if one person fortuitously floated near a life preserver and extended their hand by one centimeter to grasp hold, that act would constitute a human work and would mean, contrary to Scripture, that the person was saved by a work.
The Calvinist teaches that you are so Totally Depraved that you cannot be saved unless Jesus instructs His crew to throw a ringer around you! The Arminian believes you must, by an exercise of free will, extend your hand in response to the Prevenient Grace of God. It may seem that monergism and synergism differ by only an arm’s length. In one case (monergism), the doughnut shaped flotation device lands on your head and encircles your body. In the other case (synergism), the First Mate pushes you to within arm’s length of the flotation device.
But in reality, they differ by the breadth of the universe! In case of monergism, God decided, before you were born, if you would be saved; no act of yours can change that decision. In the case of synergism, you are called, awakened, drawn near and convicted by God and then pushed to within arm’s length of the goal. God is nudging your heart, intellect and will to reach out and grasp the flotation device; but you must grasp the device to be saved.
By the synergism of Wesleyan/Arminian theology, Jesus died for all and salvation is offered to all. By the monergism of Reformed theology, Jesus died only for the elect of God and only the elect are saved.