Thoughts in the Night on God’s Grace and Our Response – by Brad Jersak
Jet-lag woke me up again last night, but happily, instead of assaulting me with half-asleep worries or false epiphanies, the night-owl left me with a few follow-up thoughts to my article on Free Will, the Nous and Divine Judgment. For me, at least, they felt like clarifications on ye olde grace vs free will double-bind.
Briefly, classic Calvinism creates a double-bind re: the will. If grace is a unilaterally gift given by the will of God to the elect (Calvin’s irresistible grace), then human response can seem either pre-determined or unnecessary. This seems wrong to me, since clearly, the Gospel is an authentic invitation calling for a necessary response.
But, in objecting to Calvin’s apparent determinism, we may run aground if we believe we are saved or damned by our own free will decision. Even though God graciously offers us a salvation he alone can provide, we might imagine a situation where salvation is still really up to us (conditional grace? self-made salvation earned through right response?). Something about this seems wrong to me too, in that grace-alone (God alone) and faith-alone (my response alone) appear contradictory.
I know there are standard textbook answers to both these objections. Either side of the double bind knows what to say … leaning strongly either to the sovereign will of God or the free will of man, then finally opting for some form of paradox, some mysterious, inaccessible formula for the co-existence of God’s will and ours in the work of salvation.
But as I propose in the aforesaid article, in Jesus, John and Paul, will is not primary. Neither God’s will nor ours. God’s love is primary and this love elicits a love response … but this response comes from the heart, rather than the will. That is, when the blinders are finally off and we truly encounter God’s love, our hearts will be touched by that love, healed through that love, and inspired to love.
Now here is the point that I think breaks the double-bind: responding to God IS necessary, but a response is not identical to a choice. By grace alone, a heart response to Christ’s love becomes possible and most natural. And it is the heart that governs the will. My heart response will determine my choices (just as God’s heart of love determines his choices).
What I’m positing is that when, by grace, we are given a revelation of Jesus (when God says, “Let there be light in your hearts” – 1 Cor. 14) — i.e. when our hearts are enlightened or when we are given new hearts, THEN we will respond, not by ‘free will’ but by a ‘freed heart,’ a heart freed to love … freed to respond. And in responding, THEN our hearts will engage our will to choose to follow.
In this model, the grace-given revelation precedes and enables the heart response … but the heart response is both natural and at the same time necessary. This approach transcends the Calvinist-Arminian debates altogether, so bound up as they were in the role of the Will (God’s versus ours). This plays out beautifully in the language of John 1. We are saved, not by the will of man, and yet, we must receive him. Or in my language, God’s revelation and our response, which because our hearts are made to reflect God’s heart, are virtually simultaneous and indivisible, though the saving journey originates in God’s grace, established by grace and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit.