The working definition Bill provides for grace is,
“The desire and power to do what God wants me to do”
This definition is quite distinct among those evangelical theology has given us. These include:
This is actually a definition for grace that Bill accepts. But his point is that it is simply inexcusably vague to be called a definition. Grace is unmerited favor, but so is the food we eat, our spouses and children, the nation we live in. Mercy – the withholding of deserved judgment for our sin – is “unmerited favor”, as is ultimately the gift of salvation found in Jesus.
Being allowed to pursue happiness in this land of opportunity is an “unmerited favor” which I was born into, did not earn, and do precious little to ensure. The fact that some exercise this favor by working hard to get ahead, further ahead perhaps than others that may be less willing to suffer to see their dreams realized, adds a “merited” aspect to obtaining the benefits of an “unmerited” gift.
In similar manner Scripture speaks of God’s unmerited favor being ministered to those who will humble themselves, obtained by asking, exercised through sowing and reaping. We are commanded to “give all diligence” (2 Peter 1:5) to ensure that we do not miss any part of the “exceeding great and precious promises” given to us. The dispensing of God’s favor is thus tied in measure to how seriously we take Him. God will grade His children in the final judgment based on our works, and everyone is not going to
get an “A”:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
To whatever extent one believes the diligent pursuit of God to be merit – which it is not – to that extent “unmerited” cannot define grace.
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
This is a creative acronym often quoted as a definition. Once again, however, it fails to say much. It gives no clue as to how those riches found through Christ can be obtained by the believer, let alone “grown” as Paul describes. Apparently we can get more of those riches, specifically, we read, if we are humble. Those riches “labored” in Paul . . . and were enough to make up his weaknesses, he said. Since some people fail in weakness it remains that some get grace, and others do not. The why’s and how’s of that acquisition have become the life focus of Mr. Gothard, a man whose primary life ministry is counseling, leading people to victory over their problems caused by sin.
The “Calvinists” among us – “Reformed Theology” – focus much on grace as a force, a power than can make us desire and do things we would not naturally do. God not only provides a free salvation in Christ through His death, but also gives both desire and the ability to receive it to those He favors.
Here we start to see the essence of Bill’s definition, up to the “irresistible” part. While Bill sees a great responsibility that rests with us to embrace grace and not reject it, “irresistible” removes all personal involvement. The problems are obvious. Since not all are saved and delivered from sin, it follows that God must not love those people since He blocks them from deliverance. He also must want the failures of sin to occur, since He can – with grace – overrun our will and make us joyfully choose righteousness. This becomes a violation of one of the foundational laws of the universe, that of Personal Responsibility. “Irresistible grace” makes God a liar, He who claims to hate sin and commands us to do the same, yet forces it on us. Coupled with “Total Depravity”, meaning each of us is a helpless sinner on our way to hell from birth, this becomes completely unjust. And God is never unjust.
It is interesting that some form of fatalism – “my destiny is determined by the whims of outside forces” – appears to present itself in almost every culture and religion. The reason is simple: the heart of man hates accountability, and much prefers to find a Higher Force to blame. A universe scripted entirely by the whims of an absolute sovereign is at the very least boring, devoid of any genuine danger, emotion, blessing, friendship. It leaves us with a grand melodrama with as many acts as the author chooses, puppets to create and crush, others to dress up and promote. I am not alone in being most uncomfortable with the Calvinist perspectives on grace. I find that Bill’s most articulate and energetic doctrinal opponents are ardent Reformed, Calvinist brethren. There is a clear connection between this theology and the opposition to what Bill teaches about grace.
Leave out the “irresistible” part and the perspectives that Bill promotes quickly come right in line with the gift of life, righteous thinking and action that the Calvinist sees. Grace is the wind that blows from the Holy Spirit on our little helpless ships. A sailor in a ship without wind can “work” to row, but the task is impossible, strength giving out long before the harbor is gained. A soft wind gives power to move the ship – a stronger wind more. Hence a wise sailor will tack to the more advantageous location, better wind. But wind is useless for a ship with lowered sails, and ships can in fact sail in many other directions than the direction the wind is blowing, depending on how the sails are trimmed. No ship will make the trip without the unearned, uncontrolled wind, as gratefully acknowledged. But the wind may be “fallen from” or “failed of”, terms the Scripture uses of grace neglected or rejected.
The Spirit of God is Himself a “breath”, a “wind”, the very meaning of the Greek word “pneuma” which the Bible translates as “spirit”. God’s Spirit is given to man as an unmerited gift:
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13).
The force of the Holy Spirit blowing on us, motivating us, empowering us is a gift, a gift we can request or refuse . . . a gracious gift . . . Grace personified. Unmerited, free, but not “irresistible”:
“Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51)