In considering Arminianism and Calvinism, it becomes clear that all differences boil down to one question: “Who has the final say in salvation: God or man?”
Now some might object that Arminians most certainly do believe that God saves, not man. However, the question has been misunderstood. Of course God is involved in saving people. That is not the issue. The issue is whether or not God has the final say in salvation. Without a doubt Arminianism rests on the premise that the final determinative factor in salvation is human choice. As we’ll see, this is a problematic assertion.
If we say that man is the final arbiter in salvation the next question becomes, “Why do some men believe and not others?” A common response is that these men chose to believe, while others chose not to. But this does nothing to answer the question and only restates it. The only logical answer to this quandary for the Arminian is that those who believe do so because either they are smarter or they are more righteous than those who continue in disbelief. One can object to the previous sentence all he wants, but there is no getting around the truth of it. If it is incorrect, I have yet to hear a cogent response as to why some believe and others do not. Therefore, let’s look at the implications of salvation ultimately resting upon intellect or inherent righteousness.
Some men choose Christ because they are smarter than others, or because they have more information at their disposal to make a good decision. There are a couple of serious problems with this statement. First, never does Scripture hint that salvation rests upon the intellectual capacity of the person. If anything, the smarter or more gifted you are the less chance you have of believing. God chose the things that are nothing in the world to shame the things that are (1Cor. 1:26-28). Why? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (v. 29). Thus Paul demolishes any idea that some choose to believe because they are smarter. Scripturally, it simply cannot be true.
Second, we must ask: “Why are some smarter than others?” Is it the fault of the woman in Calcutta that she has not grown up in an environment that fosters intellectual growth? Is it her fault that she cannot afford an education? Is it the fault of the man who was born with inherent limitations in thinking ability? Is it not God who forms us in the womb, not only creating our body, but also forming our brain and its potential? Has He not also picked our parents for us and where we will be born? Even the question of education and smarts leads us back to God’s sovereignty.
Some men choose Christ because they have more inherent righteousness within them. If the statement on intellect was problematic, this one is even more so. First, Scripture declares in no uncertain terms that no person is righteous (Rom. 3:10-18). Jesus states as much: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a). In other words, we are so depraved that unless God draws a person, he will never come. What does this say about innate righteousness?
Second, there are examples of extremely unrighteous people who believe, while others who seem to have it together disbelieve. The answer for why the unrighteous believe is always God’s grace.
Third, we must ask: “Why are some more inherently righteous than others?” Do some, like a spiritual guru, make themselves holy over time, building themselves into a more righteous person that will believe when presented with spiritual truth? Instead, does this not lead to more pride and unwillingness to believe? Or perhaps someone is born with a more ingrained sense of the holy. And who determined that? Again, it is God who forms us in the womb, who places our spirit within us. Interestingly, it is written that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit even from his mother’s womb. Once again we are led back to God’s sovereignty.
A common objection: The Arminian will say that prevenient grace enables all to believe, thus overcoming any inherent unrighteousness within. But this does not answer the question of why some believe and some do not. If prevenient grace brings us to a point where belief in Christ is a possibility, then why does not everyone choose Him? Either some are smarter or more righteous. Now we are back to square one.
One more objection: Is this type of discussion even profitable? Who cares whether it is God or man who makes the final choice, so long as salvation occurs? Here’s why it matters. If one believes that it’s human choice that determines salvation, this can lead to all sorts of unbiblical methods and tactics just to get someone to make “the right choice.” Unfortunately, this is exactly what we see in many, if not most, evangelical churches. But believing that God is the one who saves keeps us from such methods and keeps the gospel pure. Additionally, believing that salvation ultimately rests upon my intellect or personal righteousness can easily lead to spiritual pride. Therefore, this type of discussion is not only profitable, it is necessary.