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In theology dialogues with my Arminian brothers and sisters, conversations invariably (regardless of the aspects of theology) tilt toward the perennial Calvinist verses Arminian debate. As the Calvinist believes, is God completely sovereign in salvation working autonomously to snatch a soul out of darkness and translate them into the kingdom of light (Monergism)? Or is the Arminian correct in believing that God graciously provides the means by which we may obtain salvation and all we have to do is exercise our free will in conjunction with God’s Sovereignty to obtain it (Synergism)?

[pullquote]I often try to avoid the subject, not because I am afraid or feel inadequate – though who is adequate to proclaim the excellencies of the gospel of grace[/pullquote] – it is because something profound is often lost in the debate. And that something is the beauty found in God’s sovereignty. Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in the sovereignty of God. Yet, in these discussions, God’s sovereignty is either used as a battering ram by the Calvinist or as a parenthesis by Arminians. Both approaches do violence to the beauty of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

The Beauty of Salvation

Because God is sovereign, he works unilaterally and autonomously in salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In this verse, Paul plainly explains the nature of our salvation and how we come to be made sons and daughters of Christ. Paul begins this verse by immediately answering the question of “why” we are saved (because of God’s grace). [pullquote position=”right”]In fact, our justification, adoption and sanctification are all acts of God’s free grace.[/pullquote]

But, what is grace and why are we saved by it?

Paul’s statement in verse 8 is the continuation of verse 4 where he introduces God’s actions toward the sinner in contrast to the sinner’s plight (vv. 1-3). Paul claims that the reason God saves sinners from their state of sin and misery is because he is rich in mercy and because he loves us (v.4), even when we were dead in trespasses and sins (v.5). These verses (vv. 4-5) provide the content and explanation to the question of what grace is and how we are saved by it.

Grace is nothing short of the outpouring of God’s rich mercy and magnanimous love on sinners who are completely undeserving of mercy and love. And it is by this outpouring that you have been saved (v.8).

But the text does not stop there. Paul goes on to tell us how we are saved through faith. If we understand faith to be a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel (Shorter Catechism #86), then the beauty of God’s sovereignty in salvation begins to take a more robust form.

Not only does God’s sovereignty provide grace as the ground for salvation, but he also works sovereignly to provide the faith necessary (after effectual calling has taken place) to accept Christ.

Paul continues on by leaving no ambiguity regarding who initiates both the grace and faith necessary for salvation: “And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” Some have argued that “this” and “it” refers to grace but not faith. However, the text’s grammatical structure leaves little doubt that Paul is referring to both grace and faith as being a gift from God. Thus, God is sovereign over every aspect of salvation. He operates completely independent of human free will.

But That’s Not Fair?

Many will be quick to say, “That’s not fair.” It’s not fair that we have nothing to do with our salvation. And they would be absolutely right, it’s not fair. It’s grace! [pullquote]Fairness gives what you deserve, whether good or bad.[/pullquote] And in our case we would receive the death sentence for being born in trespasses and sins. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve – a great treasury of mercy and an inexhaustible fountain of love. I am delighted that the beauty of God’s sovereignty is not seen in his fairness but rather in his grace.

Don’t Be Afraid

God’s sovereignty in salvation is nothing to fear. God is not a despotic king or a ruthless tyrant. As Exodus 34:6-7 reminds us, “…God [is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions…” His thoughts toward you are good and for your health and salvation.

[pullquote position=”right”]God’s sovereignty should bring a sense of peace and comfort.[/pullquote] Were it not for God’s sovereignty we would be despondent, never knowing if we have an anchor that holds. As a believer, you should rest in God’s sovereignty, revel in it, delight in it and bask in it. Never ever fear it – for in God’s sovereignty there is beauty, splendor and great treasures forevermore.

 

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