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Grace and free will: a parable

Grace and free will: a parable August 9, 2010

A Calvinist seminary professor lectured on the incompatibility of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and belief that in order to be saved a person must freely accept the grace of God.  “Arminianism makes the individual person’s free choice the decisive factor in his salvation.  Therefore, in his theology, salvation cannot be a free gift.  By choosing it freely the person is contributing something to his own salvation.  That’s a meritorious work and therefore his salvation would not be absolutely the work of God.”

After his lecture, while resting in his office, a student knocked on his door and comes in for a chat.  “Professor, I don’t know where else to turn.  I don’t have parents that can help me.  I’m coming to you as a last resort to see if you have any advice.  I’ve been ill lately and can’t work.  I’m about to be evicted from my apartment and I have nowhere else to go.  I haven’t eaten in three days because I have no money.  Unless a miracle happens, I’m going to be homeless.  Can you tell me where I can find help or at least pray with me that God will supply my need?

After some prayer and reflection, the professor took pity on the poor student and gave him a check for $1,000–just enough to pay a couple months rent and stock his kitchen with food while he regained his health and found a new job.  It was truly a life saving response to the students’ need.

The student took the check, endorsed it, and deposited it in his bank account and then paid his rent and went on a grocery shopping spree. 

A week later, the student was telling another student about the professor’s generosity: “Boy, did he ever save my life.  If it wasn’t for him, right now I’d be living under the interstate bridge and begging for food.”  The other students said, “Wow, you must really be grateful to the professor.”  “Yes,” was the reply, “but I take some of the credit, too.”  “How so?” the other student asked.  “Well, after all, my reaching out and picking the check up off his desk when he laid it down in front of me and my endorsing it and depositing it in my bank account were my contributions to the rescue effort.  I deserve some of the credit.  After all, I endorsed the check; that was the decisive factor in my being rescued.”

The student who heard this was shocked and dismayed.  He immediately went to the Calvinist professor and said “Did you know that student you gave money to is going around taking some of the credit for being rescued?  He’s claiming that he partially earned the money by endorsing the check. ”

The professor was livid with anger at the ungratefulness of the student.  “How dare he!  That was a pure gift; he didn’t do anything to deserve any credit for it.  He’s ungrateful as well as stupid.”

The reporting student said, “But professor, in your lecture you said that our free will decision to accept the grace of God would make it not a pure gift.  You said our mere decision to allow God to save us, if it were truly free and not itself an act of God in us, would amount to ‘the decisive factor’ in our salvation.  How is that different from that student’s claim about accepting the money you offered him?  By your logic it seems he is justified in boasting–at least just a little. Why aren’t you willing to share the credit with him?”

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