Author: Ron Graham
In this lesson we look at the question of how the human heart is opened to receive God’s word of salvation.
When the gospel had been preached to Gentiles, according to Acts 13:48, "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed". We might understand this statement to mean that the gospel answered the needs and desires of every good person whose heart was inclined or disposed toward God, and who sought repentance and forgiveness of sin.
Since this was the "Way" that God had appointed to eternal life, it follows that all who enter into that Way by opening their hearts to the gospel are themselves appointed to eternal life.
"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). This hearing appoints a person to eternal life by the will of God, because it enables and produces faith. Calvinists, however, do not accept this fact. They believe that grace is imposed upon indisposed people.
Let's begin with the case of Lydia "whose heart the Lord opened" (Acts 16:13-15).
Calvinists hold that Lydia was not disposed toward God, and had no ability to desire God's righteousness. Her heart was shut up against God. But God had fore-ordained that Lydia should be saved, so he gently forced her heart open and compelled a change of heart upon her so that she heeded Paul's message by God's will alone, not of her own choice. It was in her nature to resist, and she did resist with all her heart, but God imposed his will upon her such that his grace was irresistable, and all her resistance was overpowered.
The Calvinists uphold this interpretation of Lydia's conversion, by supposing an "inward call of irresistable grace". Thus they have Paul speaking to Lydia's ear —the resistable outward call— whilst God spoke to Lydia's heart —the inward call of irresistable grace. Lydia then had no choice but to accept Paul's message, because God purposed that she should, and entered into her heart to make her receive it. She did not do it of her own accord, or because of Paul's effort, but by the hidden work of God within her.
The story as it is written presents the picture of a good woman who worshipped God and was accustomed to prayer and fellowship. As Paul spoke to her, the gospel appealed to her, it was the message she was waiting for and was disposed toward. Not only was her heart able to open to that message, but it eagerly did so, and Lydia, in faith and obedience, heeded all that Paul spoke to her.
When the passage gives credit to the Lord for the opening of Lydia's heart, it acknowledges that the Lord provided the means of her salvation, and the message preached to her about the plan of salvation. But that does not mean that Paul, God's minister, did not open Lydia's heart by his speaking, or that Lydia, God's worshipper, did not open her own heart by her willing attitude.
Three statements are true and complementary: The Lord opened Lydia’s heart; Paul opened her heart; she herself opened her heart. Thus faith came to Lydia by her favorably hearing the word of God that Paul preached to her (Romans 10:17).
A "proof text" used by the Calvinists states that God has called, according to his purpose, those whom he foreknew and predestined, and the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 8:28-29, 11:29). But irrevocable does not mean irresistable. God does not revoke or change his will, but that does not prevent people from resisting and rejecting it.
In the following examples, people did resist God's grace and reject his will. Yet God never revoked or changed his will in response to their resistance. His will remained firm.
Jesus wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem to himself. Surely he did not want to do something that was not the will of God. Nevertheless the people were unwilling, rejected their destiny, and their city was made desolate (Matt 23:37-38).
The Pharisees and lawyers refused to be baptized by John, "Rejecting God's counsel for themselves". What did they resist and reject? God's counsel for themselves. God does not command what God does not will. If God commanded and counselled the Pharisees to be baptized by John, then it was God's will that they do so. But they rejected God's will and refused (Luke 7:30).
There are dozens of examples in the Bible of disobedience to God's will. All of them are witnesses that, from the beginning, up to this present day, human beings have been able to reject God's purpose, disobey his will, and resist his grace —but they will find his wrath irresistable for our God is a consuming fire.
Consider the very first example of rejecting God's purpose and resisting God's Grace. God purposed that Adam and Eve should not eat of a certain tree. He counselled them not to eat of it. God does not command what God does not will. Therefore, by eating of the tree they went contrary to God's will, fell from grace, and suffered the consequences (Genesis 3:1-6).
The original sin itself therefore shows that whilst God's will is sovereign, and his grace is infinite, people can resist and reject him, and many do. However people can also accept and obey God, and many do. Hearts open, hearts closed —which kind is yours? The answer to that is under your control. The outcome of your choice is under God's control.