God’s Law of Grace and Humility
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
“opposes” (Gr. antitasso – 498)
Resists, to set oneself against, to be hostile toward.
“A strong and graphic word. Lit., setteth himself in array against, as one draws out a host for battle. Pride calls out God’s armies. No wonder, therefore, that it ‘goeth before destruction.’”
“The word “resisteth” in the Greek is a military term, used of an army drawn up for battle. Pride calls out God’s armies. God sets Himself in array against the proud person. The word “proud” is the translation of a Greek word which means literally “to show above,” and thus describes the proud person as one who shows himself above others.”
“Antitasso was a military term found in the papyri meaning “to range in battle against” and pictured an army arrayed against the enemy forces. It means to oppose someone, involving a psychological attitude and also corresponding behavior. It means to “to be an enemy of” or “to resist with assembled forces….Antitasso is in the present tense which signifies that this is God’s continual attitude toward the proud! The middle voice speaks of a “reflexive” action, wherein the subject initiates the action and participates in the carrying out of the action. The idea is that God continually sets Himself against the proud. This fact alone should be enough to cause us to run for cover from the sin of pride!”
“proud” (Gr. huperephanos – 5244)
“Proud (5244) (huperephanos from huper = over, above, + phaíno = shine) is one who shines above or shows himself above his fellows. The haughty person pictured with his head held high above others. Feeling himself conspicuously above others, the huperephanos person assumes an attitude of haughty superiority and pride. He shows himself above, not just above other men but on a level equal to or higher than God Himself! This man who because of his feeling of personal superiority, regards others with haughtiness. He is puffed up with a high opinion of himself, and thus regards others with contempt, as if they were unworthy of any social interactions. The proud disregard God’s claims and show contempt for him on the one hand and despise others on the other. The noun huperephania is usually translated pride which is one of those sins which Jesus says proceeds out of a man’s heart (Mark 7.22 = only NT use of huperephania).”
With these definitions firmly in our mind, we’ll proceed with our discussion about this law. How does this law disprove Calvinism? The answer to that is given in the following four points:
1 – James and Peter are quoting Proverbs 3:34, which reveals a universal truth about pride and humility, and clearly seen throughout Scripture. In context, James and Peter were instructing believers, but they were applying this truth to them and their situation. God, in general, deals with mankind according to this law. God hates pride and loves humility. However, this universal truth should not be viewed as all-encompassing, where He deals with every single human being according to this truth (God being God and people being so needy, God deals with mankind as He sees fit) – but should be viewed, in the general sense, of man’s status with God and how He works in people’s lives.
However, there is an application of this law or truth where it is all-encompassing, where God does adhere strictly to this law each and every time with each and every person, and that is as it pertains specifically to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to spiritual truth in general. Of course, Calvinists believe that for “the elect,” there can be no turning away in pride. I’ll deal with that later.
Calvinists may object that the truth presented in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 does not pertain to salvation, simply because they were dealing with an issue with Christians. But that’s nonsense. The general truth that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, demands – above all things – the necessity of its particular application to salvation. Does God grant the grace of salvation to those who humble themselves in faith? Of course He does. Does God oppose those who reject the gospel message in pride? Of course He does, whether James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 refer to salvation in their respective contexts or not — it’s still a universal application of this law of pride and humility. Everyone who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ must turn away from pride and respond in the humility of faith. Jesus said that “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Unless people humble themselves before God as little children, salvation is not possible. Jesus also said: “This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil” (Jn 3:19). People don’t come to faith in Christ because of the fact that they “love darkness rather than the light.” People love their sin so much that they’re not willing to turn away from those things in humble faith. Paul, too, said that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” ESV (Ro 1:18). People suppress the truth of Christ because they would rather live a life of unrighteousness. In pride they cling to their sinful lifestyle and their own way, unwilling to humble themselves before God. God opposes those who reject the truth in pride. Unless they someday respond to the truth in the humility of faith, they will never experience God’s grace of salvation. Over and over throughout Scripture we see that one must believe in order to receive forgiveness of sins.
Faith and humility cannot be separated. One cannot believe apart from humility.
[By the way, it’s important to note that the above scriptures reveal that the reason people don’t come to faith in Christ is not because they’re not among “the elect,” but because they don’t humble themselves as little children – because they love darkness rather than light – because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They also reveal that God’s grace is resistible].
With this universal truth in mind – and in the context of the gospel message and salvation through Christ – we need to see how it relates to both the Arminian view of grace and the Calvinist view of grace.
Prevenient grace reveals truth in order to provide the opportunity for humility unto salvation. Irresistible grace via regeneration not only reveals truth, but also eliminates all possibility of pride and rejection. In other words, Calvinism has God taking pride out of the picture and granting (causing) humility in its place. Without this grace of humility, how many would reject Christ in pride and die in their sins? Calvinists would answer, everyone — which just proves my point. God simply can’t ignore pride, because of the fact that He “opposes the proud.” The pride of rejection that God sees in sinners before regeneration, prevents Him from granting the grace of regeneration and humility and salvation. How many people humble themselves before God upon hearing the gospel the first time? I think it’s fair to say, not many. Again, from the Calvinist perspective, how many people would turn to Christ in the humility of faith if God didn’t regenerate them? No one, according to Calvinists. However, God cannot overlook the pride of rejection that He sees. From the Calvinist perspective, how many times does a person reject the gospel message before God regenerates them so they can respond in faith? I doubt if there would be very many Calvinists who would disagree that a person may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ many times before God regenerates them so they can believe unto salvation. The fact that many people reject Christ over and over and over before he or she finally receives Christ as Lord and Savior, shows that pride is at work. Thus granting them the grace of regeneration and the grace of humility, would require God to violate His own law.
Arminianism teaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ is accompanied by prevenient grace, that God is at work in a person to convict and reveal truth and enable faith — but not irresistibly so. Everyone hearing the gospel message has an opportunity to respond in humility of faith or reject in pride. However, in Calvinism, a person can hear the gospel message many times and reject it in willful pride for many years before God finally regenerates them. This reveals an inconsistency with what the Bible teaches about the offer and rejection of life through Christ, that God opposes the proud. Calvinism has God giving the grace of regeneration and the humility of faith to those who previously rejected Him in pride, perhaps for many years.
Those who hear the gospel message are accountable to respond in faith. If they refuse, it’s because of pride. Whatever the reason for one’s rejection, pride is always the root cause. To say otherwise would contradict such Scriptures as those I quoted earlier (Matt 18:3; Jn 3:19; Ro 1:18). As long as a person continues to reject Christ, God will continue to oppose. It’s only when a person humbles himself before God in faith, that He extends the grace of salvation. To grant the grace of regeneration would be a violation of His own law, because regeneration is tantamount to salvation. It’s rewarding pride with salvation. It has God ignoring pride, and granting humility in its place. Senseless.
On the other hand, Arminianism makes perfect sense. The gospel message is presented, the Holy Spirit does the necessary work in bringing about conviction and revealing truth and freeing the will and enabling faith, and then extends the grace of salvation to those who humble themselves in faith. Likewise, God refuses those who refuse Him in pride. This is a very simple truth that Calvinism severely complicates.
2 – Not only does Calvinism have God ignoring pride, and then making prideful rejection impossible (after regeneration) by giving the humility of faith in its place (via irresistible grace), but I contend that in order for humility to be genuine, there must be the availability and possibility of pride. And again, I’m referring to what takes place after regeneration. If pride is not present or is not an option, how then, can there be humility? Humility must be measured by something else. There must be the possibility of the response of pride in order for the response of humility to be revealed as such. Yielding in humility, necessarily, requires a turning from that which counters. True humility is defined by that which would challenge one to respond in the other direction. Yet, in Calvinism, upon regeneration, pride is not even a possibility, which reveals a humility that is illegitimate. The Calvinist version of humility only works for God. Humility is an inherent attribute of God, and therefore, doesn’t need the possibility of pride to validate His humility. But we’re not God. As sinful beings, whether born-again or not, there must be the availability and possibility of pride in order for the response of humility to be seen as such. The Calvinist version of humility is false.
3 – There’s yet another reason why the Calvinist version of grace is invalid, and that has to do with their inconsistent view of regeneration as it applies to the response of obedience in a person’s life. As Christians, even though we’ve been regenerated, sin and pride and self-will have not been eradicated. Pride and self-will is still a present possibility in our lives. With that being true, it’s a total fallacy that regeneration always results in the obedience of faith unto salvation (Acts 6:7; Ro 1:5; Ro 16:26), as Calvinism teaches. While Calvinists may have an issue with the idea that sinners can resist the Holy Spirit as He’s drawing them to faith in Christ, what do we do as Christians? Does the fact that we’ve been born-again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit guarantee that we will always obey the Word of God or the promptings of the Spirit? What Calvinist would answer in the affirmative? If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any sin among God’s people; we would all be living perfect lives before God. But the truth is, we walk in the influences of the Spirit, not in the irresistable control of the Spirit, as though we had no will of our own. While we as believers are drawn to obedience, it’s not in a manner that locks our will into submission. We’re given the freedom to choose which way we will go — and sometimes, if not often, we choose to go our own way. Again, what Calvinist could disagree with that?
Therefore, why would it be any different with the “regenerated” sinner who doesn’t even know Christ? Regeneration is the same at every point in one’s life, and it’s the same Holy Spirit who works within a regenerated life at every point. Nowhere does Scripture indicate that the composition or the operation of regeneration changes at any point in a person’s life.
So then, Calvinists would have us believe that a person is under the irresistible control of the Holy Spirit one moment, and then suddenly in a resistible state the very next — that the sinner is irresistibly drawn to the obedience of faith, but as a believer he or she is then put into the place where they’re free to choose to obey or not to obey.
We see again that the Calvinist version of God’s grace demonstrates a serious inconsistency. Moreover, I contend that Calvinist irresistible grace goes beyond the purview of grace. Rightly defined, grace is Divine favor. I don’t believe irresistible grace can be correctly defined as such. I think a more accurate term would be Divine exertion, or irresistible exertion. In the Calvinist scheme, God not only regenerates, but He overpowers a sinner’s will so that at the moment of conversion he or she has no will of their own, but God exerting conformity to His own will. At that moment in time, they lose their true identity, and in effect, it’s God doing the believing for them. Once the decision for Christ has been made, they then regain their true identity and once again are given the freedom to choose according to their own will. As discussed above, as born-again Christians, at no time throughout our lives does the Holy Spirit irresistibly “draw” us into obedience. He never overpowers our will so that we have no will of our own. But that is exactly what irresistible grace must do to “draw” a person to faith in Christ. But then if a person’s will is overpowered or overcome, then according to true definition, a person is not being drawn, but being subdued, being brought under subjection. Calvinism has God overlooking pride before regeneration and overpowering the will after regeneration (or upon regeneration) in order to prevent pride. This is not the biblical definition of God’s grace.
Before and during and after conversion, we retain the will to choose to go God’s way or to go our own way. At no point does God overpower our will and replace it with His own will. Regeneration places us in the influences of the Holy Spirit, but never under total control (as with a robot) to where we lose the freedom of will that gives us our very identity. We each have a personal identity that is linked directly to our individual wills. If we lose that even for a moment, we become someone we’re not. Conformity of our wills to the will of God is a growing process that continues throughout our lives, which still requires the personal yielding of of our wills to His.
4 – In answer to any Calvinist objections that prevenient grace makes a person spiritually neutral, that hardly describes the work of the Holy Spirit! The Spirit of God is powerfully moving to open spiritually blind eyes, to pierce the darkness with the light of Christ, to bring conviction of sin and of the need for forgiveness, to free the will and enable faith, calling and drawing and wooing the sinner to Christ. He graciously influences the will, but does not overpower it. This is the true, biblical description of Divine grace.
Let’s be clear, as sinners, we’re rooted in pride. But we’re also spiritually blind. If the Holy Spirit didn’t open our eyes to the truth, no one would ever be saved. Thus what we’re talking, in regard to prevenient grace, is the opportunity to respond to revealed truth, either according to the humility of faith or the pride of rejection.
Therefore, even though prevenient grace is given to the proud, it doesn’t conflict with the fundamental principle of “opposition to the proud but grace to the humble,” because it, ultimately, still allows the sinner to respond between the two options of humility or pride. When discussing this with another SEA member, he gave an illustration that I think is helpful:
“PG does not violate the principle of “opposition to the proud but grace to the humble” because everyone is proud in their depraved state, too proud to receive the gospel. There is no possibility of humility that would receive grace apart from grace to make humility possible. It is sort of like a charity that says it gives financial rewards to those who use their money well among the totally destitute (to encourage proper money use). But the totally destitute do not have money to use well. So that principle does not apply to the fact that the charity also gives all the destitute that it serves a basic amount of money to meet their needs. It only kicks in once the people are able to use money, and show poor or good usage.”
Calvinism doesn’t allow those same options of pride or humility. The difference between the opportunity to respond either way, or having one of those two options removed, is no small distinction between prevenient grace and irresistible grace (via regeneration). There cannot be faith without humility. There also cannot be humility without the option of prideful rejection. What makes humility, humility, is the fact that pride is being set aside. We can only make a humble decision when we first set aside pride. Turning to God in humility, means that we are turning away from pride.
However, in Calvinism, there’s not even the possibility of clinging to one’s pride. Therefore, how can one turn away from that which isn’t even possible? If it’s not possible to turn away from, then it’s not possible to turn to. Clearly the option to go either way must be present — one validates the other, which invalidates Calvinism’s position of regeneration and irresistible grace.
The bottom line is, even if James and Peter never made that statement about pride and humility, it remains a biblical truth that God only grants salvation to those who humble themselves before Christ in faith. Therefore, the principle of James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, as it relates to salvation, is clearly taught in the Bible whether it’s specifically stated or not.
I believe the points made here reveal Calvinist regeneration and irresistible grace to be a totally flawed and confused representation of biblical doctrine. It disregards pride and overpowers one’s will, which results in a false humility — turning God’s grace into something that confutes the very definition of it. It’s easy to see that the Arminian view of God’s grace doesn’t have all the issues that the Calvinist version has. This type of inconsistency is common in Calvinist theology.
Calvinists can’t accept the Arminian view, because they see it as meritorious, something to boast in. But as I explained above, it’s both an enabling work of the Spirit of God and true faith requires humility. So how is that meritorious?
Consider the following:
– It was God who chose to create mankind, even knowing what it would cost
– It was God who chose to save mankind from their sins.
– It was God who chose the plan of salvation.
– It was God who chose His Son to be that plan.
– It was God who chose to save anyone who came to Him through faith in
– It was Christ who shed His blood and died on the cross for our sins.
– It was Christ who was raised from the dead.
– It’s God who provides the enabling grace for faith and humility.
– It’s God who provides forgiveness of sins.
– It’s God who performs the miracle of the new birth.
– It’s God who raises us to new life in Christ and seats us with Him.
– It’s God who sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
Where is the “I” in all that? You won’t find it. Our salvation is totally a gift of God’s grace.
Salvation is a gift of love that God offers to us freely. It’s a gift that is to be freely accepted or freely rejected like any other gift. How is responding to God’s love meritorious? God is not a puppet-master, as some actually believe. God desires that His love be freely received and freely returned, not forced.
Considers these examples: If we get two feet of snow, and my neighbor offers to plow my driveway for me, and I consent, how can I take credit for something he did, just because I agreed to his offer? If someone offers to buy me lunch, how do I take credit for something he did, just because I accepted his offer? If someone offers me a Christmas present, and I willingly receive it, how is that I can take any credit for that gift?
Salvation is all of God. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life is offered to us as a gift. Like any other gift, we simply receive it. Or we choose to reject it. There is no sharing of glory is such an arrangement. It all belongs to Christ.
Yet, no matter how clear Arminians make this point, Calvinists continue to insist that our position is a means of boasting. However, when you stop and think about it, the Calvinist position provides far more reason to boast than the Arminian position. Who’s going to have more of a tendency to boast, the one who discovers that he was among the few that Christ died for out of all mankind (leaving the rest without hope), or the one who discovers that Christ died for every human being and that salvation is offered as a gift to every human being (putting us all on an equal plane)? Let’s be honest.
I praise God for my salvation. I know that what I have in Christ is all His doing. There’s nothing in me that could have atoned for my own sins. There’s nothing I could have done to build a bridge to God. It’s not possible that I ever could have come up with a plan of salvation of my own. Furthermore, I was spiritually unable to humble myself before God in faith. It took a work of the Holy Spirit within in me for that to happen.
Furthermore, I not only praise the Lord for my salvation, but I also pray regularly that He would keep me close to Him, that He would keep my faith strong. We are saved by faith, so I am completely dependent upon Him for an enduring faith. That’s why it’s so important to stay in the Word of God, “for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Ro 10:17)
Everything considered, how can the Arminian position be regarded as meritorious? If you are a Calvinist reading this, I hope you’re beginning to see how invalid that worn out accusation really is.
Rich young ruler
I want to finish our discussion about God’s law of grace and humility, in the context of the rich ruler in the book of Luke:
18 And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 19 And Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? None is good, except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother. 21 And he said, All these things have I observed from my youth up. 22 And when Jesus heard it, He said to him, One thing you still lack: sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. 23 But when he heard these things, he became exceeding sorrowful; for he was very rich. 24 And Jesus seeing him said, How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:18-25)
According to Calvinism, God has elected His people unconditionally. But here Jesus clearly states that it’s difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (verses 24 & 25). If Calvinism’s unconditional election is true, then what difference does it make whether a person is rich or not? The truth is, it wouldn’t make any difference at all. Would they have us believe that it’s harder for God to regenerate a rich person than a poor person? Here is another case where the election of Calvinism simply makes no sense.
Doesn’t this passage make much more sense when viewed from the Arminian perspective? Doesn’t it make much more sense that receiving the truth unto salvation is actually conditional, a matter of individual freedom to receive by faith?
The Bible teaches that in order to be saved, we must be willing to humble ourselves in faith. What’s the issue with the rich man in this passage? The issue is pride. The issue is his wealth. Rich people tend to put their trust in their riches. In this particular case, the rich man was not willing to give up his riches. Matthew 19:22 tells us that he walked away.
What this passage teaches, is that when sinners come to Christ, they must be willing to surrender their will to the will of God. Saving faith is accompanied by humility, a willingness to turn from going our own way, to go God’s way. The rich man in this passage was not willing to do that. It was a demonstration of pride. Pride is what keeps people from coming to Jesus. Thus salvation is conditioned on a person’s willingness to humble himself before God.
This humble faith that Jesus describes here, is the condition of salvation, and the condition for regeneration. As the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and convicts us of our sins and opens our eyes to the truth, we must be willing to respond in humility and faith as the Holy Spirit enables us. This we do from a free will, a will that has been freed by the Holy Spirit. At that point we have the freedom to either humble ourselves before God, or to resist in our pride.
As you can see, Arminian theology is in perfect harmony with what we see in this passage of Scripture (and with God’s law of grace and humility).
On the other hand, Calvinism is quite at odds with it. I don’t know how they can reasonably harmonize this passage with their theology. I believe this is another example of where they have to scramble to try to figure out a way to do that. I think it puts them in a position where they must try to force it to conform to their theology, and in a way that is not at all natural or sensible.
If the election of Calvinism is true, then God must violate His own law of grace and humility. There’s just no getting around it. On the other hand, within the framework of Arminian theology, God is consistent and true to Himself. Truth always has all of God’s attributes and laws working in perfect harmony with one another.