What is Prevenient Grace?
The word “prevenient” is no longer used today, but is common when discussing theology. Prevenient is an archaic Latin term that simply means “to go before.” It refers to the grace of God that precedes a person making a decision for salvation. However, depending on the theological background of the person, the word can have different meanings.
Most people holding to the Reformed point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace to be the grace of God that goes before God’s work in a person’s life to regenerate and “give faith for salvation.” It will be used as a synonym for “Irresistible Grace,” that is, the grace of God that is irresistible by an elect person to believe. In this sense, it is often equated with Effectual Grace, that is, the grace of God that is effectual to bring the elect person to the point of salvation.
Most people holding to the Arminian point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace as that which deals with the effects of the fall so that a person can choose to come to Christ or not. It also can be a synonym for Effectual Grace, but used in a different manner in Reformed Theology.
Catholic doctrine would see Prevenient Grace as “assisting grace,” which assists those who are in the process of believing in Jesus and completing the work necessary for salvation.
Similar to Prevenient Grace is Common Grace, which is the grace of God that is common to all men. It is common, because it is for all mankind, not just those who might be elect as in Reformed Theology. Common grace is undeserved blessings extended to all mankind regarding God’s creative order, the restraint of sin from totally destroying man and man’s universal awareness of right and wrong. Basically, the word is used according to the theology from which it is described. It will mean slightly different things based on a person’s presuppositions.
I look at Prevenient Grace as the work of God prior to salvation. It is unmerited favor that is not deserved and cannot be earned. God made a universal call to man. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Jesus was in prayer to the Father and He was also just talking to the multitudes about the sinners of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. The disciples of John the Baptist had been sent to ask Jesus if He was the coming One and Jesus turned and spoke to the multitudes about the greatness of John the Baptist and to consider their own lives. As he rebuked the rejection of God’s light to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, He went into prayer to the Father. From that prayer, He invited all to come to Him.
When Peter gave the first message in the Church Age, he invited everyone to Christ. He said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Peter was talking to Jewish people who had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, which came to be known as Pentecost. Peter was not distinguishing between elect or nonelect.
Additionally, when Paul was in prison, singing with Silas, the Philippian jailer realized the potency of the moment, and humbly approached Paul,
- 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
- 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:30-31)
Paul made the invitation to a complete stranger. It was the call of God. God does not desire than any should perish, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) That is why the Holy Spirit convicts the entire world of sin,
- 8 “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
- 9 “of sin, because they do not believe in Me;
- 10 “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;
- 11 “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)
In that call and in that conviction, the grace of God works to ensure the certain futurition of God’s decree. The tension between the sovereign decree of God and freewill is the antinomy (literally the incompatibility) that holds us humbly submissive to the will of God.
We could not choose for God, if He did not work His grace in us. We could not have a relationship with Him, if we had not chosen to accept what He had done. No one believes apart from His grace (common and prevenient). No one could choose for God apart from His work of calling and conviction. No one is saved if God did not take our nonmeritorious faith and enter us into union with Christ. And God’s grace can be spurned as men suppress the truth in unrighteousness and are therefore without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20). In that antinomy are the sovereign work of God and the free will of man in harmony.