Does God Grant Repentance to Some and Not Others?
2 Timothy 2:24-26
by Dr. Leighton Flowers
Well respected Calvinistic pastors and theologians often reference 2 Timothy 2:25 as proof of their claim that God effectually gives some people (those unconditionally elected before creation) a new nature which inevitably leads to their repentance. God, according to Calvinism, passes by all other people leaving them in a hopeless natural condition inherited from Adam due to the Fall, whereby they can only hate and despise the appeals of the gospel.
Is this the Apostle’s meaning, however? Let us look at this passage together in its appropriate context:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
Why Be Gentle when Bringing Correction?
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…
Paul is giving a young pastor advice on how to lead someone who opposes him to faith. He begins by stressing the importance of gentleness and patience toward those who oppose our beliefs. If Calvinism is true, then a pastor’s gentleness or rudeness will not in any way affect the ultimate response of the audience. If indeed a work of effectual grace is being employed by God for His elect, then regardless of the temperament and impatience of the pastor the elect will repent and believe. Thus, the Calvinistic interpretation undermines the main point of the Apostle’s instruction to young pastors.
Is Repentance Granted?
if perhaps God may grant them repentance…
Yes, repentance is granted, but “granted” does not mean “to effectually cause.” Therefore, this passage does not mean repentance is effectual or irresistibly granted to a relatively small number of people mysteriously chosen for unknown reasons before the world began.
We do not have a problem saying that “repentance is a granted” in so far as all good things are ultimately from God. Paul asked his readers, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), which strongly implies that all our abilities, including the ability to make a choice to repent, or to trust in God, is given to us by a gracious Creator.
Saying that God grants men the choice to repent is fundamentally different from saying God decides whether or not men will repent.
My next breath is granted to me by God, but I am responsible for how I use that gift, right? Likewise, we are “granted” faith or repentance when God brings the means by which we may believe and repent, but we are still responsible for how we use the gifts He grants.
So, when the scripture says things like, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; 20:21) it does not mean “God has effectually caused a preselected few of the Gentiles to repent” but only that God has sent the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he did for the Jews, so that they too may believe and repent unto new life (John 20:31) and be grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11).
Must God’s Granting be Effectual in order for God to be most Glorified?
John Piper, along with most Calvinists, erroneously assume that for God to receive the maximum glory for granting gifts that He must grant them “irresistibly” (in a way that effectually causes the recipients to take and use the gift appropriately). But, since when must a gift be effectually or irresistibly bestowed in order for the giver to get full credit for granting the gift?
If I were to buy laptops for all four of my children and three of them trashed it, or used it inappropriately (while only one of them used it as I intended); am I a less generous or benevolent father? Of course not. My children are responsible for how they used the gift I provided, and that does not impact my benevolence or my character in any way as their loving father who generously provided for their needs.
What would negatively reflect on my character as their father is if you found out I was somehow the “decisive cause” of my children’s inappropriate preferences and choices, which is precisely what Piper teaches in regard to God’s relation to those who rebel against His provisions. In an article titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to ‘Free Will,’” John Piper argues,
…God is the only being who is ultimately self-determining, and is himself ultimately the disposer of all things, including all choices — however many or diverse other intervening causes are. On this definition, no human being has free will, at any time. Neither before or after the fall, or in heaven, are creatures ultimately self-determining. There are great measures of self-determination, as the Bible often shows, but never is man the ultimate or decisive cause of his preferences and choices. When man’s agency and God’s agency are compared, both are real, but God’s is decisive. Yet — and here’s the mystery that causes so many to stumble — God is always decisive in such a way that man’s agency is real, and his responsibility remains.
I propose that Piper’s view actually downplays God’s glory by presuming effectuality. On the Traditionalist/Provisionist’s view, where God provides the means of salvation for all people, God gets full glory for the gifts granted to every person, not just those who use that gift appropriately.
What diminishes God’s glory is suggesting that He is withholding what is necessary for people to repent and believe in Him all the while judging and punishing them for their lack of repentance and faith. If God is indeed withholding the necessary gift of repentance then what better excuse do those who do not repent have then, “God didn’t give me the ability to repent?”
In Mark 6:6 it says that Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief,” and in Luke 19:41 we read about Jesus literally weeping due to the lack of repentance and unbelief of the Israelites, and in Mark 16:14 Jesus rebukes his followers for their unbelief — as if they actually had some control over it.
Is Jesus being disingenuous in these passages while secretly withholding this so-called “effectual gift” of faith and repentance? Piper’s claim that faith and repentance is some kind of an effectual gift from God granted to a preselected few, while being arbitrarily withheld from the masses, makes much of the scripture completely and utterly irrational. For this reason, it should be respectfully rejected and vigorously rebutted.
What Specifically is God Doing to “Grant” Repentance?
leading to the knowledge of the truth…
God sends the gospel, His life-giving truth, so that people will know the way of salvation (Rom. 10:14). If we know the truth, and do not suppress it, then it will set us free (Jn. 8:31-32). So, God is granting repentance by sending the gospel of repentance, which cannot be effectively heard if the pastor who is speaking the truth is rude, impatient and belligerent toward those who oppose him.
In other words, Paul is teaching Timothy that the gospel must be heard by his audience if they are going to repent and believe, but they cannot really hear the truth so as to repent if the messenger is a jerk about it. So, by being patient and kind the audience may actually hear the truth so as to be granted the opportunity to respond and come to repentance.
What does Paul mean by, “come to their senses…”?
and they may come to their senses…
Notice that Paul does not say, “and they will certainly come to their senses” but only “they may come to their senses.” Why? Because they have a reasonable pastor who is patiently working with them to help them know the truth which may lead them to salvation (see Acts 28:23-28 and 2 Tim. 3:15).
Jesus also told us a parable in Luke 15:11-32 about someone “coming to their senses.”
“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘ …and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Notice that the Prodigal Son was said to be “dead” due to his rebellion and separation from the father, not due to an inherited lack of moral ability. He was able to come to his senses and return home in humiliation, but only the father was able to restore him as a true son. The idiomatic use of “deadness” in the first century is never explained to mean “total moral inability” as the Calvinistic system’s “T” of “TULIP” teaches.
What is Paul’s Point in Referencing the Devil if Calvinism is True?
and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Inability suggests that all people are born as “spiritual corpses,” morally unable to see, hear, understand and repent even in response to God’s own inspired truth. But this seems contradictory to what some leading Calvinists teach regarding the impact Satan has in our world.
For example, in an article titled, “Satan’s Ten Strategies Against You,” Calvinistic Pastor, John Piper, mentions this about the great deceiver, Satan:
“1) He blinds the minds of unbelievers.
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So he not only speaks what is false. He hides what is true. He keeps us from seeing the treasure of the gospel. He lets us see facts, even proofs, but not preciousness.
2) Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith.
Jesus told the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1–9. In it, the seed of the word of God is sown, and some falls on the path and birds quickly take it away. He explains in verse 15, “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which was sown in them.” Satan snatches the word because he hates faith which the word produces (Romans 10:17).
Paul expresses his concern for the faith of the Thessalonians like this: “I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul knew that Satan’s design is to choke off the faith of people who have heard the word of God.”
Does this effort of Satan strike anyone as being completely unnecessary if the claims of Calvinism are true regarding man’s Total Inability from birth?
If we are born completely unable to see, hear, understand or respond willingly to the word of God, as the doctrine of Total Inability suggests, wouldn’t Satan’s work to blind people and snatch away the word be completely unnecessary and redundant?
If you believe Paul’s intention in his instruction to Timothy was, “Be kind and patient when you are talking to those who oppose you because they might happen to be one of the elect ones God chose before creation to effectually save regardless of your methods,” then Calvinism may be the best option for you.
If, however, you believe Paul’s intention is to instruct young pastors to be kind and patient because speaking truth must be done in love in order for it to be effectively heard by those who oppose us, then may I suggest you leave behind Calvinism and become a Provisionist.