I see a few different uses of the term prevenient grace in questions here, so I will define what I meant first: a belief held by traditional Baptists and other non-reformed evangelicals, that though we are all totally depraved and unwilling to come to Christ on our own free will, God gives us a enabling grace that allows us to come to regeneration and faith. But this grace can be resisted and ignored.

What is the Biblical basis for this type of grace?

  • 2
    What an excellent first question! Judging from the way you clearly articulated the term, I'd wager that you already know the answer to this. If that's the case, I'd encourage you to post it. Answering your own question is a perfectly acceptable way to share your knowledge Q&A style. Nov 22, 2013 at 22:24
  • Hey @DavidStratton I actually don't know or have an answer here. That may be an awkward thing to say. I can certainly explain what the non-reformed Baptist view is, but I ask this in an attempt to help shed some extra "lenses" I have when reading the Bible.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 22, 2013 at 22:26
  • I update the question a bit @DavidStratton to better explain what I'm looking for and to clarify a neutrality. May have made it too long. Feel free to edit away.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 22, 2013 at 22:40
  • 1
    Actually, I'm not going to edit but you should split this up into three questions. And make that last one less "Opinion" and more "what is the official teaching". See Tips for editing a question to make it suitable for re-opening. The edits are pushing this into the "primarily opinion-based" and "too broad" categories. Nov 22, 2013 at 23:24
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    @RBarryYoung The same. And small world her on se, my SQL brother ;-)
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 18:01

4 Answers 4


The doctrine of Prevenient Grace is seen by those who adhere to it as a natural outcome of sound Biblical exegesis.

In one respect it's akin to the doctrine of the Trinity in that it resolves apparent discrepancies. With the Trinity, we have clear teachings in Scripture that there is only one God, other clear teachings that Jesus is God, and others supporting that the Holy Spirit is fully God.

To answer this fully is going to take a bit of time, so I'm going to break this down into three sections: Principles that are used when looking at these Scriptures, the supporting Scriptures, and the application of the principles that lead to the conclusion of Prevenient Grace.


  • The doctrine of Scripture as the inspired inerrant, infallible Word of God.
  • Rules for resolving apparent Biblical discrepancies.

To understand how Prevenient Grace is drawn out of the texts, you need to start by bearing in mind that to these groups, there can be no question that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. In other words, it was written by God Himself, using the authors as instruments, and therefore not only does not contain errors, it cannot contain errors. This means that it cannot have contradictions. Something cannot be logically true and false at the same time. Two polar opposite views that contradict each other cannot be true.

Next, you need to understand that if the Bible contains apparent contradictions, then either the bible is not inerrant, or there's a way to resolve the apparent discrepancy.

Supporting Scriptures

The supporting Scriptures here are, interestingly enough, the ones that show the apparent discrepancy:

The verses that support the Calvinistic view that man plays no part in his salvation, or choice are already documented in many questions on this site:

If you take the time to go through the above questions and the answers, the support for the idea that man has no choice in his salvation, and that God chooses who will be saved is overwhelming.

However, on the other side, there is also overwhelming Scriptural support for the idea that we must choose to accept God's free gift of salvation - in other words, man does play a part. (Emphasis mine in the following verses)

  • Matthew 16:24 - Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
  • John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
  • John 11:40 - Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
  • John 7:37 - In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
  • Romans 4:24 - But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
  • Matthew 11:28-30 - Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
  • John 6:40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
  • Revelation 22:17 - And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

I'm going to stop there. A comprehensive list is far too long for an answer here, and that's enough to make the point: There is Scriptural support for the idea that man does have to choose to follow Christ, and that the choice does exist. It is real.

Taking one more tiny (well, maybe not so tiny since it's the central point of all Christianity) piece of evidence into account... Since man cannot save himself, God provided the payment for our sins.

In other words, when man is incapable. God provides a way...

Application of the Principles to the Scriptures to draw out the Biblical Concept

Thus far, we've established the following two opposing facts:

  • Scriptures clearly teach that man is fully depraved and utterly incapable of choosing to follow God.
  • Scriptures clearly teach that we must choose to follow God, that the choice is ours to make.

Therein lies the conflict. Do we have a choice or don't we? Are we capable of choosing or aren't we?

There is one other conflict that ties in here, for which I haven't provided the Scriptural arguments, but which bears on this topic: Does God want only certain people to be saved, or does God desire that all would come to Him?.

Assuming that God's Word is true and that he desires that all come unto repentance...

Scriptural facts:

  • God wants us all to be saved
  • we are totally depraved.
  • We cannot choose to follow God unless He calls us
  • We cannot be saved unless we choose to follow God.
  • God always provides a way

Can be rephrased as...

God desires that all be saved, and he teaches that it's our choice to do so. He doesn't force us. But because we are totally depraved, we cannot choose to follow God. we are utterly incapable. Since we cannot choose to follow Him on our own, but He expects us to choose, He provides a way that allows us to choose to follow God. He calls us first and gives us the previnent grace to choose to obey His perfect will.

...with no conflicts and no leaps of logic.

  • Thank you. Now I'd love to see that same type of answer from a 'five point Calvinist" you've articulated the place I've been since becoming a Christian better than I could. Thanks for the attention, grace and time this answer exudes.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 17:12
  • And will reread when on a computer. Because that summation on second read could almost be something a Calvinist or non-Calvinist protestant could say. There is room behind the words for either side to latch onto, I imagine? (I say Calvinist and non-Calvinist with want of a better word)
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 17:15
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    The Scriptures can be used to support any of the "sides". The more time you spend here the more you appreciate that. I knew it long ago, but this site is unique in that you can get things explained from many different perspectives, without devolving into arguments, thanks to the guidelines in place. That leads to an opportunity to understand how others can study the same Scriptures and come to different conclusions. IMHO the hyper-Calvinist side simply stops short of seeing and resolving the apparent conflict (but perhaps others would see that differently). Nov 23, 2013 at 17:20
  • That's the reason I through the questions out here. :-)
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 24, 2013 at 1:42
  • "He calls us first and gives us the previnent grace to choose to obey His perfect will." This sounds like a philosophical hoop to jump through to get around the idea that we are too depraved to make a choice. It seems like mere a logical construct to explain away the plain fact that we CAN make choices. However, it does explain the reasoning behind why people of a specific point of view need the idea of prevenient grace.
    – Steve
    Nov 24, 2013 at 5:37

The idea that God draws and offers salvation to all men, not only a chosen elect, comes from passages such as John 3:16-21 (emphasis mine (note that this passage can just as easily support a Calvinist view)) -

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

In John 12, Jesus says "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

We see here our total depravity ("people loved the darkness rather than the light"), God drawing all men (prevenient grace), and some choosing to reject Him. This is only a primer of sorts; if you take these verses alone (ignoring or rejecting other passages) you end up denying the sovereignty of God, as it looks like God doesn't always get His way. Arminianism does not sacrifice the sovereignty of God for the free will of man.

  • Thank you for the answer and link to the other question. Of course I don't love the "note that this passage can just as easily support a Calvinist view" part - not saying anything about -you- or -your answer- there :-)
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 15:12
  • @MikeWalsh: I'm not a Calvinist, so it really doesn't say anything about me. When I use a source that can easily support a contrary view, I prefer to bring that fact out into to the open rather than ignore it; the possibility of multiple interpretations affects the strength of the argument.
    – Ryan Frame
    Nov 23, 2013 at 15:16
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    Of course. I hope my comment didn't seem like a flame or insult. It was more in the spirit of "boy it would be nice to have Paul or John or Jesus answering questions here sometimes ;-) " There are many good points on both side of the underlying question behind my question. Many trusted and respected theologians who love and agree with each other on many other points but not here.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 15:19

I had to research this more before answering. I had never heard of the term before. Really what you are looking for then is "Do you believe that God draws us to him with Holy spirit?".

I am no expert on the matter, but with my knowledge of the scriptures my answer is an emphatic yes! God is known to draw those who have qualities he desires. He opens their heart to the knowledge of himself. A good example of this is in Acts 16:13-15:

"On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate beside a river, where we thought there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14 And a woman named Lyd′i·a, a seller of purple from the city of Thy·a·ti′ra and a worshiper of God, was listening, and Jehovah opened her heart wide to pay attention to the things Paul was saying. 15 Now when she and her household got baptized, she urged us: “If you have considered me to be faithful to Jehovah, come and stay at my house.” And she just made us come."

Some more scriptural Evidence is found at John 6:44:

"No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him, and I will resurrect him on the last day."

In fact without God giving us the blessing of his holy spirit, we could not understand him or the blessings he gives us. 1 Corinthians 2:11-13:

"For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So, too, no one has come to know the things of God except the spirit of God. 12 Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, so that we might know the things that have been kindly given us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit, as we explain spiritual matters with spiritual words."

God knows that just as we did not come into the truth on our own, we will not stay in the truth on our own. 1 Peter 1:4-5 and Jude 1:24:

4 "to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you, 5 who are being safeguarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last period of time."

24 "Now to the one who is able to guard you from stumbling and to make you stand unblemished in the sight of his glory with great joy"

Some other scriptures that support this idea are 2 Thessalonians 2:13

"However, we are obligated always to thank God for you, brothers loved by Jehovah, because from the beginning God selected you for salvation by sanctifying you with his spirit and by your faith in the truth."

Luke 19:10:

"For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

1 Chronicles 28:9

"For Jehovah searches through all hearts, and he discerns every inclination of the thoughts. If you search for him, he will let himself be found by you, but if you leave him, he will reject you forever."

There are other scriptures, but this post is already monstrous, so I will let this be enough.

God draws us to him, but he doesn't force us to follow and learn about him. He draws us and then gives us to choice or opportunity. Deuteronomy 30:19-20:

"I take the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you today that I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the curse; and you must choose life so that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice, and by sticking to him, for he is your life and by him you will endure a long time in the land that Jehovah swore to give to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

John 17:3:

"This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ."

  • Thank you. +1 for the research and thoughtful answers. The question really isn't "Does God draw us" though. It is really a question of what that Drawing is perhaps. Are all men drawn and able to resist the grace that draws them? Or are only the elect drawn with an irresistible grace? You've ended up answering that anyway and I appreciate it.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 23, 2013 at 3:05
  • I would say that the drawing is to those elected by God that have the heart condition, by Gods holy spirit. Those that are not drawn have rejected the qualities God looks for. This is a great question btw. Very thought provoking and even I came away with a better understanding.
    – Jeremy
    Nov 23, 2013 at 3:12

Some older puritan writers used to talk about a sinner being awakened (not saved, just awakened). This would involve conviction of sin. It is pertinent to the discussion on pre-venient grace (as in the question) as this was the term used by the Puritans for it.

e.g. from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (emphasis mine): 'This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.' http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.html

And following is a short excerpt from a Puritan poem (Taken from "The Valley of Vision", published by Banner of Truth) indicating the idea of awakening:

The Awakened Sinner

O my forgetful soul,

Awake from the wandering dream;

            Turn from chasing vanities

            Look inward, forward, upward,

View thyself,

Reflect upon thyself,

            Who and what thou are, why here,

            What thou must soon be.

Thou art a creature of God,

            Formed and furnished by him,

            Lodged in a body like a shepherd in his tent;

            Dost thou not desire to know God’s ways?

.....and it goes on for several more stanzas.

But the idea is there about an awakening before actual salvation, or as you term it, pre-venient grace. Some say Isaiah 52 teaches this doctrine.

  • I think the awakening makes sense. The question that comes to mind isn't about an awakening of a realization of one's sinful nature preceding. It is more a question of is this awakening something all experience and then only some follow through with? Or are only an elect awakened first?
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 27, 2013 at 12:03
  • @ Mike Hi, As I understand the Puritan teaching: Awakening can happen both to the elect and non-elect. One will lead to a godly sorrow and repentance, the other to a hardening of heart and death due to a love of sin. Some form of awakening would occur for all the elect, as it will then alert them to their need of the Saviour. The Pharisees said they were well and their sin remained, but those who know they are sick will seek a Physician.
    – user5197
    Nov 28, 2013 at 19:47

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