What is Grace Molinism? Grace Molinism is a belief system about salvation based on the foundational understanding of divine sovereignty known as Molinism. For those of you who don’t know, Molinism is the belief that God created the universe in such a way that our free choices would naturally bring about God’s perfect plan. He is able to do this through the use of His middle knowledge – that is, knowledge of everything that would happen in every hypothetical scenario. For example, God knew if He created the universe with gravity, the result would be the laws of planetary motion – and if He didn’t create the universe with gravity, there would be no laws of that sort.
The same principle applies to the free decisions people make: God knew what I would freely do if I were placed in the garden of Eden instead of Adam. He also knew what I would freely do if I were born in America in 1998 (which I was). Based on that knowledge of hypothetical scenarios, God was able to create the world which He knew would naturally bring about His perfect plan – even through the free choices of His creatures. That is Molinism.
Today, I’ll apply Molinism to soteriology – “the doctrine of salvation” – and use it to explain how I believe God saves sinners. While the word Molinism isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible, I believe it’s the best explanation for the Biblical data and so qualifies as Biblical (see Tim Stratton’s article for more). The rest of my belief system picks up where Molinism leaves off and incorporates the rest of what the Bible says about salvation. To make it easy to remember and compare to other popular beliefs about salvation, I’ve created a 5-point acronym from which we get its name: GRACE. Here it is:
G – God’s Creative Decree R – Rebellious Condition A – Available Atonement C – Call of the Gospel E – Eternal Security
Some of these terms may be familiar to you, while others not. Either way, I’ll explain what each one means next, starting with God’s Creative Decree.
GOD’S CREATIVE DECREE This is basically a reaffirmation of God using Middle Knowledge to predestine all things, including who would and would not be saved. This allows for a perfectly just version of the traditionally Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election. The outcome is the same, with all the elect being saved and all the non-elect being damned. The difference is, in this view, the means of achieving that purpose is through every person’s free will to make whatever decision about salvation they please. To loosely quote William Lane Craig, because of Molinism, “it is up to God if you are in a world in which you are elect, but it is up to you if you are elect in the world in which you live”. This is the balance of predestination and free will.
REBELLIOUS CONDITION Scripture clearly tells us that after the fall, all people are born hopelessly corrupt (Rom 3:10-17) and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). Too often, however, Christians misinterpret the word “death” to mean “inert”, that is, “unresponsive”. Actually, this biblical word means something much closer to “separation” than anything else. Whether we realize it or not, that’s actually how we use it all the time as Christians. By physical death, we are really just referring to the “separation of the spirit from the body”. After we die (physically), it’s not like our souls become unresponsive and inert. On the country they live on, separated from our physical bodies.
Likewise, spiritual death is not “inertness” to the things of God; instead, it refers to “separation from loving fellowship with God”. Since God is the source of goodness (Jam 1:17), one of the results of this separation is a corrupt state leaving us unable to stop doing evil. We’ve become like drug addicts, constantly returning to get another hit of sin. For this reason, we cannot earn our way back to God (Acts 4:12) and cannot please God apart from giving our lives to Him in desperate faith (Heb 11:6).
Notice an important point here: we can express faith in God, even in our corrupted rebellious condition. This isn’t because we aren’t spiritually dead; instead, it’s because our spiritual deadness refers simply to our inability to stop our life of sin. To use the drug addict analogy again, the addict may not be able to clean himself up by his own power, but he can ask for help! And that – desperately asking for salvation – is precisely what faith is. Faith is simply trust. This faith doesn’t itself earn God’s favor and isn't itself a good work. On the contrary, it's admitting that we can’t earn God’s favor and need Him to forgive and change us.
We are saved by grace alone in Christ alone. Faith is simply the means of appropriating God’s offer of salvation and is not inherently a good work (Eph 2:8-9)– either achieved by us or given to us by God.
AVAILABLE ATONEMENT On the cross, Christ died as payment for the sins of humanity (2 Cor 5:15). Contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t “die for” anyone in particular, as that would either make his death insufficient for all if it were only for some people’s sins or create a situation of double jeopardy if it were for the sins of every person. Rather, his death made an “unlimited payment” which can be applied to anyone who believes. Therefore, the atonement is unlimited in its sufficiency and limited in its ultimate effect to only those who will be saved.
CALL OF THE GOSPEL God extends the invitation to all people to repent and place their trust in Christ to save them from their sins – both through internal conviction (John 16:8), intentional drawing (John 6:44) and through the witness of the Church (Matt 28:19). Since faith is not itself a good work (Eph 2:8-9), it is within our ability even as sinful creatures, once God draws our attention to His offer of redemption (John 6:44). This drawing is not irresistible, otherwise either (A) all would be saved or (B) God is not omnibenevolent. Faith doesn’t itself save us or require God to save us. Instead, faith is simply what God has chosen to “credit” with Christ’s imputed righteousness (Rom 4:3), even though it is not itself righteousness.
ETERNAL SECURITY Once a person puts their faith in Christ to save them from their sins, the changing work of the Holy Spirit begins to transform them to make them grow spiritually. This transforming work (sometimes called “Regeneration”) comes after expressing faith in Christ and not before, as in Calvinism. Once this transforming work begins, we become a changed person (Rom 5:17), gradually becoming more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). Because of how powerful this transforming work is, a regenerated person can’t walk away from the faith, as this would be in contrast to God’s direct promise (Phil 1:6).
CONCLUSION As you can see, Molinism opens the door for us to affirm the complete sovereignty of God in the salvation process without needing to affirm determinism or dismiss the clear passages of scripture that teach human free will.
Grace Molinism applies this concept well and helps us better appreciate how God saves us – undeserving sinners.