Conflict over salvation

(courtesy Google, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God decree which persons should receive God’s salvation? Or, does God invite people to Christ and then let them take human responsibility in saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the offer of salvation?

These two questions have caused theological heartache from the time of the Reformation until today. Does God open the human heart for salvation? Do human beings have the opportunity to receive or reject salvation? It’s the debate over free will and salvation.

I met this challenge in the thread, ‘Acts 16:14’ on Christian Forums. It involves the regular conflict between Arminians and Calvinists over the nature of how salvation through Christ is received by human beings.

Calvinistic interpretation


(Terry cloth)

This fellow started the thread,

Acts 16:14

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14 NASB)

Why was it necessary for Jesus to open her heart? What was wrong with her in the first place? Did she not have the free will to choose prior to that?[1]

Others replied:

  • ‘To respond. Could she have still responded negatively?’[2]
  • ‘God caused her to respond, so the result was predetermined’ (this is a Calvinistic reply’.[3]

However, after 20 replies he as a Calvinist was not receiving the responses from the Arminian opposition that he wanted. So he wrote again:

Heck, I’m still trying to find out why it’s even necessary.
I always figure when the regular non-Calvinists avoid a thread, it must have hit a nerve.

Some Arminian opposition [5]

After 100 posts I responded.

I find it amazing that you have come to this view that ‘it must have hit a nerve’. What do you do?

You started the thread this way:

Acts 16:14

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14 NASB)

Why was it necessary for Jesus to open her heart? What was wrong with her in the first place? Did she not have the free will to choose prior to that?

The ‘nerve’ for me is this: I knew this fellow’s Calvinistic agenda when he started this thread, that he has pushed over and over on this very large Christian forum. He seems to want to try to disprove Arminianism. I contemplated not responding to him as his imbalanced view is not what the Bible teaches in its totality. I knew he would be persistent in trying to corner others and me in his Calvinistic gymnastics.

Calvinistic imbalance?

The very chapter of the Bible that he used, Acts 16, provides the balance (not the contradiction) to Acts 16:14. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to what Paul preached. But what is stated in Acts 16:31? It is a command for human beings to believe: ‘And they said, “[You] Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’.

The Lord opens the heart but he does not do it without the person believing. That is, the person has a free-will choice to believe salvation or reject it.

Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, explained this balanced view in his exegesis and exposition of Acts 16:14:

We must combine the two duratives ‘she kept hearing’ and ‘to be heeding,’ for they imply that Lydia was not converted on that very first Sabbath. From the beginning, however, she heard with a heart that was opened wide (dia in the verb) by the Lord. Little did she dream that Saturday morning what a treasure she was to find in the little retreat by the riverside; but she heard the great Apostle of the Gentiles himself set forth the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ with all fervor and all conviction, and this gospel was corroborated by these three companions. She was finding the pearl of great price.

The Lord opens the heart, but the hand with which he lifts the latch and draws the door is the Word which he makes us hear, and the door opens as we heed, prosechein, keep holding your mind to what you hear. No man can open the door of his heart (kardia is the center of thought and will) himself, nor can he help the Lord to open it by himself lifting the latch and moving the door. The one thing he can do is to bolt the door, i.e., refuse to hear and to heed; and thus he can keep the door closed and bar it even more effectually than it was at first. This prevents conversion (Lenski 1934:658).

So the biblical evidence from Acts 16 (not just v. 14) is that it is the Lord who opens the heart but human beings believe (and refuse to believe). This has been God’s approach from the OT into the NT and today.

We read from the OT:

clip_image001 ‘Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live’ (Deut 30:19).

and again from the OT,

clip_image001[1] ‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Josh 24:15).

The Lord opening the heart

photo of burning lit candle with flame and pink heart(public domain)


Why was it necessary for the Lord to open Lydia’s heart?[6] There is no salvation outside of the Lord’s working in us.

What was wrong with her? She was a sinner who needed justification, reconciliation and all that salvation can provide. She needed the application of Christ’s shed blood and resurrection.

As I’ve tried to demonstrate in this brief article, salvation is from the Lord but God demonstrates in Acts 16:31 that human beings need to respond by believing. Why? Because human beings can resist such offers of salvation.

We know from the very first sin in the Garden (Genesis 2-3) that God did not take away human beings’ free will to hear God and obey or disobey his instructions (Gen 3:2:9, 17; 3:5-13).

What kind of response do you think that might generate from the Calvinist who started this thread? Here are some samples

clip_image003 ‘If you aren’t going to address the OP [original post], I’m not sure why you even posted. Seems like a waste of time’.[7] (Note, this is a red herring logical fallacy as he refused to address the content of what I wrote above.) This is how I replied to the red herring:

Ah, exactly what I expected. I addressed the post and you didn’t like what I wrote so you give me this red herring.

When will you wake up to the fact that this kind of response is what drives people away from pursuing the Calvinism that you want to define on CF. I provided evidence to refute your view; you didn’t like it so you make it look like I didn’t address the post. I addressed the post directly and came to a conclusion different to yours.
If people continue to use logical fallacies, I disengage in conversation with them. Why?  When they use a logical fallacy, it prevents a logical discussion.[8] He further added:

clip_image003[1] ‘So until the Lord opened her heart, there was no way she could respond positively to the gospel?’[9] And again:

clip_image003[2] ‘Why did you avoid answering my question? You aren’t obligated to do so, but this dodging gets us nowhere’.[10]

How should I respond? Here it is: ‘I addressed your post directly. This is a false accusation. False accusations are called straw man fallacies. And we cannot have a logical discussion when you do this. I find that you are harassing me and this is against the rules of this forum’.[11]

clip_image003[3] ‘I have no problems with disagreements. And since you don’t, perhaps you’d like to answer this question that I posed to you. So until the Lord opened her heart, there was no way she could respond positively to the gospel?’[12]

There is further interaction between the Calvinist and me, a Reformed Arminian, in this thread.


So I’m not restricted to pushing a one-sided agenda when the Bible provides both sides in Acts 16. It is the Lord who opens Lydia’s heart and it is Lydia who chooses to respond to the offer of salvation and not to reject it. This is the message of 1 Timothy 2:3b-4, ‘God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV).

It has nothing to do with ‘it must have hit a nerve’ for a non-Calvinist like me. It has everything to do with being giving the balance in biblical presentation. God saves, God opened Lydia’s heart, but human beings have the free will to respond in faith to the offer of salvation. Otherwise we have God the dictator and human beings the robots. I do not find that view consistent with biblical Christianity.

For further explanations of my views see:

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (based on Lutheran Book Concern 1934; The Wartburg Press 1944; Augsburg Publishing House 1961).


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Acts 16:14’, Hammster #1, 16 February 2014. Available at: (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[2] Ibid., Steeno7 #2.

[3] Ibid., abacabb #9, (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[4] Ibid., Hammster #22, (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #103, 20 February 2014, (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[6] This is a further explanation that I made in ibid., #104.

[7] Ibid., Hammster #105. That was all he wrote – not one letter more than this.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #109.

[9] Ibid., Hammster #107.

[10] Ibid., Hammster #114, (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #116.

[12] Ibid., Hammster #131, (Accessed 23 February 2014). I told him that I had already answered this above and that he was continuing his harassment of me with this response, which is against the rules of this forum (ibid., OzSpen#135).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.