A view of grace and freedom
[The] so-called five points of Calvinism were defined in controversy, and the titles are not an accurate indication of their meaning. Total depravity did not mean that human beings are totally evil; it meant that human beings are corrupt in every dimension of their existence and at the critical point of existence – namely, turning to God – they were totally unable to do so. Irresistible grace did not mean that grace could not be resisted, for grace is frequently, if not always, resisted. It did mean that God’s grace cannot be thwarted. Limited atonement did not mean for the majority of Calvinists that Christ died only for a select few people; the atonement is adequate for all people. It did mean that it was efficacious only for the elect or for believers. Unconditional election did not mean that salvation is by an arbitrary decree; it meant that God redeems us not because we deserve to be redeemed or because of anything we do but only out of His free love. The perseverance of the saints meant not so much that the saints persevere, as that God’s grace perseveres and brings the work of salvation to its completion.
The theological controversies of the medieval church as well as subsequent theological efforts have demonstrated that the problems of God’s grace and human freedom cannot be resolved by dividing up the work. Salvation is not partly the work of God and partly the work of human beings. It is not that God begins what humans may complete, or completes what human beings have already begun. The best solution seems to be to affirm that salvation from one perspective is completely the work of God. From another perspective – that is, the historical and psychological – it is completely the work of human beings.
John H. Leith, “The Prevenience of Grace,” Basic Christian Doctrine, 233.