Scripture promises that:
- For any temptation, the faithful Christian will receive a grace sufficient to withstand that temptation.
- Some faithful Christians succumb to temptation.
But (1) and (2) are in apparent conflict. For it follows from (1) and (2) that:
- Some faithful Christians fall to a temptation that they have received a grace sufficient to withstand.
Incompatibilist Christians, such as many Catholics, have a story to tell here. They can say that what (1) says is that the faithful Christian receives a grace sufficient to make withstanding the temptation be within one's power or maybe even well within one's power (this could happen by supernaturally augmenting that power, or by decreasing the force of the temptation, or both). In other words, these Christians say that "sufficient" in "sufficient grace" does not mean "sufficient for withstanding" but "sufficient for the (reasonable?) possibility of withstanding". This is a perfectly fine use of the word "sufficient". It seems imaginable that the doctor gives me medication that is "sufficient" to remove a headache, but the effects of the medication are negated by the ingestion of alcohol. What we mean by saying that the medication is sufficient to remove a headache is that it puts the removal of the headache within one's power, if only one follows the doctor's instructions.
But the puzzle is greater for Christians of a more Reformed bent, who normally see a grace sufficient for A as in fact a grace that necessitates A. This is, after all, the standard Reformed view of salvific grace: anybody who has received the grace sufficient for salvation is one of the Elect, and because of the receipt of the grace is necessarily going to be saved.
The question now is whether a Reformed Christian can give a different story about sanctifying grace, so that a person can receive a grace sufficient to withstand temptation and yet fall to that temptation. If not, then Reformed Christianity is not tenable in the light of (1) and (2).
It is possible for a Reformed Christian to have the following moderate view: While salvation is a matter of divinely determined predestination, and faith is necessitated by grace, nonetheless faithful Christians have libertarian freedom in respect of things that do not affect whether they are saved. In particular, then, if the Reformed Christian does not think sins rule out salvation, she may then given the same account of how (1) and (2) can be both be true as more generally incompatibilist Christians do. She can say that we get a grace sufficient to make it possible for us to overcome temptation.
But what about a Reformed Christian who denies that we have any libertarian freedom, e.g., because of a strong view of divine sovereignty or because she is convinced by Jonathan Edwards' and Hume's arguments against libertarianism[note 1]? Then the problem presented by (1) and (2) may be insoluble. In what sense has God given George the grace to withstand the temptation to get drunk if God in his sovereignty has placed George in a position where George cannot but get drunk?
Perhaps, though, the determinist Reformed Christian can give the following story. Many compatibilists think that if we understand "capable" appropriately, we can still say that if George freely does A, he was capable of refraining from doing A. The sense of "capable" here would be a lack of physical or mental compulsion to do A, say (the details are hard to work out), a lack that is compatible with the claim that the agent's character determines the agent to do A. Maybe, then, the compatibilist can give the familiar answer above: God gives the faithful Christian a grace sufficient to make the Christian in this sense capable of withstanding the temptation. Except that now "capable" must be understood in the compatibilist sense. In other words, grace removes the physical and mental compulsion to fall prey to the temptation, but does not necessarily repair one's character in such a way that one would withstand the temptation.
But this answer, I think, fails. First of all, if we include threats of suffering and pain under the head of "physical compulsion", and a habitual attraction to something under the head of "mental compulsion", then on this broader reading of physical and mental compulsion, God's grace does not always remove the compulsion. On the contrary, in the cases of martyrs or people overcoming addictions, the threat of suffering or the habitual attraction remain present, and grace enables one to overcome the threat or habit.
So for the answer to have any hope of working, we must understand "compulsion" fairly narrowly. But then we have the following problem. If I am compelled, in that narrow sense, to do something, then I am not responsible for that action. If I am physically compelled in a narrow sense to throw a rock, e.g., by electrodes implanted in my brain, then I am not sinning by throwing the rock. But temptation in this context is, by definition, temptation to sin. So on this view, the grace to withstand temptation is what actually makes the sin possible, since without the grace one would be compelled, in the narrow sense, to do the bad thing, and while the action would be bad, it would not be a sin (technically speaking, it might be a material but not a formal sin). The view that the grace of withstanding temptation that faithful Christians are promised is what makes sin possible seems deeply unsatisfactory. Moreover, on such a view the grace is quite pointless, since without the grace one would be guaranteed not to sin, as one would be acting under compulsion.
Maybe there is some further story the determinist Reformed Christian can give that would reconcile (1) and (2). But at least absent such a story, we have good reason not to be determinist Reformed Christians.