This is an excerpt from a forthcoming publication on the Holy Spirit.
We know that the human heart is hardened by sin. We see it everyday. We even see it in ourselves. We lack sympathetic understanding. We are a stubborn, stick necked people.
If our hearts are hard, then how can we ever receive the good gift of saving faith when its offered? The answer is prevenient grace.
The process of salvation begins with the softening of the human heart by grace. Grace not only transforms hearts in the moment of receiving the gift of saving faith, but grace also prepares the believer to receive the gift. Rebellious hearts must become sympathetic, responsive, generous, and charitable to receive the gift of faith that is given to us by the Holy Spirit. If the beginning of the gospel is repentance (Mark 1:1–5), and the beginning of repentance is conviction, then the beginning of conviction is the softening of the human heart.
Prevenient grace can be found in general revelation, since general revelation is, “[t]he knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity…” It is only by grace that God’s existence, character, and moral law can come to sinners. Sinners without grace cannot hear the heavens’ declaration of the glory of God and the firmaments proclamation of his handiwork (Ps. 19:1). It is only by grace that what can be known about God can be plain to those who have rebelled against him (Rom. 1:18–21).
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Being closed off to the truth of the gospel, says Paul, is the work of the Deceiver. Hardness of heart is the firm belief in the lies of the accuser. Prevenient grace exposes the lie and weakens its power. John Wesley described prevenient grace as, “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him.”
The great lie that prevenient grace exposes is the lie that God is not trustworthy. Going back to the Garden of Eden, the serpent, the one who was lying from the beginning, accused God of being the liar. The deception of the serpent cast a shadow on the character of God to corrupt his relationship with the original humans. By shining the light on the cross, the Holy Spirit diffuses that lie and assures the world of the love and trustworthiness of God. Thomas Oden writes, “Repentance requires moral reasoning enabled by prevening grace to penetrate self-deceptions and attend realistically to the claims of conscience.”
Based on the redemptive work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit administers prevenient grace. As the revealer of truth, he softens hearts by revealing truth and dispelling lies. The Holy Spirit points to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to dispel the lie that keeps human hearts cold. Prevenient grace, administered by the Holy Spirit, awakens conviction. The Holy Spirit softens human hearts to be able to receive the good gift of salvation.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994,), 122.
 Also see Mark 4:15.
 Reference. “On Working Out Our Own Salvation”
 Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, Vol. III (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 87.