Ambassador of Reconciliation
3/14/15 at 09:44 AM 3 Comments

Irresistible Grace

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Recently I have been discussing Calvinism with some folks on another forum. I believe that Calvinism has much to offer to our understanding of the nature and attributes and works of God.

The major doctrines of Calvinism are often summed up in the acronym TULIP. Lately I have been meditating on God’s grace, so today I would like to look at the “I” doctrine—Irresistible Grace. Here are some explanations of Irresistible Grace:

Irresistible grace does not mean that God’s grace is incapable of being resisted. Indeed, we are capable of resisting God’s grace, and we do resist it. The idea is that God’s grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags people kicking and screaming to Christ against their wills. The Holy Spirit changes the inclination and disposition of our wills, so that whereas we were previously unwilling to embrace Christ, now we are willing, and more than willing. Indeed, we aren’t dragged to Christ, we run to Christ, and we embrace Him joyfully because the Spirit has changed our hearts.
—R. C. Sproul

This act of drawing is an act of power, yet not of force; God in drawing of unwilling, makes willing in the day of His power: He enlightens the understanding, bends the will, gives an heart of flesh, sweetly allures by the power of His grace, and engages the soul to come to Christ, and give up itself to Him; he draws with the bands of love.
 —John Gill

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
—Westminster Confession of Faith

Irresistible Grace is a Reformed teaching that states that when God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God.
—Matt Slick

If I understand this doctrine correctly, not a single one of the elect can forever resist God’s grace. No matter how hardened their hearts might be initially, the Holy Spirit pursues them with the intent of changing the disposition of their will so that they inevitably come to repentance and embrace Him willingly.

However, according to Calvinists, this irresistible grace is only for the elect—the select few who have been chosen by God out of all humanity before the foundation of the world. The inescapable corollary is that God’s grace can be resisted by the non-elect. In fact, it will be resisted by the non-elect forever. They will remain in a perpetual state of resistance and rebellion against the Lord.

I also believe in irresistible grace. Although we will never be able to comprehend fully the workings of God’s grace, I think the explanations above accurately describe how God draws a rebellious and wicked person to repentance and faith—how the Holy Spirit changes a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Where I differ with the Calvinists is that I believe nobody can forever resist God’s grace. Sooner or later, His effectual grace will do its work in every single human being. We long for it to be sooner, so we share the gospel with them. But we do not despair if it is later, because we know that God’s will that all come to repentance cannot be thwarted.

I invite you to study these explanations carefully and meditate on them prayerfully.

In which view of Irresistible Grace—that it is for the elect only or that it is for all humanity—is the grace more powerful?

Which view fully eradicates sin from the universe, rather than allowing sin and rebellion to exist forever?

Which view is more consistent with the sovereignty and heart of God as revealed in Scripture?

Which one is more glorifying to God?


See also my previous post, “A Googolplex of Grace.”

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