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Home: Articles / Bible Studies: Doctrines of Grace

"Irresistible Grace"
By Fred Butler

Each member of the Trinity participates in our salvation.  The Father elected the saints from eternity past, marking them out for salvation.  The Son came and secured their salvation with His death.  These two acts alone do not complete salvation.  The Holy Spirit applies the benefits of election and salvation to the elect.

 

Definitions of Irresistible Grace:

 

 

This doctrine asserts that the Holy Spirit never fails to bring to salvation those sinners whom He personally calls to Christ.  He inevitably applies salvation to every sinner whom he intends to save, and it is his intention to save the elect.  Steele and Thomas: The Five Points of Calvinism.

 

Irresistible grace means that the Holy Spirit will certainly cause everyone whom God has chosen from eternity and for whom Christ died to believe on Jesus.  Edwin Palmer: The Five Points of Calvinism.

 

 

From those two definitions, we can note the following:

 

-          The work of the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to salvation.

-          The work of the Holy Spirit is applied to the heart of those who are marked for election.

-          Every one in whom the Holy Spirit works comes to salvation.

 

What exactly does irresistible mean?

 

The word irresistible can be misunderstood in our discussion.  Non-Calvinists usually understand irresistible as meaning God takes sinners into heaven kicking and screaming.  They believe that God is doing violence to the heart and will of men who do not want salvation.

 

It may be helpful to describe the saving work of the spirit as efficacious or effectual.

God’s grace will effect salvation in the hearts of the elect.

 

Irresistible is misleading because it has the notion of a person being forced to perform some duty that he cannot freely refuse.  The non-Calvinist’s objection to irresistible grace is based upon a prior belief in free will. 

 

* REMEMBER- free will is understood to mean that men have the ability to equally choose between spiritual good (turning from sin and following Christ) and spiritual bad (that which is opposed to godliness).

 

Calvinist believe the Bible teaches that men have a will, a volition to choose, but those choices are determined by his preferences, his spiritual tastes.  Those preferences, as the Bible teaches, have a fountainhead in our sin nature.  Thus, all of man’s choices will stem from that sin nature.  Put simply: fallen men will only make sinful choices.

 

In order to have his preferences changed and oriented in the correct, spiritual direction, the sinner must be set free from the bondage of his sin nature.  This is what the Holy Spirit accomplishes with the application of grace.

Keep in mind that this change in man is not an unlawful change that violates his volition. 

When God touches the heart of a sinner to believe, that sinner willingly believes.  We all experience this willing change in our everyday life, when a force, outside of our person, influences our aversion to a specific individual taste.

 

For instance, I do not have a preference for strolling through rose gardens.  My wife, however, does have that preference.  When she lovingly asks me to join me on one of her strolls, I willingly go.  Many of you have probably experienced such persuasions of the will.  In the same manner, God does a spiritual persuasion on our will, so that there is no longer a love for sin, but our love is directed to God.  This is what is meant by effectual grace.

 

With that in mind, what does the Bible teach about irresistible, or effectual grace?

Let us examine the various, biblical evidence.

 

·         The Call of God

 

What is meant by the call of God?

The Bible distinguishes between two calls – the outward call and the inward call.

 

> The outward call

 

This is also termed the external call or the general call of God.

 

This outward call is God’s offer of grace to sinners, inviting them to come and accept Christ and be saved. 

It is found with the Great Commission of Mark 16:15,16.  The parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:2-14 speaks of many men being invited to come to the marriage, but not all of the men came.

 

This outward call of God has a couple of elements.

 

1).  A presentation of the gospel message and facts of redemption.  This is when a believer proclaims to the unbeliever what Christ did to make a way for a sinner’s salvation. 

 

2). An invitation to accept Christ in repentance and faith.  The sinner is called to a decision – to embrace those facts of redemption.  He is to repent and forsake sin, and believe upon Jesus Christ.

 

* Take note, however, that the presentation of the gospel, and the invitation to receive Christ, though made with earnest persuasion, will not, by itself, effect salvation in the heart of a person.

 

> The inward call

 

The inward call can also be termed the effectual call, or the efficacious call.

 

Thomas Watson defines it like this: By this call the heart is renewed, and the will is effectually drawn to embrace Christ.

 

The inward call is a work of God’s divine grace, in which His Holy Spirit opens the heart of the sinner to understand the truths of the gospel as presented with the general call, and believe upon them in faith.

 

All the biblical terms that describes man’s salvation encapsulated with the inward call.

 

 

·         Regeneration

 

Regenerationpalingenesia. [palin - “again,” genesis - “birth.”] Together they mean new birth.

 

Theologically, regeneration is defined as, that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy. Louis Berkhof

 

The English word regeneration is found only twice in the NT.  First, in Matthew 19:28, where the usage does not pertain to man’s salvation.  But also, in Titus 3:5, the word does pertain to our salvation.

 

There are several theological words and terms used to describe regeneration:

 

 

> The New Birth. 

 

The foremost phrase speaking to man’s regeneration is the new birth.  We find its first usage in John 3:3-8

 

From this passage, we can glean the following regarding the new birth:

 

The new birth is spiritual - 3:5-6.  Regeneration is spiritual and pertains to spiritual realities. A man cannot produce a spiritual change.

 

The new birth is from God - 3:5-6, 27; cf. 1:13.  God is the initiator of the new birth, not men.  A man of flesh cannot make himself spiritual.  Only God, who is spirit, can make a man spiritual.

 

The new birth precedes “seeing” the Kingdom of God - 3:3.  No bind man can see, unless his eyes are repaired, and in the same manner, no spiritually blind person can see the Kingdom of God until he is born of God. 

 

Men are passive in the new birth.  The tense of the words here in John 3 indicate something happening to the recipient.  The work of God causes men to be born again.  Men remain passive; the spirit works in their hearts.

 

> Quickened

 

Quickenedzoopoieo, “make alive.”  The word quickened has the idea of being spiritually resurrected.  The person, once spiritually dead, is quickened, or made alive to spiritual things.

 

Ephesians 2:1-10 is the one passage that explains the work of God in quickening the unbeliever.  From these 10 verses, we gain the following truths.

 

The quickening is done by God alone - 3:5.  There is no help on the part of man with this quickening.  A corpse can- not make itself alive, any more than a spiritually dead person can make himself alive.  Men are passive; God is active.

 

God’s quickening produces the following results in a person:

 

-          It produces faith in the heart of a person, 2:8.  Faith to believe is a product of regeneration. When a man is quickened, he is given the gift of faith to believe the gospel. In like manner, repentance also comes from God. Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25.

 

-          It produces righteousness in the new believer, 2:10.  We are freed from our former evil works and created (a special work of God alone) to walk in righteous works.

 

> Made new/renewed

 

When God’s regenerational power takes place in a person, they are made new or renewed. 

 

Newkainos, newness, as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old.

 

Renewed anakaninos, [ana – “again,” kanios, “new”] to make new again.

 

Both these words stress the qualitative newness of a Christian contrasted with a non-Christian.

 

Ø       Men are called new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).  A believer is a new creation all together.  He is considered reconciled to God and no longer living in that old lifestyle of disobedience.

 

Ø       Christians are said to be a new man, (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). This new man has a new mind that can be renewed, or can think on spiritual things (Eph. 4:23, cf. 4:18). 

 

Ø       The new man has new morals (Eph. 4:24-32; Col. 3:10-25).  His ethics are those of godliness and holy living.  He is renewed in the knowledge of Christ (Col. 3:10) implying that he now thinks God’s thoughts.  The new man is not to be conformed to the system of the world, but transformed by this renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:1-2).

 

·         Conclusion

 

Now that we have examined the biblical evidence demonstrating regeneration, we can reiterate the effectual work on a person’s heart.  God doesn’t pull a person into heaven against his will, but tenderly touches his heart, so that he now desires to be with God.  John 6:37, 44, 45, 64, 65.

 

Two NT examples:

 

Acts 16:14And a certain woman named Lydia…whose heart the Lord opened, and she attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul.  The Lord opened her heart to believe the gospel that Paul preached.

 

Acts 18:27 - …who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.

Paul encouraged and exhorted those gentile believers who believed the gospel, because grace was given to them.

 

 

·         Problem Passages

 

Matthew 23:37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

 

Non-Calvinists appeal often to this passage from Matthew as an example of men having the ability to resist the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

 

At first glance, the non-Calvinist would seem to be correct.  Christ proclaims he wants to gather together the children of Jerusalem, but they will not let Him.

 

Let’s apply our principles of interpretation to this passage to see if what the non-Calvinist asserts is true.

 

The context of Matthew 23.  Matthew’s 23rd chapter is a record of Christ’s harsh rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, and the leaders of Israel.  He calls them hypocrites, because they are “religious,” but their religion is man-made, and not from a heart to please God. 

 

What is meant by “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”?  With a surface reading, it looks as though Christ is addressing every person in Jerusalem, but the immediate context does not bare this out. 

 

-          This “Jerusalem” is said to, kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to thee.  Backing up to verse 35, Jesus connects the leaders – the Pharisees and scribes – to these crimes. 

 

-          Moreover, Jesus states he desires to have gathered thy children, not the “Jerusalem” being addressed.  This “Jerusalem” prevents the children from being gathered.

 

Jerusalem is used as a description of the leaders of the Jews.  Christ’s words are not addressed to all the Jews as a nation, but the leaders of the Jews, the Pharisees and scribes.

 

Conclusion – In this passage, Jesus is wrapping up His final rebuke of judgment against the leaders who opposed Him.  They try to keep the children of Jerusalem from coming to salvation; but, as verse 38 states, their house will be left to them desolate.  As much as they desire to prevent the children of Israel from be gathered to Christ, He will gather them despite the resistance of the Pharisees.  John 5:40 is another text that affirms the state of the religious leaders and their stiff-necked unbelief.

 

Acts 7:51Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised at heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers, so ye.

 

Here in Acts 7:51, we have the exact words, “resist the Holy Ghost.” Can men resist the work of the Holy Spirit when He moves in the sinner’s heart to bring him to salvation?

 

The context of Acts 7.  Similar to Matthew 23, the religious leaders of the Jews are the objects of this rebuke.  Acts 7 is the dialog of Stephen when he is brought before the Sanhedrin.

 

What is meant by resist?  Resist, in the original, means to oppose or attack.  How then do they resist the Holy Spirit? By attacking and killing the prophets who were sent to them, and then His son.

 

Conclusion – Nowhere in this passage is saving faith addressed.  Stephen is showing that the Jewish leaders always oppose the truth of God by killing His messengers; and that opposition demonstrates the true state of their heart – it has not been touched by God.

 


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