TULIP Part 5a

Irresistible Grace


One of the more common critiques leveled against Calvinism and Reformed Theology is on the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, and it goes like this: The doctrine of Irresistible Grace teaches that God drags unwilling sinners kicking and screaming against their will into the kingdom of heaven. Another common critique on the doctrine of Irresistible Grace makes mention of the fact that the bible is full of examples of people who have resisted God's grace (cf. Acts 7:51), so how can God's grace be irresistible if people resist it all the time? This is par for the course when considering the Doctrines of Grace. There is much confusion and misrepresentation over the other Five Points of Calvinism and Irresistible Grace is no exception. Let's examine what the official teaching is regarding Irresistible Grace from the Canons of Dort:
The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.
Please note several things that the Canons of Dort point out. First, conversion is accomplished through the ministry of the gospel. As the bible clearly states, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). The gospel presentation is foundational to the conversion of sinners. In fact, the gospel is the means through which salvation and conversion is affected.

Secondly, conversion is not to be credited to man. The reason why some respond to the gospel invitation and others do not is not because some are smarter or better than others. Left to our own devices, we would reject the things of God as foolishness (1 Corinthians 2:14). Natural man is not a "neutral" observer of things. Rather he is hostile to God and an enemy of the gospel. Salvation and conversion can only be "credited to God."

Thirdly, notice that conversion comes "within time." As we've been going through the Doctrines of Grace examining each of the points of TULIP, Irresistible Grace is the first point that occurs within time. The other three points – Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement – either occur in eternity past without the activity of man. Irresistible Grace is the working out of God's sovereign plan of salvation in "time and space."

Fourthly, Irresistible Grace is the effectual call of the gospel. Historically speaking theologians have generally distinguished between two aspects of the gospel call. There is the general call and the effectual call of the gospel. The general call of the gospel is, as one would expect, general. It is the call of the gospel that is given to all nations, tribes and tongues. It is what Christians do when engaging in the Great Commission. However, as Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). The "few" who are chosen are those who have been effectively called. In the general call of the gospel, God effectually calls those whom he unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world.

Irresistible Grace, or the effectual call of the gospel, is often referred to as the act of regeneration, or being "born again." There is another portion of the Canons of Dort that specifically mentions this:
And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.
We'll discuss this in a little more detail next time as well as answer some questions about Irresistible Grace. For now, please note that it is the effectual call that brings the dead sinner back to life (Ephesians 2:5), and all those whom God effectually calls come to repentance and faith in Christ. In other words, God's effectual call is irresistible.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Next: Irresistible Grace Part 2

Image Credit: Thomas Totz, Germany; "5 tulips"; Creative Commons

The Series:
Introduction: What are the Doctrines of Grace and what is their historic importance?
Total Depravity: Are we all as evil as we can be? What about the good that people do?
Unconditional Election Part 1  |  Part 2: Does God choose those who are going to be saved ahead of time?
Limited Atonement Part 1  |  Part 2: Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or only for the elect?
Irresistible Grace Part 1  |  Part 2: How does God draw people to himself? Can we resist?
Perseverance of the Saints: What does it mean to persevere in faith? What about apostasy?

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Republished 5-20-2013