TULIP Part 5b

Irresistible Grace


It was a dark night as the man approached Jesus. The man, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, had a burning question he wanted to ask the Rabbi from Nazareth; a question that has plagued him from the moment Jesus entered into the public scene. He comes at night because he knows his fellow members of the Sanhedrin do not approve of this man; they believe him to be a troublemaker who twists and distorts the Scriptures to create a following. As the man approaches Jesus, he greets him in a respectful way. After he greets him, Jesus tells the man that unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. The man is stunned! How did Jesus know the deepest question of his heart before he'd even asked it? Perhaps this man truly is the Messiah.

The above is a fictional account of Jesus' meeting with Nicodemus. I mention this encounter because it has a direct bearing on the subject at hand; namely Irresistible Grace. We concluded the previous article by noting that Irresistible Grace is the effectual call of the gospel that initiates the new creation in those who have been unconditionally elected by God. The new creation is nothing more than being born again, or regenerated. It is the raising to spiritual life of the dead sinner so that he responds in faith and repentance to the message of the gospel. The above narrative, from the third chapter of John's gospel, is part of the biblical basis for the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. In this passage, we learn that before one can see the Kingdom of God, he must be born again.

Opponents of Irresistible Grace, and the rest of Calvinism (or the Doctrines of Grace), will teach that being "born again," or regeneration, occurs once a person places their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. However, if regeneration is the raising to spiritual life of the dead sinner, then how can the dead sinner respond to the gospel in order to regenerate himself? If, according to 1 Corinthians 2:14, the natural man cannot discern the things of God, then this must include the gospel message itself. Before a man who is dead in sin and trespasses can respond to the gospel, he must first be given eyes to see and ears to hear the gospel; and that comes from regeneration, which itself is a result of the effectual call (i.e., Irresistible Grace).

In my mind, there is no better passage that demonstrates Irresistible Grace than Ephesians 2:1-10. In verses 1-3, we learn that natural man is born in sin and trespasses, that he follows the "the prince of the power of the air" (i.e., Satan), and that he is by nature a child of wrath. This is man's natural state from the womb due to the fall and original sin. Verses 4-7 describe the work of God on behalf of those whom he elected from before the foundation of the world. God is motivated by his great love and mercy. God makes us alive together with Christ. Finally, in verses 8-10, we see the result of God's free and sovereign act of regeneration: Salvation by grace through faith. Note that salvation is by grace – i.e., it's from God. Second note that it is through faith – faith is the conduit of God's grace. Third note that faith is "not of ourselves, but is the gift of God" – regeneration not only makes us alive in Christ, but it also grants us the faith to believe the gospel.

What about the objection that Irresistible Grace teaches that God drags sinners "kicking and screaming" into the kingdom? This is a common objection to Irresistible Grace that is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrine. The argument goes as follows: If grace is truly irresistible, then you have people brought into the Kingdom of God against their wills. Furthermore, if no one was willing to come to Jesus because of original sin, then Irresistible Grace must convert them against their wills. To this we answer that the doctrine of regeneration (which is a part and parcel of Irresistible Grace) teaches that when one is born again, he is changed in his heart and in his dispositions. The prophet Ezekiel talks about this when referencing the New Covenant: "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). Those chosen of God will be reborn from rebel sinners into people who love God and have a heart for God. Far from entering the Kingdom of God "kicking and screaming," they will be entering the Kingdom gladly and willingly.

What about the objection that says if grace is irresistible, why do we find many instances of people resisting God's grace? Again, this is a common objection that is born from a misunderstanding of the doctrine. That misunderstanding comes from the name of the doctrine itself: Irresistible Grace. A better name for the doctrine would be Effectual Grace because that is essentially what the doctrine is teaching. The call of the gospel to those who are the elect becomes effectual through the working of the Holy Spirit. God's common grace, the grace that is imparted to all people through God's general beneficence, is resistible. Note Paul's words in Romans: "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:4-5). However, there is a difference between common grace and saving grace, between the general call of the gospel and the effectual call of the gospel.

Irresistible Grace is just another link of the Golden Chain of redemption: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).

Soli Deo Gloria!


Next: Perseverance of the Saints

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