Calvinism 101: Irresistible Grace
The doctrines of grace, also known as “the Five Points of Calvinism,” are a seamless garment. They logically – and biblically – go together and mutually support and imply one another. So, for example, the fact that mankind after Adam’s fall into sin is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3; Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:9-18), with wills in bondage to sin, and with a sin nature that impacts the whole of man’s being (i.e., total depravity), implies that fallen man is spiritually and ethically incapable of taking the first step toward God and of “choosing Christ” apart from God’s Divine initiative of grace. Therefore, if God’s people are going to be saved they must be unconditionally elected – chosen of God by pure grace, apart from them meeting any “conditions” which merit God’s choice – from before the foundation of the world and without any foresight of their faith or works (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9:16, 18). If the salvation of God’s elect is to be secured, then Christ must die specifically for the purpose of actually redeeming them from sin and thus effectively guaranteeing their eternal salvation (limited atonement / particular redemption; John 6:37; 10:11; 17:6, 8; Ephesians 5:25). And if they are to be brought to the enjoyment of the salvation that Christ purchased for them, they must be spiritually resurrected and brought to saving faith in Christ (irresistible grace) and kept by the power of God in that grace until the end (perseverance of the saints).
In this brief article I want to focus specifically on the fourth of the five points of Calvinism – namely, irresistible grace.
The doctrine of God’s irresistible grace is a biblical truth made necessary by two biblical considerations: (1) The biblical teaching on man’s total depravity, which demonstrates that fallen, unregenerate man has a will in bondage to sin, and is thus morally and spiritually incapable of choosing Christ or accepting the offer of the gospel. The natural, unregenerate man has no interest in the gospel or in the Christ presented to him in the gospel. While he could, if he wanted to, choose Christ, yet he has no inner desire, no will, to receive and rest upon Christ as He is offered in the gospel. Thus the natural, unregenerate man who is left to his own choice will inevitably choose to reject the gospel. It takes a supernatural miracle, a spiritual resurrection, a new birth, to bring a sinner to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, for fallen man’s heart must be changed before he will desire and choose to come to Christ for salvation. (2) The efficacious power of God’s Word. God’s Word is powerful, and accomplishes all that which He intends for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:10-11). If God’s Word of grace failed to save anyone for whom that grace was intended, then man’s fallen will is more powerful than God’s grace, God is not God, and believers have no security in their salvation. The efficacy of God’s Word requires irresistible grace.
Now, of course, fallen man resists God’s grace all the time, in the sense that fallen man resists the claims of gospel proclamation of Christ’s Lordship and the external call of the gospel that comes through the written Scriptures and through the preaching of the gospel. Gospel preaching and gospel witness can be, and often are, resisted by those whose hearts are devoid of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can be resisted in this external sense of resisting and rebelling against the ordinary means of grace, for the Spirit is the Source of those external means of grace. (It was in this sense that the martyr Stephen was speaking when he accused the unbelieving Jews of resisting the Holy Spirit in Acts 7:51, for they had resisted the preaching of the prophets, the witness of Jesus Himself during His earthly ministry, and the apostolic witness to Christ’s resurrection.)
But when God is intent upon effectively calling an elect sinner out of the bondage and misery of his sin into His kingdom of grace and salvation, the external call of the gospel to repentance and faith will be accompanied by a supernatural, internal work of grace that so changes the sinner’s heart and frees the sinner’s will so that Christ is made sweet to him, and so that he comes most freely and willingly to Christ for salvation as Christ is freely offered in the gospel. As the Lord Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (ESV; emphasis added) This irresistible grace is God’s effectual, saving call, and is to be distinguished from the mere external call of the gospel (though the saving call comes to God’s elect through the external call of the gospel). The external call can, and often is, resisted by sinners. But the saving, effectual call is not and cannot be resisted, for in this saving call God supernaturally changes the heart of a sinner and gives him a will and desire to trust in Christ alone for salvation. This is why Paul in Romans 8:30 says that all those who are (effectually, irresistibly) called are justified and glorified — a statement which would not be true if he were talking merely about the external call of the gospel.
This precious doctrine of grace has many practical implications for the church. For example, if God’s grace toward His elect proves in the end to be irresistible, this can give the church confidence in her gospel witness and proclamation to a lost and dying world, for it assures the church that the resistance toward the gospel of even the most hardened sinner can be overcome in time by God’s irresistible grace. It is also a doctrine which, when correctly understood and heartily embraced, fosters a spirit of humility among God’s people, for it reminds us that our salvation is ultimately not due to anything we have willed or done, but it is solely of God’s grace and God’s grace alone. We have nothing to boast in, except in the Lord and in His grace! May this doctrine of grace be precious to your soul, dear reader.