A few months ago, we started looking at The Five Points of Calvinism, also called TULIP—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. If you would like a review of the T.U. or L. in TULIP, you can find the Link Articles on my website (rogermccay.org/link-articles/). This month we are looking at the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.
The name of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace can be “misleading,” as “it was coined by the Arminians at the Synod of Dort, not by the Calvinists.”[i] The term can make it sound like God wrestles a person to the ground and forces grace on them against their will. But this is not what the doctrine is saying. Various Reformed theologians prefer to call it effectual, efficacious, invincible, or unconquerable grace, and so forth. This puts the emphasis on the power of God’s grace, and it removes the idea of the resistance of the unbeliever. God does not strong-arm a person, who is dead to sin, into believing. Rather, the Holy Spirit regenerates (Ti 3:5) the heart of that chosen individual (Unconditional Election), freeing him or her from bondage to sin (Rom 6:6-7, 16, 18, 20), making the formerly unregenerate person to be born again—spiritually alive (Jn 3:3; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13). The now regenerate person willingly, lovingly, and gratefully believes and so is saved. Therefore, regeneration—being made spiritually alive from being spiritually dead (Jn 5:24; Eph 2:1-5)—comes before faith (Eph 2:8-9). Faith comes as a result of the Holy Spirit’s action in regeneration. Unregenerate, we can do nothing by our own power or will to make us believe (due to Total Depravity/Inability). The Holy Spirit is one-hundred percent responsible for us being able to believe.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states the doctrine thus (X.1-2; cf. WSC Question 31):
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.
This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
With all that said, we see that “God’s grace is efficacious (Jn 6:37, 39),” meaning it is effective in producing his intended result.[ii] It is also “particular (Jn 17:6, 9, 11),” as God applies this grace to a specific people (Limited Atonement) whom he chose and predestined to salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5).[iii] God’s grace is not irresistible/effectual to all people but, rather, is only applied to God’s chosen people, who are then drawn to faith in Jesus Christ.
There is plenty of other Biblical evidence for the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. In addition to the verses mentioned above, consider the following:
Dt 30:6; Ez 11:19, 36:26-27; Ps 110:3; Sg 1:4; Jn 5:25, 6:44–45; Acts 26:18, Rom 6:16–18, 8:2, 7, 30, 11:7; 1 Cor 2:10, 12, 14; 2 Cor 3:3,6; Eph 1:10–11, 17–19, 20, 2:1–5, 8–9; Phil 2:13; 2 Thes 2:13–14; 2 Tm 1:9–10; 2 Tm 1:9, and Ti 3:4–5.
I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful November. As Thanksgiving approaches, consider God’s magnificent and matchless grace, and give thanks for his love in Jesus Christ that overcame our sin.
[i] Robert A. Peterson & Michael D. Williams, Why I am not an Arminian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 185.
[ii] Ibid., (italics mine).