The next stop in our TULIP series is the “I” of TULIP, Irresistible Grace. The general concept of this doctrine essentially is that when God desires someone to be saved, He will save them. Although God has an elect people, a people who are elected before the foundations of the earth, the elect are not born believing, justified Christians. They are elect, but they are unbelievers by birth, children of wrath as Paul describes.
At some point in time, the elect of God must exercise faith in God in order to be justified, and when God provides the grace to do so, this is irresistible. The elect of God cannot resist saving grace. To do so would thereby make God either a liar or incompetent.
If God said before time “Billy” will be saved, and He elects Billy unto salvation, and then Billy resists God’s call, is never saved, and goes to hell, then what is left of our image of God? One possibility is that God lied. God said something would happen, and it did not. Or perhaps God is not lying, but was just genuinely mistaken. This would make Him incompetent, seeing that His understanding of Billy was false. If incompetent, then we must now also deny His omniscience. He did not know all things since He was mistaken about Billy’s future. If He is not omniscient, He is also impotent. We must deny His omnipotence since He was not able to accomplish what He declared He would do. Thus, irresistible Grace is the logical and necessary outcome of a sovereign God who elects a people from before time unto salvation. But onward to the texts we must go.
Drawn by the Father
John 6 makes yet another heroic appearance and becomes an important text once again (it will make yet another appearance in the final installment). Jesus’ same message to the Jews in this chapter about salvation is crucial to understanding this doctrine. John 6:44,
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6:44 first presents Total Depravity. Man is not able to come to Christ. However, the verse ends with the Perseverance of the Saints, as that same person who could not come to Christ, has come to Christ, and has been taken to heaven. So, what happened? How did the person who could not come to Christ, end up coming to Christ unto salvation? The text provides the means: “…unless the Father who sent me draws him…”
The drawing of the Father is what brings a person to Christ. And we know this drawing cannot be resisted, and the Father fail in His efforts, because Jesus says the one who is drawn will also be raised!
Thus, Jesus teaches that the Father’s drawing of men to the Son is so effectual that Jesus will raise up those who are drawn unto Himself. That is an irresistible move of God in order to save His people. Theologian John Murray articulates it this way,
“When a sinner comes to Christ in the commitment of faith, when the rebellious will is renewed and tears of penitence begin to flow, it is because a mysterious transaction has been taking place between the persons of the Godhead. The Father has been making a presentation, a donation to his own Son. So perish the thought that coming to Christ finds its explanation in the autonomous determinations of the human will. It finds its cause in the sovereign will of God the Father. He has placed upon this person the constraint by which he has been captivated by the glory of the Redeemer and invests in him all his interests. Christ is made wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Here is grace surpassing; and it is grace insurmountable.”
Many in the reformed community find the “I” of TULIP in want of a new name. Many feel the concept of resisting grace is too broad, for one can resist grace depending on how we define grace and how we define resist. As a matter of fact, the idea that grace can be resisted provides the necessary grounds for Irresistible Grace, as Murray demonstrates,
“When we speak of irresistible grace, therefore, it is not to assert that all grace is irresistible, nor is it to deny the numberless respects in which grace is resisted and resisted to the culmination of resistance in everlasting doom. In fact the truth of and necessity for irresistible grace may be most cogently demonstrated in the premise of resistible grace. The enmity of the human heart is most virulent at the point of the supreme revelation of God’s glory. So deep-seated and persistent is the contradiction that the Saviour as the embodiment of grace is rejected. It is when we recognize this that the need for irresistible grace is perceived.”
Many would then prefer to call this doctrine “Effectual Calling” (I suggest Inevitable Conversion so as to keep the acronym intact).
That title fits well with the Apostle Paul, another suspect indicted on the charge of teaching the sovereignty of God. Romans 8: 28-30,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
In this text, often called the Golden Chain of Redemption, Paul teaches an unbreakable, logical chain of a person’s salvation. Each link in this chain is inseparable from the last. Thus, what takes place in between the justification and glorification of the foreknown and predestined?
In other words, God elected a people, and eventually that people will be justified by faith and glorified in heaven. But how does the elect make the jump from just being elect to actually being saved? The link in the chain calls it the “call” of God. The elect are called, and then justified.
The calling of God is an irresistible call which guarantees the justification of His people.
Born Again by God
Paul is not alone in this teaching. Peter addresses it as well in his first letter. 1 Peter 1:3-5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Peter directly attributes the born-again status necessary for salvation as being caused by God. It is a divine work in the believer, with no indication that the believer is powerful enough to thwart God’s attempts to save.
Jesus Himself credits the new birth to the work of God as well. John 3:3-8,
“Jesus answered [Nicodemus], ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
To Jesus, being born again is synonymous with being born of the Spirit, the Spirit who goes and does what He wishes like the wind. That Spirit gives sinners new life. To resist that is to be more powerful than the Holy Spirit.
The Crux of the Matter
The question of Irresistible Grace ultimately comes down to an understanding of both God and man. If we deny Total Depravity, and believe that man is capable of accepting Christ without the work of God, then we do not need Irresistible Grace. If we begin with an understanding of God that He is not interested in actually accomplishing what He desires, then there is no room for this doctrine.
The crux of the issue for me is that I believe God actually accomplishes what He desires. He does not leave it up to men in the hopes they carry out His will. As the Psalmist says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that pleases Him” (Ps. 115: 3), and like Job cries out, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2), I believe the Lord will accomplish His gracious purposes.
This means if God wants to save you, my reader, He will. This means no sinner is capable of overcoming the attempt of the Lord to change his heart and justify his soul. He will not fail to save anyone whom He so desires, and it is a sad affair that, to so many, this has become bad news.
For further study, listen to R.C. Sproul Jr. discuss Irresistible Grace:
- Note: I have always been extremely hesitant to write about my Calvinism. Not because of any persecution complex or victim-hood mentality, but I am hesitant because I serve an assembly of the Lord that has many people, staff included, who are not Calvinists. I never want my brothers and sisters in the Lord within the local assembly I too am a member of and Shepherd over to feel ostracized by my writing. Note that the ideas expressed here do not necessarily reflect the congregation I am a pastor over or my fellow teachers and authorities there.