This is the fourth of my posts on TULIP and my understanding of the 5 points of Calvinism or Reformed Theology.
What is taught by Reformed Theology: Irresistible Grace refers to the special inward call that the Holy Spirit gives only to the Elect. Since it goes only to the Elect then by definition it cannot fail to be effectual. In other words, since the Elect have been pre-chosen (Ephesians 1:3-14) by God to be members of the Elect, when it is time (according to God’s timing) for the person to receive the special inward calling it must succeed in its intended goal and cannot be resisted.
Before a person can receive this inward call he must first be regenerated. To be regenerated simply means that the person is changed by God from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Since the Fall (of Adam & Eve) all men are born spiritually dead and unable to hear the inward call. This is because of the corrupted nature that is a result of being a slave to sin. See this post on Total Depravity for more information. Until a person is regenerated he cannot hear the call of God. The process of regeneration is where the irresistible grace come into the equation. God, according to His sovereignty, changes the unregenerate persons heart of stone (spiritually dead) to a heart of flesh (spiritually alive). The person has no say in this change because God has predestined it. Once the person is regenerated (made spiritually alive) they will hear the inward call and will willingly submit to God as LORD of their lives. Since only the Elect are regenerated, they will ALL eventually submit to God willingly.
My question and comments: When I first started studying this topic I had a misunderstanding of what the reformed position was. I could think of several examples, in the Bible and in my own life, where God’s grace was resisted so I dismissed irresistible grace as being wrong. Now that I have studied the topic I now know what the reformed position is. It only applies to regeneration – see above.
I still have a small problem with this though. Does God make the Elect robots? After all if we have no choice as to whether we are regenerated or not then the Elect are reduced to nothing more than God-robots. Until recently I could see no other interpretation than this – God was forcing the Elect to become regenerated and violating their will. But that seems contrary to His character as revealed throughout the Bible. I do not contend that God does not have the right to do this, He does, but it just didn’t fit with everything that God is and has done. I have heard many try to explain that God was not forcing us but I was unconvinced by them…it all just seemed black and white to me.
So, does God bring people into the Kingdom “kicking and screaming” as one common objection puts it? If the unregenerate person knew beforehand what God was about to do (I.e. regenerate them) then the answer would be yes. I think that person would resist with everything they could muster. It would be a futile effort but one that I am sure would be made (because of the sin nature). The thing is though that God regenerates and changes the will, which is enslaved to sin, in the same instant. The newly regenerated person simply perceives that they have had an epiphany. Suddenly they can understand the Gospel that they are hearing and it requires action on their part.
Next, does God give the person a choice to accept or reject after regeneration. Most Southern Baptist’s would tell you that they believe that God must do something to open the eyes of the person before they can realize that they need a Savior. This is what I was taught and still believe today. Before a person can hear and respond to the Gospel’s inward call God must remove the “scales” from their eyes. Once their eyes are opened, at some point, the person sees and understands their own spiritual condition and will hear and respond (accept or reject) to the inward call when it comes. I don’t remember the word regeneration being used but after I started my studies I associated the word with the above description of what happens. I still believe that God must regenerate us but now I am not sure if I still believe that a choice to accept or reject God is given to the regenerate person or not.
My perspective on this changed on this issue while I was reading Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will by RC Sproul. On the last page (page 204) Sproul makes the point that freeing someone from slavery to sin should not be seen as violating the person’s free will. Liberating a slave is not forcing them to freedom. No liberated slave would be upset and complain that they had been freed against their will. I still have the thought of being “forced into the Kingdom” in the back of my mind but I have started down the road to a new perspective on this. What do you think?