IRRESISTIBLE GRACE

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?

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8 Responses to IRRESISTIBLE GRACE

  1. astandard says:

    Tom,

    Sproul is on the right track. I would put it this way: Christ is so magnificent that he who sees Him with Spirit-anointed eyes in the Gospel cannot help but love Him. It is not that a Christian is “forced” into loving Christ. No, no. It is that Christ is so wonderful of Himself that anyone that catches a glimpse of what He really is would ever conceive of doing anything else. This is what is so tragic about sin: it has a blinding power that renders us incapable of seeing whether He who alone is “altogether lovely” (Song of Sol. 5:16) is really worth pursuing at all. But once the Spirit lifts the veil, all is changed.

    Isn’t this exactly what Paul was saying in 2 Cor. 4:3, 4? “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

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  2. Astandard – does the human viewing the glory of Jesus have any power to not love the Savior?

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  3. astandard says:

    Pastor Warren,

    Unlike the Bible, we are not exactly objective here. As prideful men, our native tendency (apart from God’s grace) is to exalt man’s sovereignty and God’s responsibility. Yet innumerable Scriptures could be produced that do exactly the opposite. So how do we react to that? If we are more zealous to defend the sanctity of man’s freewill than the Bible itself is, are we really thinking clearly about the matter?

    Take the 2 Cor. 4:3, 4 passage I’ve already mentioned. Paul plainly says “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” Now are we prepared to believe him? Paul does not anticipate that a whole segment of humanity would be walking around with perfect spiritual vision and yet rejecting Christ. So why do so many of our brethren today hold to a theology that presupposes — even demands — just such a possibility?

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  4. Brother – referring to the ‘god of this age’ (Satan) having veiled the eyes of those who are now prevented from seeing the light of the Gospel seems to be significantly different from God himself covering the eyes of a generation. The ‘therefore’ at the beginning of this passage (v1) must cause us to read the preceding pericope in which Paul laments the Jews who continue to hang on to the old covenenant even though Christ has created a new covenant. Were they compelled not to believe in Christ by Yahweh or were they able to exercise free will in deciding that one truth (the old covenant) was true while the new covenant (Jesus) was not?

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  5. astandard says:

    Brother Warren,

    Allow me to first answer your last question. My answer is the same that Christ gave to Jews that would not believe in His words (the new covenant) in John 8:47, “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” There Jesus tells the unbelievers standing in front of Him Himself that their unbelief had everything to do with “who” they were — “ye are not of God” — not simply what they chose to think. The unbelief was simply a natural outworking of what they were.

    So in a sense I agree with you regarding who Paul is speaking about in 2 Corinthians 4. Even closer contextually, he is talking about “those that are lost” (v. 3), those that “believe not” (v. 4). And yes, he probably had unbelieving Jews in mind as well, though these two terms suggest that he has greatly broadened the scope from chapter 3. I’m unclear how these distinctions change anything in your favor. Please help me understand what you meant.

    Is Satan blinding in fact significantly different from God’s ordaining that blindness? How do you explain Matthew 11:25 then? The devil is doing the blinding as God’s instrument here in 2 Cor. 4, but Christ doesn’t shrink from ultimately assigning the deed to God, as you have. After pronouncing judgment upon unbelieving Jews there He prays, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”

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  6. Pingback: Does Calvinism Create God Robots? « The Everyday Christian

  7. JT says:

    Calvinism is the scariest thing for me. I am not talking hyperbole when I say that it makes me sick to my stomach.

    I believe God will do what he wants to do, because he is God. But I also believe that God is not willing that any perish.

    God came to save the world, not the elect.

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  8. Tom says:

    JT said,

    I believe God will do what he wants to do, because he is God. But I also believe that God is not willing that any perish.

    God came to save the world, not the elect.

    Does that mean that you believe that every person will go to Heaven. That seems to be the position you are advocating.

    Matthew 1:20-21 says But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (21) She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It appears He has begun to separate out His people before He was even born (from eternity past actually).

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