Why I Love the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace
March 5, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
This is part four of a five-part series where I explore the goodness of what is commonly known as the Five Points of Calvinism, summarized by the acronym TULIP. Historically, Reformed churches have looked to this acronym as a summary God’s work in our salvation. While we believe the truths are rooted in Scripture, the “five points” often solicit strong reactions. Let’s consider each, seeking to deepen our delight in the God who saves.
Once again, we are confronted with the issue of unclear terminology. Total depravity is misunderstood as teaching humans are as sinful as they can be. Limited atonement is misunderstood as teaching that Christ’s death on the cross is limited in some way. And, irresistible grace is misunderstood as teaching that God will drag people into heaven kicking and screaming against their wills.
God does not drag anyone to heaven against his or her will.
We have already established that our wills are in the bondage and corruption of sin (total depravity). Without outside help, no one will ever choose God. Thankfully, God, in his mercy and grace, has chosen to help some to overcome their sin and respond in faith to the gospel (unconditional election). God’s choosing is never based upon our performance. Irresistible grace teaches that God’s initiative to save someone never fails. This is plainly taught in Scripture.
Jesus teaches in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” God initiates and people come to Christ. There is a sweet security behind this. Jesus emphasizes this in John 10:28, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Paul explains the certainty of God’s work in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined (unconditional election) he also called (irresistible grace), and those whom he called he also justified (salvation by faith alone), and those whom he justified he also glorified (eternal life).” Paul reports this chain of events as a matter of fact. Those who are “called,” i.e. drawn by God’s grace in the Gospel and awaken by the power of the Holy Spirit, respond in faith and are justified. For Paul already established that no one is justified apart from faith (cf. Rom. 3:28, 5:1).
The Westminster Standards do not directly speak of irresistible grace, but they do speak about effectual calling, which is similar. Question 31 of the Shorter Catechism asks, “What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”
Irresistible grace is the gracious working of God through the Holy Spirit. That grace is the effectual calling of the Spirit. As a work of grace, the Spirit convinces us of sin, enlightens our minds, and renews our wills. This gracious work “persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus.” We use the word “irresistible” to describe this grace because the Spirit effectual “persuades and enables” us to respond to the gospel with faith. No one is “kicking and screaming.” Our hearts, minds, and wills are set free from the corruption of sin to see Jesus as he truly is: beautiful and desirable. When free from the bondage of sin, our wills desire Jesus.
Why do I love this doctrine (other than being faithful to the teaching of Scripture)?
- We continue in the journey of faith in the same way we start. The Holy Spirit graciously works in our hearts and wills so that we delight in and choose Christ. The Spirit continues to do that transformative work as we behold Christ through the means of grace (2 Cor. 3:18). I am sustained in faith by the gracious work of the Spirit. That’s encouraging.
- It exalts the goodness of Christ. What do we believe about the condition of the human mind and heart as God originally made them? Genesis 1:31 says everything was “very good.” Therefore, as originally created, the human heart and mind would see and delight in God and his Son perfectly. Anything less would not be “very good.” God made us to enjoy him forever.
So, why don’t we enjoy him as we should? We explain that by understanding the corruption of sin. Irresistible grace teaches that God graciously overcomes the effects of sin so that the human heart and mind can behold Christ as they were created to do. Christ is infinitely glorious! When the human heart beholds Christ without the corruption and distraction of sin, the heart delights in Christ. That is the only appropriate response to the infinite goodness of Christ. There is absolutely no “kicking and screaming” against one’s will. Anyone who kicks and screams against the beauty of Christ is still dead in their sin.