Irresistible Grace

Introduction

This fourth tenet of Calvinism has two primary points: One, the elect cannot resist God's grace to save; therefore, the elect cannot prevent themselves from being regenerated. Second, this grace unto salvation is bestowed directly by the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit directly and forcefully changes the heart of man, outside of any other medium, such as the Bible.

Our Questions Posed

Logically derived from the first 3 tenets of Calvinism, the bestowment of God's grace must be irresistible. If salvation was left up to each man, then a chosen person might not to choose to be saved, defeating God's election. For this reason and because of man's total depravity, God must actively save each person. Therefore, in Calvin's system of theology, men become passive subjects of divine regeneration. This belief is clearly seen in a prevalent denominational church's confession of faith:

"All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectively to call, by His word and Spirit, out of that state of 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 them a 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 by it." Westminster Confession, chapter 10, sections 1-2

Having these two Calvinistic points before us, we will now proceed to question the validity of these points, trying to provide answers according to the Bible standard. Therefore, let us consider, "Is God's grace irresistible?" and "Does the Spirit directly convert man outside the appeal of the gospel?".

Resistible!

Several examples could be listed from the Bible showing man's rejection of the divine effort to save him. One of the clearest examples is seen in the following passage:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" Luke 13:34

Why were the Jerusalem Jews not saved? Was not Christ willing? As God was He not able to save? Why were they not saved? Christ wanted them to be saved. The answer is in the last phrase, "but you were not willing" . From this verse, we learn that even though God desires man to be saved, he may still be lost through his own unwillingness.

Throughout the Israelite nation's history, God made continual efforts to save the Israelites. Unfortunately, they refused to repent, obey, and be saved. Please observe this account of God's judgment upon Israel and its final earthly king.

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD God of Israel.

Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the LORD which He had consecrated in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy." II Chronicles 36:11-16

In this passage we observe several points contradictory to Calvinism: King Zedekiah hardened his own heart, and he did not humble himself ultimately before God. Yet according to Calvin, a man cannot harden his heart or even enjoy the possibility of humbling himself because man is born completely hardened , and God makes all choices.

Also, this passage exhibits the rejection of God's compassionate extension of mercy. The phrase "rising up early" indicates God's eagerness and sincere efforts to redeems His people, but how did the Israelites respond to God's grace? "But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy." Why did God's compassion motivate Him to send messengers to a people who could not respond? If these people were doomed to be lost and reject God, then God would not and could not even try to save them. Otherwise, how can the atonement be limited , if in this example it is extended to the lost, and how can it be irresistible if it is rejected? If God's sovereignty is extended absolutely, how could God's efforts have failed?

The Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit?

In answering our second question, "Does the Spirit directly convert man outside the appeal of the gospel?", let us look at two passages, which might be used to teach that the Holy Spirit does directly operate on man's heart.

"For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." I Thessalonians 1:5

"Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul." Acts 16:14

When you read these passages does it seem to imply that the Lord directly changed the hearts of men through the Holy Spirit? Look closely. What do the passages strictly state? The first passage states that the gospel came in the spoken word and in the Holy Spirit. The second verse directly says that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to understand.

If one is sympathetic to the Calvinistic position, these passages may seem to justify the irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit. However, several assumptions are made from these passages to produce the desired conclusion. Notice what these passages did not say. Even though I Thessalonians 1:5 states that the Holy Spirit came in addition to the spoken word, it does not say that He directly operated on the Thessalonians' heart. Neither does Acts 16:14 explain how the Lord opened Lydia's heart. It directly states that the Lord opened her heart, but it does not state that He directly opened her heart.

This assumption illustrates a common error that occurs when one approaches the Bible desiring to justify a belief with the love of truth held second to a love of tradition (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). These passages do teach that the Lord affects peoples' hearts through the Holy Spirit. This point is not under question. What we desire to know is how the Holy Spirit affects people. Rather than assume a conclusion consistent with our own beliefs, we must derive a conclusion from all passages to be consistent with the Bible as a whole.

The Operation of the Holy Spirit THROUGH the Word of God

How does the Holy Spirit affect men's hearts? Just before He was crucified, Jesus explained to the apostles that the He would send the Holy Spirit, Who would reveal all truth to them (John 16:5-15). It was the apostles responsibility to spread this gospel through preaching and writing (Matthew 28:18-20). When we read their inspired writings, we can understand and learn so that we may share their understanding (Ephesians 3:3-5).

They were not speaking their opinions, nor were they left to their own remembrance. As we have noted elsewhere, the Holy Spirit guided them in their speaking and writing, so that it was as if the Holy Spirit was speaking (I Corinthians 2:6-16; Matthew 10:20; I Thessalonians 2:13; II Peter 1:20-21). It is through hearing this gospel, delivered by the Holy Spirit, that one's heart is pricked, after which one may believe and repent (Acts 2:37-38; Romans 10:17). Therefore, it may be said that the Holy Spirit operates indirectly on men's hearts through the medium of the Word of God, or the Bible.

Although no passages are known to this writer that teach the Holy Spirit's direct operation on men's hearts, the above passages clearly teach that the inspired preaching, inspired writing, and miracles towards confirmation were the primary works of the Holy Spirit. These passages also clearly teach that one's heart is pricked, made tender, and enlightened by the gospel, explaining how the Lord opened Lydia's heart.

The following table lists even more passages showing the work accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

Holy Spirit Work Gospel
Nehemiah 9:20 Instructs II Timothy 3:16-17
John 14:26 Teaches Psalm 119:97-102
John 16:8 Convicts Titus 1:9;
Romans 3:9-19
John 6:63 Quickens Psalm 119:50
John 16:13 Guides Psalm 119:105
John 3:5 Gives birth I Peter 1:23
I Peter 1:2 Sanctifies John 17:17;
II Thessalonians 2:13
Titus 3:5 Saves James 1:21
I Corinthians 6:11 Washes Ephesians 5:26
Acts 9:31 Comforts I Thessalonians 4:18
Ephesians 1:13 Seals Ephesians 1:13
John 15:26 Testifies John 5:39
Romans 8:16 Witnesses Matthew 24:14
Romans 5:5 Gives love I John 2:5
Galatians 5:22 Gives joy Jeremiah 15:16;
I Thessalonians 1:6

The Holy Spirit is not synonymous with, nor is it the Word of God, but He is responsible for each of these actions through the delivery and imbuing of the Bible.

In some of the above passages we find reference to both the Holy Spirit and the Word of God accomplishing the above tasks, while other passages only mention the Spirit or the Word, but not both. It should be understood that in the above passages where only one is mentioned, the other's place is assumed to be understood by the writer. A writer need not fully pen every detail of every doctrine with every reference. Often the "Holy Spirit" or the "word" is used alone for the sake of brevity or conciseness. Once the relationship is established, it need not be reestablished at every mention of either the Holy Spirit or the gospel.

"The Power of God Unto Salvation"

The question that plagued Calvin and many like-minded thinkers was, "Why are some saved and others are not?" "Why do some obey after hearing the gospel and others do not?" Calvin's answer was that God chose certain people to be saved and then brought about their repentance and salvation directly through the Holy Spirit. If this is not true, then what makes the difference? To begin to answer this question, let us observe the following passage:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." Romans 1:16

This establishes our previous point that the gospel is the key to salvation (James 1:21). Of course, it is delivered by the Holy Spirit, hence His name is often used in conjunction with the gospel. However, many people hear the gospel, but few repent and obey it. What makes the difference? The difference is seen in Jesus' previously noted explanation of the parable of the sower:

"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

"Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." Luke 8:11-15

Reinforcing our previous point, the seed that sprouts and produces fruit is the Word of God. Among the four types of ground, which represent the four types of hearts, three respond to the gospel, but only one remains faithful. One type of heart does not even respond at all. What is the difference? The wayside ground is the hardened path, into which no seed can penetrate and germinate. This represents those who have a hardened heart and ignore the gospel until the Devil removes it from their attention. The last type of ground has some sense of nobility and goodness, appreciates the call of Christ's love through the gospel, and has enough humility to accept God's grace (James 1:18; I Peter 5:5-10; II Peter 1:3).

The Bible also distinguishes the differing types of hearts as those who do or do not receive the love of the truth (II Thessalonians 2:9-12). This finally resolves to an individual choice for each person. Do you really want to be saved? Are you willing to make real and difficult sacrifices in this life? Do you love truth enough to sincerely hear it? "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear"

Conclusion

We have observed examples in both the New and Old Testaments, which contained people resisting God's grace towards them. This teaches that grace is not irresistible. We have also observed passages that show the Holy Spirit touches peoples' hearts indirectly through the word of God, or the Bible. But, we were unable to find any passages that show men who were unable to resist God's grace, or the Holy Spirit directly affecting their hearts. In the absence of such passages, how can we assume that God irresistibly and directly saves people? Passages that mention God touching people's hearts should be understood in light of scripture, not under the pressure of our traditions. The only questions which remains is, "To which interpretation will you abide and live? - one that is based on scripture, or one that is based on assumption and prejudice?"

Next: Perseverance of the Saints

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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