Calvinism: Irresistible Grace

By Larry Ray Hafley

I. Introduction:

A. Definition of the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

1. “All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually 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, 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 anything at all foreseen in man, who 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” (The Westminister Confession of Faith, Chapter 10).

2. “As Calvinists we hold that the condition of men since the fall is such that if left to themselves they would continue in their state of rebellion and refuse all offers of salvation. Christ would then have died in vain. But since it was promised that He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, the effects of that sacrifice have not been left suspended upon the whim of man’s changeable and sinful will. Rather, the work of God in redemption has been rendered effective through the mission of the Holy Spirit who so operates on the chosen people that they are brought to repentance and faith, and thus made heirs of eternal life” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 163).

3. Irresistible – “that cannot be successfully resisted or opposed” (Webster).

B. This doctrine logically follows other Calvinistic tenets and teachings.

I . If one is totally depraved as Calvinism alleges that he is, i.e., “opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil,” then it follows that God must alter this state, for one in that condition could do nothing toward righteousness.

2. Our study, therefore, must focus on the state or condition of the sinner. Further, we must see the operation of the Spirit in the conviction and conversion of the sinner.

II. Discussion:

A. True, the sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). But what does this mean?

1. Calvinism equates deadness of sinner with a dead body. As one would not command a corpse to act in order to have life, so one cannot tell a “dead” sinner to act.

2. But the sinner’s death is not one of inability to act.

a. Sinner “walked” and “lived” in lusts (Eph. 2:2, 3; Col. 3:7 – NASB).

b. While acting, he was said to be dead, but how, in what sense?

(1) Obviously, not like a dead body, a corpse.

(2) “Dead in sins” equals separation from God’s favor, unforgiven (Isa. 59:1, 2; Col. 1:21; 1 Tim. 5:6).

(3) To be “quickened” (made alive) is to be forgiven all trespasses (Col. 2:13), hence, to be dead is to be unforgiven.

c. Calvinistic argument for irresistible grace is thus based on a false definition of death as regards the sinner.

d. Observe Calvinistic arguments that are based on this false concept.

(1) The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of Lazarus are given as examples of how God irresistibly quickens the dead sinner (Boettner, pp. 165, 168). Neither could resist the call to life – “It was not possible” (Acts 2:24).

(2) The sinner is “dead.” God must quicken them as He did Christ and as Christ did Lazarus (Jn. 5:21, 25).

(a) Yes, the voice (word) of the Son of God quickens (Psa. 119:50; Jn. 6:44, 45, 63, 68).

(b) Note: “they that hear shall live” (Jn. 5:25), but dead sinner may choose not to hear (Acts 13:26, 38, 39, 46; Matt. 13:15).

— Calvinist Objection, One must hear voice of Son of God, not voice of preacher.

— Answer To Objection: To hear preaching of the truth is to hear the voice of the Son of God (cf. Lk. 16:29; Acts 13:27; 15:21; Lk. 10:16). Calvinists assume immediate, direct speaking of Spirit.

3. Consider the opposite view, the “dead” saint (Rom. 6:2; Col. 3:3).

a. The saint is declared “dead” just as alien is, but in what sense? If being dead is compared to corpse as dead sinner is, saint is inactive (Eph. 2: 10)!

b. “Dead to sins” (1 Pet. 2:24) simply means separated from sins. As “dead in sins” means separated from God by sin (Col. 1:21), so “dead to sins” means alienated from guilt of sins.

c. Though saint is “dead to sins,” he can choose to sin (1 Jn. 1:8-10; Rom. 6:13; 8:12, 13). So, sinner “dead in sins” can choose to obey (Rom. 6:16-18).

d. Compare case of Adam. He was certainly “dead to sin,” and “totally hereditarily righteous. “

(1) It did not take a direct operation of the devil’s unholy spirit to move and motivate him. The devil used words and motives. While “dead” to sins, Adam heard, believed and obeyed.

(2) Cannot God appeal to one through words and motives as the devil did, or is the devil’s word more powerful than God’s gospel?

B. New Testament illustration and demonstrations of resistible and acceptable grace.

1 . First, it is the word of God, the gospel, which produces faith (Jn. 17:20; 20:30; 3 1; Acts 14: 1; 15:7; Rom. 10: 17). Even the devil knows this (Lk. 8:11, 12; 1 Thess. 2:16).

2. The Holy Spirit convicts and converts the sinner, but how does He do it?

a. Through words of the Spirit (see Acts 2:4, 22, 29, 36-41).

b. By preaching the gospel “with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (I Pet. 1: 12), Peter:

(1) Convicted men of murder (Acts 3:13-15).

(2) Urged them to repent and turn for forgiveness (Acts 3:19, 26).

(3) And “many of them which heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4).

3. The Holy Spirit can be resisted (Acts 6:10; 7:51-55). He was resisted by refusing the word preached (Acts 13:44-46).

III. Conclusion:

A. Objections to the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

1. It makes God responsible for every lost person. All are lost because God did not act on them. See statements in creed.

2. No person has ever been found who was saved, born again, where the gospel has not gone (cf. Jonah and Rom. 10:14).

3. It denies the all-sufficiency of the gospel as God’s power unto salvation.

B. What is your reaction to the word of the Spirit? Your reaction will determine your eternal destiny (Rom. 6:16-18; Acts 13:46).

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 16, pp. 485-486
August 18, 1983