Sorry it has been so long since my last post in this series. Lots of stuff going on over the past few weeks. But thanks for sticking with me as we examine why we don’t have to be so afraid of being accused of Calvinism just because we start talking about grace a lot more. Of course, there is a lot to be disappointed with in the tenet of Irresistible Grace. But just because we teach grace doesn’t mean we are teaching irresistible grace. Read on to find out more.
You have stumbled across a series of posts in which I hope to explain a third alternative in a major religious debate today. Some seem to believe there are only two choices: 1) Believe we are not saved by grace or 2) Be a Calvinist. This series of articles proposes a third alternative: 3) Rely completely on God’s grace without becoming a Calvinist. For more insight to this series, click here to read the introduction. Click here to read the first true installment of this series on God’s sovereignty and glory. Click here to read the second installment on depravity. Click here to read the third installment on election. Or click here to read the previous installment on atonement.
As we’ve done in each installment, let’s find out what real down the line, five point Calvinists have to say about the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.
“In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected; whereas the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended” (David Steele and Curtis Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philipsburg, NJ, 1963, p. 18).
Like Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement, this tenet is the logical conclusion from the previous points of the TULIP. If man is so depraved because of Adam’s sin that he is unable to even respond to God in any way to have determining involvement in whether or not he is saved, then those who are saved can only be saved by God’s unconditional election. If only those who are unconditionally elect are saved and all others remain lost, then Jesus did not offer atonement by His death to any but those elected to salvation. Finally, since there is no determining factor when it comes to receiving God’s grace on man’s part and only on God’s, then the elect cannot resist the saving and atoning grace any more than unregenerate man can pursue it. The elect will necessarily and irresistibly be saved by God’s grace.
What Calvin Got Right
I know it is hard to believe, but I think Calvinism gets at least one thing right in this tenet. We must not be afraid to teach it just because some will accuse us of being Calvinists no matter how much we protest.
- We really must depend on the Holy Spirit to renew and regenerate us (Titus 3:3-7).
Remember, in our series we’ve already learned that while we allowed ourselves to become depraved by our own submission to sin (Romans 6:16) and became by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), we are not so depraved that we are unable to choose to turn to God and accept what He has offered us. That being said, we know from Titus 3:3-7 that the change we experience from worldly sinners to the godly righteous doesn’t come because we have been so awesome. It comes because of the grace God pours out on those who turn to Jesus Christ in faith. The reason we are now different from those who continue to be “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” is not because we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and can now bring to God our amazing transformation as argument for why we should be saved in the end. Rather, the difference is God’s work through His Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have volunteered to be part of His army and family.
The difference between those who will be eternally separated from God (hell) and those who will be gathered in fellowship with Him around His throne (heaven) is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Why I Don’t Want to Be a Calvinist
I don’t want to be a Calvinist because while we cannot be renewed without the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the Holy Spirit will not extend His amazing work in our lives unless we cooperate. We can in fact resist the grace the Holy Spirit is offering.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, we are told not to quench the Spirit. That, of course, is an impossibility if the Spirit’s grace is irresistible. And this becomes nothing more than a semantic game of words if the unelect can’t help but quench the Spirit and the elect cannot possibly quench the Spirit.
In Acts 7:51, Stephen claims the Jews always resisted the Holy Spirit. Of course, the full-on Calvinist will say that’s because Stephen was talking to people who weren’t of the elect. They obviously resist God’s grace. However, this defense falls apart when considered logically. If the grace of the Holy Spirit is irresistible, then no one can be said to resist the grace of the Spirit. The elect do not resist because they simply cannot. That is, after all, the definition of the irresistible grace. The rest do not resist because no grace has been offered to resist. I have never resisted a gift of $1 million because I’ve never been offered a gift of $1 million. (BTW: I would love the opportunity to potentially resist this offer, so if you have a stray million laying around, I’d be happy to entertain your offer.) Please, don’t muddy the waters with claims of outward calls and inward calls. The outward call is a sham for those who cannot respond and is unnecessary for those who are drawn by the irresistible inward call. The Jews only resisted the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit legitimately offered them grace and they refused it, resisting the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 13:43, Paul and Barnabas encouraged those who followed their teaching to continue in the grace of God. That is really a useless command. After all, if these new followers were part of the elect, they would be unable to do anything but continue in the grace of God. And if they were not actually part of the elect, they weren’t in the grace to begin with and were completely unable to continue in it.
According to 2 Corinthians 6:1, it is possible to receive God’s grace in vain. That means it is possible to receive God’s grace in such a way that it does a person absolutely no good. If Irresistible Grace is true, then this passage cannot possibly be true. After all, if God’s grace is irresistible I simply cannot receive it in vain. I either don’t receive it or it is thrust upon me with effectiveness that doesn’t allow for vain reception. The Calvinist tells us that God’s grace is never in vain and always causes what it sets out to produce. But Paul urges us not to receive it in vain.
An Illustration of the Third Alternative
In the false dichotomy so many religious people argue between, one alternative is that salvation is entirely up to God. He chooses the elect. Jesus atoned for the elect. The Holy Spirit irresistibly draws and regenerates the elect. At the other extreme of this false dichotomy, man is at the center. Not only is his own will one of the determining factors, he seems to be accomplishing it because of his great and awesome ability to transform himself to line up with God’s law despite all of his past sins.
The third alternative explains that man has irreparably harmed himself by his sinning. He cannot throw off the shackles of sin on his own. He can, however, turn to God and seek God’s grace to produce that transformation. In this alternative God has truly and really offered this to all. But we can resist it.
I’ve tried to use positive illustrations of this third alternative in other posts. However, in this one we see a negative illustration. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Did Jesus lie here? Was He just playing word games? Had he really tried to gather them and wanted to gather them? Because if that is true and His grace is irresistible, then why didn’t it happen? What does the text say? Because the people He offered this grace to were not willing. They resisted. They could not have the gathering, the protection, the salvation apart from the grace of Jesus. That grace was really offered to them. But they resisted it. They did not resist God’s grace because they were not the elect. Rather, they did not become the elect because they resisted God’s grace.
So, I believe in the regenerating and renewing of the Holy Spirit. I believe I cannot break free from the shackles of sin without Him. However, I still don’t want to be a Calvinist.
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