Irresistible Grace

Irresistible Grace

The next two days are actually among my favorites, partly because I love talking about God’s grace, but also because I like to talk about regeneration and what that means in the life of a believer (also why I looooove talking about covenant theology and the law gospel distinction). 

What is it?

Irresistible grace is the doctrine that teaches that when the Spirit of God is sent to change a person’s heart, that person cannot resist the change (A Puritan’s Mind link at the bottom). This is not to say that God is trying to fit square pegs into round holes. RC Sproul describes it as, “at the time of one’s choosing, God removes all obstacles a person has from hearing the gospel.”

The PRCA overview at the bottom also writes it as this:

You understand what the term “irresistible” emphasizes. Do not think that irresistible grace is some sort of blind force which simply drags the struggling, rebellious sinner into heaven against his will — as a policeman might drag a rebellious prisoner to jail. The grace of God is not such a power that compels to enter into heaven those who would not.

That God’s grace is irresistible emphasizes the idea that not only does grace bring His people to glory, but it prepares them for this glory and works within them the desire to enter into glory. Grace is irresistible in the sense that by it the knee is bent which otherwise would not bend; the heart is softened that otherwise is hard as stone. Nor is there anything which can prevent the accomplishment of that purpose of God to save His people by His grace.”

Moreover, they argue that you cannot hold to total depravity without also holding to irresistible grace and I think that’s a really important distinction to make. Again, if we are completely dead, we cannot make ourselves alive, so God will have to be the one who wakes us up and removes all obstacles for life in order for us to truly live.

But we also know that Matthew 22:14 says that many are called and few are chosen. 

But what about evangelism?

So this actually involves more deeply the idea of an effectual call and the idea of a general call, which I’ve talked about a couple of times previously. The general call is the call that goes out to everyone by the  sharing of the gospel. The effectual call is when the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the elect to bring them to him. In Humble Calvinism, J. A. Medders describes it as, “when the Spirit goes to work, he brings you to the place where you agree.”

There’s an extent where the effectual call should be something that any Christian who evangelizes should see. You could have an answer for every question and be as gracious as can be, but someone would still be blind to the truth of the gospel and their eyes just would not open. Even if you spend any length of time watching Ray Comfort videos (which I definitely do a lot of honestly lol), you see this seasoned pro going patiently and thoroughly through a gospel presentation and not everyone listens to even him. That’s not his fault. He is fulfilling the Great Commission by going out and evangelizing and hoping that some would hear the call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, knowing full well that it is God that saves and opens someone’s eyes.

But since God already knows who’s his and some people can hear the gospel and completely reject it, why even bother evangelizing? Well for one, Jesus put no restrictions on evangelism in the Great Commission. God commanding us to do something is really the only reason we need to do it. Even aside from that, it’s not like people walk around with neon signs above their heads saying “elect” and “reprobate.” We don’t know who is called, so we are doing the will of the Father by evangelizing, even imperfectly. And more than that, this should give us comfort and confidence because if the Holy Spirit is the one who changes hearts, we don’t have to worry about getting the words completely right or knowing all of the answers to all the questions. We just do something and God will do the rest. 

Scriptural Support for Irresistible Grace:

  • Psalm 110:3
  • John 6:37-39, 44; 10:1-30; 17:2
  • Acts 7, 9:6, 16
  • 1 Corinthians 15:10
  • Revelation 13:8, 17:8
  • Ephesians 1:19-20, 2:8-10
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10
  • Romans 8: 29-30

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 3, Chapter 3, Section 1
  • He also wrote on it in his commentary on John, particularly in chapter 6

More Resources to Learn:

Limited Atonement

Limited Atonement

Limited atonement was definitely the hardest one for me to accept, so if you’re having trouble with it, know that I can sympathize with your thoughts. The thing about the doctrines of grace is that each point depends on the others in order to really have any meat. You’ll notice in my posts that I will touch on a couple other points of Calvinism each time I write (though I definitely try my best to focus on one point) because they are so closely tied.

Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor, was actually the one who mainly put forth the idea of limited atonement. Some claim that he distorted Calvin’s views, but it’s more likely that he made them more explicit. One day, I may do a series of posts on the reformers in the same vein as the ones I’m doing on the early church fathers, and if I do, Beza will definitely be on that list, but for now, I will leave a few resources on Beza below, if you are curious.

Links: https://bit.ly/2GHDPh6https://bit.ly/2F9lwB7

What is it?

Why did Jesus die? Or rather, who did he die for? These questions are at the heart of the debates surrounding limited atonement. 

Limited atonement is the doctrine that states that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for all of mankind, but effectual for the elect (this also ties into irresistible grace for tomorrow). Many prefer not to use the term limited atonement (or any of the other labels that are parts of TULIP) because they find it to be a bit misleading. RC Sproul tends to lean towards using definite atonement. No matter what you call it, all Christians have to come to grips with the idea that not all people will be saved, if we are to be biblically faithful.

But what about the whole world?

“Almost everyone limits the atonement in one way or another,” J. A. Medders writes in Humble Calvinism. “Unless you’re a universalist, who thinks that Christ’s death saves everyone regardless of their response to the gospel, you limit or define the atonement’s effects. All orthodox Christians limit the atonement as being effective for those who have placed faith in Christ’s death in their place. The Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement limits the scope of the atonement while expressing its effectiveness. Jesus’ death redeemed his people, specifically.”

But John 3:16 says that God so loved the whole world, how could he limit (or define) the atonement to only apply to certain people? When we look at scripture, we need to survey the whole counsel of God. and you’re right, hypothetical person, God does love the world enough to send Jesus to save it. The call is sufficient for all, even if not effectual for all. One of the first things we need to look at is the way “the world” is used in scripture and in the book of John, specifically. If you take the time to read through the book of John one day, you’ll notice that John speaks of the world in a figurative way. Typically, when the world is used, it’s used to mean that it applies not to Jews, but also to Gentiles. It is not talking about every individual person in the world. An example of this is John 1 speaking of Jesus being in the world. When we read that, we don’t think that Jesus’ human body is physically at every spot in the world.  

An Old Testament example of the Bible consistently referring to “the world” in this way is when writers speak of “all of Israel” doing something. We typically don’t read that as every man, woman, and child in the whole country individually doing something, many times we read it figuratively. 

In John 10:14-15, Jesus lays out the case that he is for his sheep saying:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay my life down for the sheep.

2 Timothy 2:10 is probably the most explicit in stating this:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Another aspect of objections to limited atonement/definite redemption is whether or not Jesus’ death atoned for all sin or did his death make atonement possible for any sinner. The general Arminian argument is that there are no (or little) limits to who Jesus’ sacrifice is for because Jesus made a way for man to become right with God. I think many don’t mean it in such a way to indicate that this somehow makes the responsibility of the person to make themselves right with God, but it effectively does end up that way and that is the actual argument of the Remonstrants. The Calvinist would argue that the atonement was for the sins of the elect because if there was a person that Jesus died for that was not elect, that would mean that his death did not accomplish what Jesus set out to do (Luke 19:10, “the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost,” if he did not save, then the work is not finished).

The question really comes down to (in my eyes) did Jesus atone or did he make atonement attainable?

Scriptural Support for Limited Atonement:

  • John 1:13, 6:37-39, 10:1-30, 17:2
  • Mark 13:20
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-8, 27-29
  • Revelation 13:8, 17:8
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10
  • Romans 9

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 2, chapter 15-16
  • Book 3, chapter 21, sec 5-7
  • Book 3, chapter 23, sec 1

More Resources to Learn:

Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election

I wanted to say this in yesterday’s preface, but it felt like my little preface was too long, so I figured part of it could wait a day. The acrostic TULIP is used to describe the doctrines of grace, but John Calvin was French and did most of his ministry in Geneva, Switzerland, so he did not speak or write in English. Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination used the acrostic TULIP for the doctrines of grace in 1932 and was originally thought to be the first use of it, but it seems that in 1913, William Vail’s The New Outlook recalls TULIP being used in a lecture by Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee in 1905. While it is unlikely to have gone back too much further in Christian history, it’s clearly a tool that is American in origin.

Parts of the doctrines of grace themselves even predate John Calvin. Some of the concepts can be found in some of the writings of Irenaeus and later, St. Augustine of Hippo. The codified concepts are largely found in Calvin’s systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the points themselves were developed as a response to the Remonstrants in the Netherlands and their 5 points of Arminianism. The 5 points of Arminianism were put on trial at the Synod of Dort in Dordrecht, Netherlands and the decision that was made is known as the Canons of Dort, which is one document that’s part of the Three Forms of Unity (the Dutch Reformed confessional documents).

What is it?

Unconditional election is the doctrine that states that God chose us from before the foundations of the world for no other reasoning than God’s own glory. We did not do anything to earn this. God did not look down the corridors of time and choose those that he knew would independently choose him if given the chance (this would be conditional election). God chose the elect sola gratia, by grace alone.

But what about free choice?

So today’s topic and tomorrow’s topic are both pretty difficult for people to accept, generally, and I think it’s partly due to the fact that they both touch on the topic of reprobation, which is super uncomfortable for most people because we don’t like telling people that they’re going to hell. To say God chose some is to say that God did not choose others and it is even more objectionable to hear that those he chose were chosen for seemingly no reason, since they did not merit being chosen.

How could God send people to hell? When Ray Comfort speaks of his book Hitler, God, and the Bible; he says that he went into his research in his subconscious thinking “how could God create a hell?” but after seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, he “came out of that thinking, ‘how could God not create hell? There must be punishment for evil.’ If God is just and good and holy, there must be retribution, or God is wicked and evil because any judge that turns a blind eye to such wickedness and says, ‘I don’t care’ is evil by nature.”

Link: https://bit.ly/2SymYQp 

Why does God pick people against their will? If he didn’t, no one would be saved. Because we are all born in original sin, totally depraved, with hearts naturally bent towards sin and against God, God in his grace and mercy has to be the one that wakes our hearts up because we otherwise wouldn’t choose that. This gets a little into what’s called the order of salvation, if you remember from my post on Lordship Salvation. I am going to put a little resource on the ordo salutis below so you can check back to that, I’ve found it super helpful.

Link: https://bit.ly/apmordosalutis 

Now, this is not to say that God is lining humanity up and picking some people off to go to heaven and others to hell at his every casual whim and this is something I will be getting into a bit more tomorrow, so bear with me if this is something you struggle with. 

Ultimately, I see the doctrine of election as a gracious doctrine because it means that I don’t have to earn a right standing with God by praying a prayer and “meaning it enough.” It takes the focus off of myself and puts it back on God and his sovereignty. That he is sovereign to the point of not just predicting the future, but ordaining the future to the point of orchestrating a divine intervention in my heart. If Christianity is true (which I believe it is), I don’t want free will. I want God to override what I think I want and give me what is best for me, himself forever.

Scriptural Support for Unconditional Election:

  • John 1:13, 6:37-39, 10:1-30, 17:2
  • Mark 13:20
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-8, 27-29
  • Revelation 13:8, 17:8
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • 2 Timothy 1:9-10
  • Romans 9

 

John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:

  • Book 3, chapter 21, sec 5-7
  • Book 3, chapter 23, sec 1

 

More Resources to Learn: