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Irresistable Grace

Posted by: David Carroll

Irresistible grace is the fourth point of the five points of Calvinism. It means that according to God’s sovereignty, those whom he has chosen from before the foundation of the world will be subject to an irresistible call from God at some point in their lives and will exercise their faith in Him because of His working of grace in them apart from any movement of their own will. (I probably should look that up and get an exact definition but this is my understanding of it anyway.)

Let me say up front that I know and hear gladly many preachers who believe this doctrine including John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler and many others. But I have a problem with irresistible grace.

First of all I find within myself the ability to resist and the ability to exercise my own free will to choose good or bad. When I came to Christ, I came under much duress within my own heart. I don’t believe I was being dragged but I certainly believe I was being wooed not out of fear but out of a desire. But it was a tremendous internal struggle of the will. So unless I am a deceived robot, then I find within myself immediate evidence to reject this doctrine. However, the Biblical support for this doctrine comes from such verses as:

John 6:37,39,44 (NKJV)

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

I believe the Bible is verbal and plenary (word for word and sufficient) inspired word of God. There is no way I would argue with the clear words of scripture, and even less with Jesus’ very own words. But do these words confirm the doctrine of irresistible grace? Not necessarily. Firstly they show a loving God who woos and draws people to Himself but this wooing and drawing is not necessarily irresistible. Secondly, they are compatible with a sovereign God who foreknows those will choose to come to Jesus. For the Calvinist however, God’s choosing is not based on foreknowledge but rather on his sovereign decree.

But there is a more pernicious problem I have with this doctrine of irresistible grace. That problem comes from Jesus warning regarding the unpardonable sin:

Matthew 12:31-32 (NKJV)

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Those are strong words and regardless of exactly what “blasphemy against the Spirit” is, the consequences are undeniable. No forgiveness means no heaven which means eternal separation from God, otherwise known as hell.

Now, lest anyone start worrying about whether they have committed the unpardonable sin or not, I am told by almost every commentary I have read on this verse that if you are worried about it then you don’t need to be worried about it. In other words, the mere fact that you express concern over it means that you have not been guilty of it. This means that blasphemy against the spirit is spiteful and willful and therefore is not concerned in the least with such action.

The problem this verse presents to the doctrine of irresistible grace is that one word unpardonable. (I know that word is not in the verse but it is a convenient term for “will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come” which sounds even worse to me).

Follow me here. You must agree that the elect who will one day not be able to resist the drawing of God could not possibly commit an unpardonable sin. Why? Because they would not be elect if they did. So what does this say about those who are not elect, the ones who will certainly be able to resist God, which for the Calvinist is everybody else. If they are non-elect then they are by definition already unpardonable, regardless of what sin they will commit.  So if the elect will find God’s grace irresistible, then why is Jesus even making such a stern and dire warning not to do something that cannot be done by one group and would not matter anyway to the other? It would make Jesus into a terrorist striking fear into people unnecessarily.

No doubt the staunch Calvinist has already thought out a way to reconcile this dilemma, but I have never heard it. And if it is similar to the way they redefine the “whosoever wills” then I probably won’t understand it anyway.

I believe in election because that is a clear doctrine in the Bible. The question is what is it based upon? Foreknowledge or sovereign decree. I’ll write some more about that later. So does that make me a four point Calvinist? No, because I have a problem with the idea of Limited Atonement too but I’ll write about that one some other time as well.

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Bob wrote:
The problem that arises is why did you respond to the "wooing" of God by accepthing Christ while others simply rejected the same wooing? Without a particular and effectual view of grace you can only find the answer within youself, we as christians simply were more smart or tenderhearted than those who rejected the wooing.

Synergists almost always mischaricturize the calvinistic view of human freedom, equating it to making men into robots. The issue is not do we make choices but rather why do some make the choices for God while other continue to reject God?
wrote:
I think most Calvinists would say that the grace that is irrisistible is electing grace.

There may be a problem with pitting what is percieved in your personal experience as your own ability to "resist" the grace of God against election if you believe the doctrine of election as based on God's choice and not man's (Eph 1:4; Rom 8:28-30, 33; 1 Pet 1:1-2). To base such a doctrine on man is to make man the originator of salvation and not God, but the passages seem to indicate that God is the originator.

I think you answer your own question regarding the unpardonable sin when you state that those who can commit it are not elect. The non elect are not able to resist electing grace because it is not available to them to resist. If the elect were able to resist electing grace, that would prove only that either God is weak in His election and that just because He elects someone does not mean they will actually be saved, or it would prove they are not elect in the first place. Although I believe in foreknowledge on the basis of divine decree, I think this answers the question either way.

Please respond
David Carroll wrote:
See my next blog post for my opinion on who is the originator of salvation.

Regarding the unpardonable sin: I was trying to divide the world calvinisticly into two categories, those who will be pardoned (elect) and those who will not be pardoned (non-elect). To be consistent, wouldn't the calvinist have to say that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is equivalent to being non-elect? If not, then there must be at least three categories of people: elect who cannot commit unpardonable sins, non-elect who might commit this unpardonable sin, and non-elect who might accept Christ and thus be pardoned.
Rob Hall wrote:
I'm not sure I see what the tension is with saying that someone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit is non-elect, for the very reason that it states that they cannot be forgiven.

As to your last category: if election truly takes place before the foundation of the earth, then there are no non-elect who will recieve Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9. Faith itself is a gift of God. Someone cannot have it apart from its being given to them by Him.
wrote:
Also, you may find the nature of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit further defined by the context of the passage, because it is evident that the Pharisees were attributing the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ to Satan. Which seems to me to be an evidence of total rejection of God parallel to the descriptions found in Romans 1:18 and following.
David Carroll wrote:
OK, so non-elect = unpardonable and of course unpardonable does not apply to elect. It just seems to me to be a pointless statement by Jesus if there is no category of pardonable sin (all sin that does not constitute blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). If it is unpardonable because of some particular thing man does then inference would imply that there must be some category of sin that is pardonable because a man has not done that thing. In fact this is exactly what Jesus states.
Michael Petzer wrote:
Hey Guys!

I thought I might add my 5 cents worth to your erudite comments.

The whole concept of irresistable grace is something I utterly reject.

What kind of God is so insecure about the appeal of the sacrifice of his only Son on the human heart that he feels he must somehow bolster it by not leaving them with any choice at all. Does God so boubt the appeal of unconditional love expressed in the death, burial and ressurrection of Jesus that he has to settle for something as clinical as "election?"

Whatever happened to "we love because he first loved us?" If man has no choice, what kind of relationship does that secure. Does anyone enjoy people coming to them because they have to?

Why on earth would God say:
(Deuteronomy 30:19) "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,

(1 Timothy 2:4) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(Titus 2:11) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,

(2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

(1 John 2:2) and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

(2 Corinthians 5:19) namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Let's stick a little closer to the Word of Life and measure Calvin by it and not the Word of LIfe by Calvin.

Blessings

Mike