“Very simply put, the doctrine of irresistible grace means God overcomes all human resistance within those who are His chosen ones – His elect.”
All men (including the elect) resist God’s grace. This resistance is real and genuine. But in the end, the grace God has toward His elect people is “irresistible.”
The Bible is filled with accounts of men resisting the plans and purposes of God.
Jesus’ parable of the landowner and evil tenants is basically a summary of Israel’s continuous rebellion throughout the Old Testament (Matthew 21:33-43). Stephen preached to certain Jews saying, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). Paul wrote, “… concerning Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’” (Romans 10:21).
The Bible even warns believers not to go against God. “… do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30). “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
We saw in our study of the doctrine of total depravity that rebellion and resistance against God is every person’s natural disposition. Man’s problem is more than just outward acts of sin. The core of rebellion lies within a person’s heart – their soul.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).
“… the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7).
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18).
Please remember – a sinner can’t change himself any more than a leopard can change his own spots (Jeremiah 13:23).
The Scriptures are very clear on this. The Bible repeatedly shows it takes a sovereign, divine act of God to overcome a person’s resistance to spiritual change. Until this happens a person CAN’T change; nor do they WANT to change.
God told Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). Who does it? God. Who does it all by Himself? God does. Man doesn’t help.
Please take note – this is where many fellow Christians really miss a major “truth.”
The Bible never tells us a person’s faith is somehow present before that person’s heart is changed by God. Nor does the Bible tell us a person’s faith triggers a divine act of God to change their heart. Yet this is what most Christians today think happens – all because Arminian doctrines are taught in most evangelical churches.
According to the Bible, God acts upon a human heart first. Then – and only then – does a person’s disposition toward the things of God change. Read the following passage from Ephesians chapter 2 very carefully. Most Christians read it without ever grasping what’s really being said …
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Do you see what Paul is saying here? We (believers) were once spiritually “dead.” Death means separation. Spiritual death is spiritual separation from God. We were spiritually separated from God until He spiritually regenerated us – “made us alive.” But notice – God makes those who are spiritually dead alive by His grace – all by Himself – NOT because we FIRST BELIEVE.
In previous articles we talked about the fact that spiritually dead persons don’t have the power to make themselves alive any more than physically dead persons (like Lazarus) have the ability to make themselves physically alive. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Spiritually dead people cannot act upon themselves; God sovereignly acts upon them.
In the article on Unconditional Election we talked about how Arminianism teaches that a person first “makes a decision” for Christ, and THEN (afterwards) becomes born again. But the Bible clearly says God, in a sovereign, divine work (on His own) accomplishes regeneration (new birth) within a human heart FIRST.
This is important to keep in mind when thinking about a person’s natural resistance to the Gospel.
Unless God intervenes, and overcomes the rebellion in a person’s heart toward the things of God, that person will never come to exercise personal faith in Christ. In studying unconditional election we saw how the general calling of repentance goes out to the “whole world.” And everyone, in their natural state of total depravity, resists the call to repentance and faith in Christ. If God left things alone at that point no one would ever come to saving faith in Christ. No one.
But the wonderful and glorious thing for Christians is God doesn’t just leave things alone. In His mercy, God chose to elect a people for Himself – and give them grace. In doing so, He changes the hearts of these individuals – at certain and precise times – according to His purposes. When He does this for any sinner they can respond to God’s call to them in the Gospel. Repentance and faith now become possible for them.
That is irresistible grace at work. You can see this in the following Scriptures: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
“… no one can come to me (Jesus) unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:64-65).
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
“… we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and
Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers… they cannot see the light of the gospel … God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia… The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him… On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” (Acts 18:24).
Before God sovereignly moves upon someone’s heart and changes it, that person doesn’t want to make any kind of “decision” for Christ. After God sovereignly moves upon that person’s heart (not before) they freely want to respond to the call of the Gospel. Believers DO make real choices. But their choice is secondary to God’s. Believer’s choices aren’t primary,or ultimate. No one chooses God before He first chooses them. “… to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).
The Holy Spirit overcomes all resistance within God’s chosen ones.
These chosen ones don’t deserve or merit God’s grace. “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy … It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:14-16). God’s grace is irresistible toward those whom He has elected to salvation.
Unless God effectively works a divine miracle within a human heart that person will never bow their knee to confess Christ as King. The world scoffs, mocks and laughs at this precious truth. Christians however, should not. Unless a person understands God’s grace as being “irresistible” they’re going to miss the meaning of grace altogether. It’s a truth meant to inspire awe and humility within those whom God grants salvation.
Written by: Dr. Charles F. Betters and Joe Farinacchio