January 27, 2014

Simply Irresistible…Grace

by Clint Archer

iMagnetOne of the most graphic and disturbing war movies is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Set during the Second World War, an American widow, Mrs Ryan, is informed that three of her four sons have been killed in action, during the Normandy invasion. The army decides to bring her youngest son home. They dispatch a platoon on a quest to locate and rescue Private Ryan.

The platoon of intrepid soldiers risk their necks, brave terrifying circumstances on this perilous mission, and several of them lose their lives in the effort to save his. But when they finally find Private Ryan and announce the good news that they have come to rescue him, they encounter the one obstacle they could not have anticipated: he refuses to come with them. He doesn’t think it’s fair for him to be saved while his compatriots are left behind. And so he “resists” the rescue.

Instead of removing him by force, they decide to fight alongside him to protect him where he is, until he changes his mind. {Spoiler alert…} In the process the valiant rescuers all die, failing their mission to save Private Ryan. *Sniff*

I hope I’m not being overly “relevant” to suggest that the film illustrates all that is wrong with the Arminian view. Jacobus Arminius taught that God’s saving grace could be resisted by an exercise of the free will of the person God extended his grace to. What the Bible teaches, on the other hand (and what John Calvin’s followers articulated in the “I” of the TULIP acrostic), is that when God’s invincible grace dispatches his Son to die for a sinner and his Spirit to save that soul, the mission of redemption will most certainly be accomplished. The grace of God is thus irresistible.


This is the good news part of Calvinism. It is how God wins when he is up against Total Depravity. How does God get anyone saved if their hearts are not willing to come, able to understand, or able to respond? Answer: God’s unstoppable grace changes your heart, mind, will, and desires. His grace gives you a new heart, a new will, and a new life. As in…

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The doctrine of Irresistible Grace is a glistening jewel of due nestled in among the petals of the TULIP. It really is a glorious truth: that nothing can stand in the way of God’s all-powerful love, not even the sinner himself. What’s not to love about this marvelous teaching? I find it simply irresistible {Insert backing vocals: “she’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went…” Not sure what Robert Palmer meant by that.}tractor beam

But we don’t accept doctrines merely because they give us the warm and fuzzies or come with catchy tunes; we need to test our claim on the unflinching touchstone of God’s own word. So here is some proof:

Rom 8:30-33 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

Rom 8: 38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including the sinner and his resistant free will], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And Jesus illustrated this compelling, drawing grace in the parable of the excuse makers:

Luke 14:16-23 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. … But they all alike began to make excuses. … Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”

John 6: 36 “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. … 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Draw means “drag.” Like a tractor beam from Star Trek. You are like a stubborn, rusty nail, and God’s grace is a giant magnet that draws you to him.

John 5:21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” Corpses don’t resist being raised by God’s power. Nor do spiritual zombies.

irresistableActs 16: 4 “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”  He wasn’t knocking on the door of her heart, waiting to be let in. He bust it open like a SWAT team with a warrant to subdue stubborn free wills.

So I am saved because God chose me and called me and saved me. But, you may ask, didn’t God call everyone? Yes and no.

Theologians have drawn attention to a helpful distinction found in Scripture, that there is indeed a general call to all people to repent and be saved (e.g. Acts 17:30). Or to use the Luke 14 label, “The invited.”

But there is also an effectual call to those whom he conscripts into his kingdom. I.e. “The compelled.” Believers are designated as “the called ones” fifteen times in the NT (e.g. Heb 9:15).

Calvin recognized this differentiation in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.24.8

[T]here is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike…Besides this [General call] there is a special call which… God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts.”

That’s why Paul could write, Rom 8:30 “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

By the way, for you single guys. Here is a pick-up line to use when approaching a lady in the singles ministry: “Hi, your name must be Grace…because your irresistible.” If she slaps you, don’t worry, you’re better off finding a Calvinist gal who thinks that’s cute.

So, why do people resist the doctrine of Irresistible Grace? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t find the Bible verses… compelling enough.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • george canady

    Not the elect yet? Then why give up on anyone? why so much precatory prayer? Why not spend as much energy praying openly before the congregation for God’s/our enemies, as warning?

    • I agree we should never give up on anyone who is not saved. Our job is to present the gospel and let God’s grace do the rest; by wooing or warning or whatever it takes.

      • george canady

        Hey thanks Pastor for the reply. I guess I feel some regret after sarcasm. However, I was referring to those who seem to have been written off as unsalable as if we can know who the elect are by there behavior. As I understand the doctrines of grace, election is the secret people of God only known to God, those who will remain. I think that would lead us reformed type to pray for everyone in public, especially false teachers. Why is this mostly not the case from those who understand that God has not yet reveled the elect to anyone, except those in scripture? Warn? Yes. But why no open public follow up prayer for the salvation of the named, after naming and warning ? It’s a fair question. I’m just saying.

        • It is a fair question (if I understand it correctly). But in cases where false teachers are named, I think Paul sets an example of what is acceptable. He simply names the people in order to warn, and he doesn’t follow-up with a public prayer. I don’t think it would be wrong to do so, but following the biblical pattern is also obviously not wrong.
          I fully agree that no one can know who the elect are until they are saved, so it falls to us to preach to everyone (Col 1:28).

          • george canady

            Thank you Clint for your valuable time and perhaps I am in agreement with you about Paul as an example to warn in the church context. I see that. But maybe we would look to Jesus or Steven as some examples of public praying for false teaches as these purveyors of another gospel put our savior and his prophet to death…;Saul in the coat room; that is not to say that Paul is not speaking the very words of Jesus or left anything out. Of course I would not duel scripture verses(I have a pee shooter, you have a canon) with you on election/salvation, only that my understanding from all of scripture is that our human perception has to do with the Holy Spirit’s witness, fruit and remaining. One we can know now in our heart (our spirit), one we can know now from scripture, and another we have to wait, only God knows.

        • Jill Stevenson

          I don’t remember who said it but it went something like “we preach the gospel to all people because we don’t lift up coat tails of everyone to see a piece of tape on their backs signifying election”. I completely brutalized the quote, but something along those lines. We preach because we’re commanded, b/c we don’t know who the elect are, it’s obedience.

          • Richard

            Jill, I believe the quote you’re thinking of is attributed to Charles
            Spurgeon – although not with exactly the same words as your
            “brutalization.” 🙂

          • Richard

            Jill – found it ! Someone once asked Spurgeon, “Why don’t you just preach to the elect? He
            answered, “Well, if you’ll run around and pull up everybody’s
            shirttails so I can see if they have an “E” stamped on their back, I

          • Jill Stevenson

            Thank you!

          • Jill Stevenson

            Thank you! (Sorry)

          • Charles Spurgeon said: “If God had painted a yellow stripe up the backs of the elect, I’d go through London lifting up coats and preaching only to them. As it is, He has not, so I preach the Gospel to all, and God brings his sheep.”

          • george canady

            I think Richard may be quoting John MacArthur who started the “E” thing as he was paraphrasing Spurgeon . I agree with Jill’s point to preach because we are commanded and we do not know who “they” are. And maybe out of Love for “them” too? I would also add that public prayer is an often neglected means of salvation seemingly because of the degrees and nature of the sinner (politicians and false teachers). This seems most prevalent in Reformed circles; much public warning, little to no public compassionate prayer. I believe scripture is clear that only God, Jesus, and the Holy spirit knows who the ultimate enemies of the kingdom are. It seems to me a loving thing for pastors to teach the congregation publicly to pray for the one’s he is warning us about, and teach us to use their name. It is harder to be harsh to someone you lift up to God in prayer.

          • Jill Stevenson

            Thank you!

          • Philip

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it…

            (a) Preaching cannot put a yellow stripe on the backs of those who are not granted a yellow stripe before time began.

            (b) The absence of preaching cannot remove a yellow stripe from those who were granted this stripe before time began.

            Is this correct?

            Is it also correct to conclude that there were no yellow stripes to be found on the back of those who lived and died in a time that was post-crucifixion, but in a geographic region that was beyond the reach of knowledge of Jesus? For example, were there any stripes on the backs of 5th century Mayans?

          • Philip,
            These questions have been answered for you before. You’re correct in both (a) and (b). Nothing can make someone elect or not elect. That is an absolutely free and uninfluenced decision by God in eternity past (Eph 1:4; Rom 9:11).
            However, those whom God has elected are not born saved. They are born as enemies of God, children of wrath (Eph 2:1-3). It is sure that they will be saved by repenting from sin and believing in Jesus (which comes as a result of the irresistible regenerating grace Clint speaks about in the original post). But they will not be regenerated, they will not repent, they will not believe, apart from means.
            And the means by which God has ordained that the elect will come to repentance and faith for salvation is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ (1 Peter 1:23-25; Jas 1:18; Rom 10:17). So, we don’t preach to make the non-elect elect. That’s impossible. We preach the Gospel in order to sound the Shepherd’s voice, such that those sheep who are His — but who have not yet come into the fold — will come to Him. The preaching of the Gospel is the sole means by which the elect have been ordained to come to faith. That’s why we do it.
            Regarding those who have not had the Gospel preached to them, all we know is that no one can be saved apart from repentance and faith in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). That’s one of the reasons why we put such an emphasis on frontier missions — on bringing the Gospel to people groups that are unreached and have no access to the Gospel.
            If you are truly concerned about those people, I would invite you repent of your sins, trust Christ for salvation, submit your heart, mind, and life to His Lordship, and dedicate your life to missionary work among unreached peoples, preaching the Gospel as the sole means of their salvation.

          • Philip

            Ok, Mike, let’s see if you have the courage of your convictions. How about you let me re-post my last comment, then you can reply to that comment, and I will give you the last word. No more comments from me after the re-post.

            It’s your blog, and you can do as you please. But why not wrap this up as I’ve suggested?

          • Philip, your comment was deleted for two reasons: (1) the use of inappropriate language, (2) all of the points you raised are those you’ve raised in the previous threads on Clint’s posts on the doctrines of grace and have been answered.

            That you don’t like the answers doesn’t mean that you can just go on repeating yourself, and I certainly feel no obligation to provide you with a platform to mock the truth with your fingers in your ears.

          • Philip

            Fair enough about the language. Different blogs have different policies about language, and I apology if my language was inappropriate for this particular blog.

            As to “repeating myself”, I believe that the question of the 5th century Mayans was new and raised a different issue from the ones previously addressed. So, I’ll just return to that bit and you can do as you wish.

            You have made it clear that God provides the means for salvation. But what about the 5th century Mayans? It looks like the means were totally, utterly and predictably unavailable to them. Am I wrong about this?

            God failed to provide the means of salvation to the 5th century Mayans. Is this a loving God and just God? Can you answer this one question?

          • I typed a long response, and then it got deleted.

            I think to answer your question with the care it deserves requires more time than I’m able to give it at the moment, especially since I gave it the time and lost the response. The whole thing boils down to the reality that there is a difference between the sovereignty of the God of the Bible and the philosophical hard-determinism that you make it out to be. That means that reality is such that choices can be ordained by God and made freely by human persons, such that their choices are not coerced or forced upon them. Because of that, sinful mankind is rightly held accountable for its failure to love righteousness and hate evil.

            Given that, God is not obligated to show anyone grace. That’s the definition of grace — unmerited favor. God is entirely just, with no blight on His character, to allow all sinners to suffer their just punishment. Romans 1:18-25 speaks of the accountability of all mankind to God as a result of the revelation of Himself given even in nature, and Romans 2:14-16 speaks of the law of God that it is written on the consciences of all men, so that they have an instinctive, basic sense of good and evil and fail to live up to even their own moral standards. As a result, that God would save anyone — even just one person — is a demonstration of unspeakable grace.

            To say that He failed to provide salvation to the Mayans because no Christian missionary brought them the Gospel is not only to grossly misunderstand the issue, but it is to sit in judgment upon your Creator, to assume the role of master and judge the Lord of the universe. It’s akin to climbing up your father’s legs onto his lap as he’s sitting in a chair, prop yourself up on his lap so you can reach his face, and then slapping him in the face. You must use the very air He’s given you, you must pervert the very intellect that is a gift from Him, to sit in judgment upon Him.

            Ultimately, as I said in the other thread, the Scriptures tells us that the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them (1 Cor 2:14). The mind of natural man has been darkened and his heart hardened by his love of sin. While you attempt to ascend to the Judge’s bench and render judgment upon Him, your mind will always be at enmity with His revelation.

            That’s why it’s so necessary for you to turn from your sin, Philip, especially of exalting your own fatally-flawed, sinful reasoning above the infallible Word of God, of being the clay and accusing your potter of making you in a way that you find unsuitable. No matter what your objections are, you know that God exists and that you will be held accountable to Him. You know that you have fallen short of the standard of holiness and perfection that His own nature requires us to possess in order to have fellowship with Him. And you know that there is absolutely nothing you can do to barter acceptance with God by your own doing. And we’re here to tell you that the doing of Another — the Lord Jesus Christ — is sufficient to provide your acceptance with God, and is available to you freely if you repent and trust in Him alone to provide it.

            Who knows, Philip? Maybe there is a yellow stripe on your back, and the preaching of this very Gospel is the means that God has ordained to cause you to lay down your pride and seek and find forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ. I can promise you it’d be worth it to find out.

          • Philip

            Well, I’m going to try to be a good boy here and let this go at this point. I have responses, but I don’t want to abuse the “platform.”

            However, just to clarify, I’m not “sitting in judgment” here. I’m just trying to point out the many contradictions and troubling issue in your theology. These contradictions and troubling issues continue to be apparent in the very answer that you have provided here. But perhaps contradiction are in the eye of the beholder. Suum cuique.

          • Please let me explain what I mean when I insist that you are “sitting in judgment.” To say that you’re pointing out “contradictions” without demonstrating how I’ve been internally inconsistent with my handling of Scripture is to imply that Scripture (aka God’s Word) contradicts itself. That is what I mean by “sitting in judgment.” Also, to question God’s love and justice because 5th century Mayans didn’t have the Gospel preached to them is to “sit in judgment” upon God.

            You may not like to admit that you’re sitting in judgment because no one likes the idea of “judging” anyone else these days (even though they do it every day). But it’s precisely what you’re doing. You have you’re own self-constructed worldview with certain baseline philosophical commitments. Unless the teaching of Scripture agrees with those baseline commitments, you reject it as “contradictory” and “troubling.” That, again, is what I mean by “sitting in judgment.”

            You’re basically asking God to make His revelation make sense to your own mind before you’d accept it — your mind, which is hostile to Him. “If you meet my intellectual requirements, God, then I may have some room for you in my worldview.” But you’ve reversed the roles, friend. God is your Creator, and you are the creature. He, therefore, sets the terms of your relationship with Him. And there are two options: (1) You agree to His terms and submit your thinking, reasoning, feeling, and acting to His Lordship and authority, trust in His Son for righteousness, and live life the way humanity was designed to live it (i.e., in loving fellowship with our Creator), or (2) You pass judgment upon those terms, reject them, cling to your own, rebel against Him, and face His judgment, which you know in your heart of hearts is sure to come, with no way to have your sins forgiven or righteousness provided.

            And yet there’s still time, Philip. I’m praying now that God will open your mind to the glory of Jesus, and that you’ll trust Him for salvation.

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  • M Sellers

    Because it ties into God’s sovereignty, this is my favorite doctrine. It’s the ultimate comfort and reassurance, not just for witnessing but for sanctification as well. (Especially when going through stubborn rough patches.)

    And, uh…thanks for getting that song stuck in my head now. :p [/not]