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.