The Calvinistic Doctrine of Irresistible Grace
It should dishearten anyone who professes to be religious to see the division and confusion that is rampant in the religious world today. The gulfs that separate this group from that group, the rifts that create one splinter group after another, have been in place for so long that they are-to many-an accepted part of the so-called "Christian" landscape. But surely this is not as God meant it. Rather, God demands unity based on His word, and nothing less than that unity will be tolerated (compare with Galatians 1:6-9; Romans 6:17; John 12:48; James 3:17).
If an interested person were to examine many of the religious beliefs that are contrary to the word of God, they would find a common denominator-Calvinism in some shape, form, or fashion. Of the religious principles presented by Calvin (I say "presented" because Calvin did not originate the ideas; he merely refined and codified them), which are often referred to by the acrostic TULIP, the idea of irresistible grace holds an important place. The Westminster Confession (adopted by the Presbyterian Church, among others) provides a useful definition of this false doctrine:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ . . . This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it (emphasis mine; full text available at http://opc.org/documents/CFLayout.pdf).
As is obvious from the above quote, the major points of Calvinism are inseparably linked. Irresistible grace depends on at least two assumptions from TULIP: God unconditionally elects certain people to either eternal life or eternal condemnation; and, because of his total hereditary depravity, man is unable to react on His own to God's divine call. Of course, these ideas are unbiblical and anti-biblical, and will be systematically defeated in other sections of this and last month's FCGN.
We should not dismiss the doctrine of irresistible grace as only meaningful to some stuffy, old- world religionists. Instead, we should recognize that some of the most popular evangelical denominations are based on Calvin's teachings. For instance, the Abstract of Principles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary includes the following:
Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God's free and special grace alone (emphasis mine; full text available at www.sbts.edu/aboutus/pdf/abstract.pdfl).
Included in this pitiful attempt to explain the new birth are references to man's total hereditary depravity and God's irresistible grace (note: the same abstract also espouses unconditional election as "God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life"). In another copy of a particular Baptist Articles of Faith, the new birth is described as happening "in a manner above our comprehension, not by culture, not by character, nor by the will of man, but wholly and solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in connection with divine truth." Here, therefore, in a nutshell, is the doctrine of irresistible grace-grace saves us whether we like it or not and whether we want it or not.
Despite what Calvin might have borrowed from Augustine, and despite what creeds and confessions of faith might say, the doctrine of irresistible grace is nowhere found in Scripture. In fact, holding to such a doctrine does great damage to fundamental principles clearly taught in God's word. For instance, to believe in irresistible grace is to disparage the character of God Himself. A God who "will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4), who is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9) would not bestow His loving and saving favor only on those He had chosen against their will. A God who is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) would not arbitrarily dole out grace to those who might not want it. Instead, such a God would send His Son, the embodiment of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9, 12-13), because He "so loved the world" (John 3:16). Such a God would bring a grace that "hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:11-12). As well, one who holds to irresistible grace theology must dismiss man's freedom to choose. God made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), which included giving him the capacity for free will. Even Calvinists must accept this point, as the Westminster Confession of Faith states: "God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil." As proof of this statement, the Confession cites the same passages that faithful preachers have cited to reference free will: James 1:13-14, Deuteronomy 30:19, John 5:40, and so on. Of course, the Confession goes on to claim that in the Garden of Eden:
Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it . . . [and] by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation (emphasis mine).
However, the writers of the Westminster Confession defeated their own argument, for all of the passages they cite proving free will prior to the fall were spoken after the fall! Was Moses asking the Israelites to do something they had "lost all ability" to do? Was James teaching that we are drawn away from goodness "by our own lusts" when we were never connected to goodness so as to be drawn away? As always, false teaching is ludicrous.
It must also be stated that to believe in irresistible grace is to deny clear teaching on obedience. After Peter, as quoted above, recognized the impartiality of God's nature, he stated, "But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:35). As well, he described the Christians of the 1st century as those who had "purified [their] souls in obeyed the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). Paul told the Roman Christians, "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you" (Romans 6:17). If acceptance by God is dependent on fear and working righteousness; if purification is accomplished by obeying the truth; and if we have to obey God's form of doctrine in order not to be the servants of sin-if all of these things are true, and they are, then grace is not irresistible. Rather, God's grace is offered to all of mankind, only with the stipulation that those who hope to receive it must obey Him to do so. Those who choose not to obey are resisting the grace of God.
Dear friend, are you entangled in a man-made system that bases its beliefs on the unbiblical doctrines of Calvinism? Are you basing your faith on the traditions of men, instead of the word of God? If so, do not "frustrate [cast off, bring to naught, reject] the grace of God" (Galatians 2:21). Give up your error and obey the truth. Only then can you receive God's gift of grace.
By Chris Perry
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