The Doctrines of Grace: The Irresistibility of Grace
Sometimes when people first hear the term “irresistible grace” they think that this means people are forced to take salvation against their will. They may erroneously think that people are dragged kicking and screaming into God’s kingdom even though they do not want it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because salvation is God breathing life into the dead sinner, grace is irresistible in the same way a person brought back to life after drowning will freely and jubilantly embrace the new air breathed back into their lungs.
The Bible describes the sinner as dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1-3) but in salvation we are made alive with Christ and raised up with him (Eph. 2:4-7). This is what it means to be saved by grace through faith; it is entirely a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). It is not a gift like one might put out on Christmas morning and hope that your children will wander to the tree and perhaps open it. Rather it is a gift like an EMT might give in reviving a person by restarting their flat lining heartbeat. We are powerless and dead in our transgressions and God being rich in mercy and love makes us alive in Christ. Those who are given new life embrace it for they see what they have been given. Regeneration, God’s act of making us alive, precedes faith. In fact, the life imparted brings the faith required.
Consider for example John 6:44-45
(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. (45) It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—
We are unable to come to God unless the Father draws us. This idea of “draw” is just like one might draw water from a well. The water is powerless and must be moved by another. So too, we are powerless to come to God because we are dead in sins. But God draws us. God moves us. He grants salvation to us. John 6:65 says, “And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.””.
The work of God in drawing us is also the work of God in giving us to His Son Jesus who looses none.
John 6:37-40 (37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (40) For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
The concept of irresistible grace is not the concept of us being forced to do things rather it is the concept of an effective grace. God accomplishes His purposes. He has chosen a people before the foundation of the world. He gives them to the Son and they will then come to faith in the Son. This salvation is never lost but accomplishes the task of raising up the believer on the last day. Christ looses none of those who have been given to him.
God teaches us. God shows us the truth. He opens the eyes of our heart so that true light shines into the darkness (2 Cor. 4:4,6). Those who see the light because of the inward work of the Holy Spirit will be drawn to it. It is compelling. It is beautiful. And when we finally see grace and the gospel for what it truly is, and when we finally see it with the new heart that God gives, we will find it beautiful as it is. We are compelled to come to it. God loving draws us by showing the truth.
In this sense, the believer freely comes to Christ. But they come because God has worked in them and upon them. God and his glory is truly irresistible. The love of God is both effective and compelling. When God works, his grace is irresistible because God himself in His splendor and wonder is irresistible. The Biblical portrait of irresistible grace shows us the beauty and the wonder of the working of God. I do not deserve grace and left to myself I will never embrace it.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.