Tulip: Irresistible Grace

Irresistible grace is the fourth part of the Tulip acronym and is the one doctrine of grace that every Christian, deep down, can never deny. No Christian will balk in a Sunday morning worship service when the congregation sings Amazing Grace (written by John Newton, a Calvinist pastor of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century) because every Christian knows that it was the amazing grace of God that saved us and, if not for this astonishing grace from the Lord, we would be eternally lost. It is, in fact, foundational in understanding the other four doctrines of grace. If election is thought of as the work of the Father, and atonement thought of as the work of the Son, then grace must be thought of as the work of the Holy Spirit.[1] It His divine task to efficaciously draw the sinner to Christ.

            Salvation is a Trinitarian work, expressed best within the Covenant of Redemption. This Covenant of Redemption is implicitly understood from such passages as John 6:37 and 44, John 17, Ephesians 1:10-11, and many others. The basis of this teaching is that, from eternity past, the Father covenanted with the Son and Spirit, planning salvation, and promising an elect number of people from His creation as a gift and Bride to His Son in an arranged marriage. The Son covenanted with the Father and the Spirit and promised to incarnate as a man and redeem the elect, that He would then have a perfect Bride, not having any spot of sin or wrinkle of unholiness but declared perfectly holy and righteous through union with Him (Eph. 5:25-27). The Spirit covenanted with the Father and the Son, promising to efficaciously draw the elect to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, and to seal them with an eternal seal until the day of their glorification (Eph. 1:13-14). It is within this framework of the Covenant of Redemption that the doctrines of grace are properly understood.

Man, who is dead in his trespasses and sins, is unable to come to Christ of his own accord; his will is stubbornly opposed to the things of God. Yet, God has elected a certain number from the human race to come to the Son, and the Son has already procured salvation for that elect number. Not a drop of Christ’s redeeming blood can be wasted. Those who do come to Christ will be preserved in their faith by God; it would bring Christ great dishonor to lose one of those whom the Father has given Him. But it would bring an equal amount of dishonor to fail to save any of those the Father has given Him.

Thus, irresistible grace is absolutely essential to both the doctrines of grace and the Covenant of Redemption. Without it, the salvation of the elect would be impossible, and Christ would not have His gift—His Bride—that had been promised Him by the Father.

In Romans 3:10-18, the Apostle Paul writes about the total depravity of man. He is wholly incapable of coming to God on his own. Not only does he not seek God, but he actively runs and tries to hide from God. Just as Adam and Eve sinned and then tried to hide from God, all of Adam’s posterity does the same. Yet, God came calling for Adam and, when He called, the sinners had no choice but to come. This has been the Heavenly pattern ever since. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19:10) and He meant it. He knows His own and, through the Holy Spirit, calls us by name at the proper time (John 10:3). If God did not seek and save the lost, we would not be saved.

What must take place is a reorienting of man’s heart, will, and affections. He loves his sin and, left to himself, hates the righteousness and holiness of God. So, through the preaching of the Gospel, God the Holy Spirit moves upon the hearts of the elect and changes their will and affections. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags the sinner kicking and screaming to Christ, but He makes the sinner wholly willing to flee to the irresistible embrace of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of irresistible grace in John 6:37 and 44 when he said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Again, the interrelated and overlapping doctrines between the Covenant of Redemption and doctrines of grace are ever apparent. The Father who has elected a people for the Son must send forth the Holy Spirit to draw the elect to the Son. If the Holy Spirit does not apply this saving grace to the heart of the sinner, no amount of passionate Bible preaching will ever save.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make Christ glorious to the sinner. He opens our blind eyes so that we see the truth we could not possibly endure before: Jesus is that inestimable treasure, that pearl of great price, who is worth the loss all things that we might have Him. To the Christian who has experienced this efficacious, lavish outpouring of amazing grace from the Holy Spirit will look to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and see the wisdom and glory and power of God though it be foolishness to those who are perishing.

Be encouraged: The same grace that saved is the same grace that preserves and the Holy Spirit who breathed new life into you at the first will keep you alive in Christ until we see Him face to face.

Jacob Tanner is pastor of Mt. Bethel Church of McClure in Central Pennsylvania. He has spent time as a reporter, journalist, and editor, and has written for various Christian websites. He and his wife, Kayla, have one son, Josiah. He is currently completing his M.Div. through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[1] See: James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), chapter six.


Jacob Tanner