Does our salvation depend on god’s grace or on the sinner’s free will? Can god’s will to save His elect be made void eventually? Can it happen that god’s grace can actually be resisted?
These are essential questions, and in this article we shall try to explore these issues.
The doctrine of Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is the fourth point of the Reformed faith which teaches that the saving grace of God cannot be resisted. When God in eternity elects a man, that man is saved. And nothing, not even the devil, can prevent his salvation. However, it is important to note that the crux of the issue is when we say that God’s grace is irresistible, we are also acknowledging that God is also indeed irresistible. God is sovereign, and in essence, His will cannot be made void. “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and none can stay his hand.” (Daniel 4:35)
Saved by grace alone
When a sinner is being saved, God calls him first through the preaching of the gospel which is an external calling. However, for the sinner to be saved, there needs to be an internal call where through the Holy Spirit, regeneration happens in the innermost recesses of the man. God opens and softens his heart and changes him from a dead, unbelieving sinner to a living and believing adopted child of God. It is only the power of grace that can cause this radical change in him.
Salvation is by grace alone! There is no denying this as the Scriptures clearly teach this. In Ephesians 2:8, the apostle Paul teaches, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” This means that our works make no contribution whatsoever to our salvation. Even what we consider as our best works do not merit our salvation because we are already dead in sin and nothing we do can save ourselves. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) Moreover, in Titus 3:5, Paul declares, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Thus, without a doubt, we can see that the grace of God is indeed the force and energy that converts the sinner’s heart and makes it willing to repent and believe in the Saviour.
An Irresistible Grace
The grace that enters our soul and converts our stubborn will cannot be resisted. There is nothing that can stop God’s will and plan to save a sinner. Because God is an irresistible and sovereign God, thus His saving grace is irresistible and sovereign too. Even the most obstinate sinner cannot resist this grace. When God chooses to give saving grace to a sinner, it is by His almighty power that it will triumph in the heart of the sinner. He will definitely be saved. Moreover, when grace is given by God to the sinner, it is already effective before man can act. Hence, man cannot even act to resist it. This grace is so effective that it will work faith in the sinner to draw the sinner to Christ. There are many verses in the scripture which teach the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. God does not merely try to save sinners, depending on how they respond; no, He saves sinners sovereignly, efficaciously and irresistibly.
John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” In this text, the “shall come” shows indication that the sinner will definitely come to Christ when God has chosen him. This shows that when God has chosen him, he cannot resist God’s will and the power of God is an irresistible force.
Romans 8:29-30 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” This text shows that once a sinner has been elected in God’s eternal counsel, he will surely proceed to being justified and glorified. Nothing can stand in the way of the sinner obtaining salvation and the final glorification of those being called.
There is no doubt that this doctrine of Irresistible Grace is the teaching of the Scriptures. To deny this doctrine is akin to calling our God an ineffective, weak and powerless God.
For reformed Christians like us, it is important that we wholeheartedly believe in this doctrine. Our assurance of salvation depends on the truth of Irresistible Grace. If indeed we can resist and lose grace, how can we be assured that our salvation is certain? We would then be living in constant doubt and fear if we will ever be saved. The thought of it is indeed frightening and depressing!
In addition, our belief in Irresistible Grace parallels our confession that salvation is by grace alone, and not by a mixture of works and grace. We know the latter is the false doctrine and hence we need to hold tightly onto this doctrine of Irresistible Grace.
Another point we can note is that by believing in Irresistible Grace, we can then pray for the conversion and repentance of ourselves and our loved ones. If grace is not irresistible, we do not have the comfort of knowing that a backsliding Christian may one day turn back to God. Our prayers for his conversion and repentance would then be in vain because grace can be resisted and that makes God powerless to do anything. Hence, through the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, we can have the blessed assurance that wayward or straying members of the church can indeed come back to God, through His grace.
Relation to the other points of TULIP
Total depravity teaches that man is totally dead in sin and because of this, we are unworthy of salvation. Therefore, our salvation must be by grace alone. Since man has no good in him, and no ability to do good, this grace must be irresistible.
Unconditional election is the basis for Irresistible Grace. Since election does not occur due to any merit of ours, therefore, our salvation is not by our works. This works parallel to Irresistible Grace.
The teaching of Irresistible Grace preserves the truth of limited atonement. If free will and resistible grace holds true, then Christ would have died in vain. Although Christ died for the man and wants to save him, He cannot because the grace was resisted and the sinner is unwilling to be converted.
Irresistible Grace also guarantees the preservation of saints. Since we cannot resist grace, we also cannot prevent God from ensuring that we are saved till the very end. Those who are brought to salvation by the Irresistible Grace of God are by the power of that same grace preserved in salvation.
Written by: Jemima Lee