Several weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled “Rethinking the Garden.” One person who responded to that article had a couple of questions related to what I wrote. I emailed him and promised that I would answer his questions as articles in my blog. It’s been a long time coming, but here is the first installment on those answers.
Here is his first comment and question:
I think I follow your trains of thought Pastor but I want to make sure I’m understanding correctly. From what I can gather from your argument irresistible grace comes from hearing the Word and if one hears the Word then they are able to choose righteousness because of God’s irresistible grace. So if that is true then why is it that some hear the Word and are not turned to Christ if the grace is irresistible?
Concerning irresistible grace…
There are two inter-related issues here: the question of irresistible grace and the question of man’s free will as it relates to irresistible grace and the sovereignty of God.
Scholars have written volumes over the centuries concerning these subjects, so there is no way that I can exhaust the argument here in either case. I will do my best to explain how I understand the doctrines, beginning in this article with irresistible grace.
Many believers reject the idea of irresistible grace out of hand because it is part of the Calvinistic acrostic T.U.L.I.P. The concept of irresistible grace conflicts with their idea of free will. How can man have free will to accept or reject the gospel if the grace of God is irresistible?
I will refer to a great deal of Scripture in this article. Although I will probably be accused of proof-texting – that is, quoting only those verses that justify my position – that will not be my objective. In the context of a blog, there simply is not enough room to argue in depth the complexity of such a doctrine as irresistible grace. So please accept my efforts for what they are – an attempt to better understand the God behind the grace and the grace that leads to salvation.
While the word sovereign is not in the KJV, the concept is. The definition I use here is that God is perfect in all of His ways and characteristics. He rules over all of heaven and earth, and never needs to consult anyone before moving forward with His plan.
Before the Creation, God was perfect in every way. He had no need of anything. He was perfectly content and fulfilled and happy within the fellowship of the Trinity. That did not change with the Creation.
If you would like to read a list of verses related to the sovereignty of God, visit this link. Here are some verses to help establish my point.
Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Psalm 135:6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD works out everything to its proper end – even the wicked for a day of disaster.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.
Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?
Isaiah 46:9 I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”
Read all that Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8-12, but notice in verse 11 that Paul speaks of God’s “eternal purpose.” Before God ever said “Let…” in the book of Genesis, He had set in motion a purpose that He established in eternity to be completed through the creation. At least a part of that eternal purpose is to make sons of God of lost and condemned people.
Once set in motion, that purpose can never be thwarted and will absolutely be achieved, because the purpose is perfect, and God does not change His mind or His plans.
Having briefly established the sovereignty of God, let’s see how God accomplishes His eternal purpose.
Not only does God have a perfect will and a perfect purpose, but He also speaks a perfect word.
Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God proves true.
Isaiah 55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God’s word has purpose, and will always accomplish exactly what God assigned it to accomplish. The Apostle Paul explains how the word of God works in salvation.
Romans 10:17 Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (word of God, KJV).
Faith & Believe
Here again, there is not time for an in-depth study of faith, but if you do a word study, you will find that the word faith and the word believe derive from the same root. In fact, according to Strong, the word believe derives from the word faith. Faith is the noun while believe is the verb.
Therefore, we could translate Romans 10:17 to say, “The ability to believe comes from hearing the word of God.”
That is how God instills in the human heart the faith that leads to repentance and salvation. It does not exist there until God puts it there through the hearing of His word.
That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the word of God will be enabled to believe or get saved, but it does mean that this is the only way salvation can occur. If a person is saved after hearing the word of God, it is because God purposely intended for that person to be saved.
There are many who interpret this verse differently, but I believe that in Ephesians 2:8 (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God), the gift referred to is faith. However, whether “faith” or “saved through faith” is the gift, the result is the same. It (salvation and/or faith) is not our doing. It is something God does in us through the word.
1 Peter 1:23 You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
James 1:18 Of his own will he (God) brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
In the Great Shepherd Psalm (23), the last verse says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).”
The word “follow” here is translated “pursues” 74 times in the Bible. The Great Shepherd does not just lead us, but pursues those who are His.
He knew us and every day of our lives before we were even born (Psalm 139:13-16).
All things work together for good for those called by God (Romans 8:28).
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… 65 …no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Matt. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
The fact is that God does draw us to Him – He does grant us to come to the Son – and the Son does reveal the Father to those who are drawn.
Listen to the assurance of the guaranteed result of God’s pursuit in the words of Jesus…
John 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 45 Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me…”
The point is that the grace of God is not irresistible because it ignores the will of man and simply bowls the unwilling sinner over and forces grace upon him.
It means that God is relentless (not reckless!) and will continue to pursue those whom He has called until their will surrenders to His will and they yield to His grace and come to know the glory of His salvation.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
If you want to read about God’s relentless pursuit in poetic form, I strongly encourage you to read “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson (1859–1907).
Thanks to pixabay.com for the use of the picture.