Can God’s Grace Be Resisted?

“Calvinism” series: (post #5)

The “I” in the T-U-L-I-P acrostic that sums up the five core points of Calvinism is “Irresistible Grace.” The thrust of this particular point is that if God chose an individual in eternity past to be a part of the elect, that individual will at some time in life place belief (faith) in Jesus and thereby get saved. The idea of God choosing a person for salvation and Jesus dying for that person’s sins, only to have that person continually reject Jesus until physical death, is unthinkable to Calvinists.

With that said, the problem that Calvinism has in this area is the fact that numerous passages of scripture teach that God’s call to repentance/salvation can be rejected until the individual’s dying breath. Here are a few examples (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  • Genesis 6:3: And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (This meant that 120 years later the great flood would take place wherein all those who rejected the Holy Spirit’s striving in regards to conviction and salvation would be drowned.)
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-16: And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. (It’s obvious that those Jews of Judah rejected God’s call to repentance.)
  • Proverbs 29:1: He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. (Don’t miss the fact that the person’s destruction comes only after multiple rebukes.)
  • Isaiah 30:15 (Isaiah speaking to the Jews of Judah): “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quiteness and confidence shall be your strength.’ But you would not.”
  • Isaiah 65:2 (God speaking to Judah): “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in a way that is not good, According to their own thoughts.” (The imagery is God standing all day long with outstretched hands ready to embrace the Jews of Judah, but them rejecting His offer.)
  • Jeremiah 35:15: (God speaking to Judah): “I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.” (God didn’t just send Jeremiah in His efforts to get the Jews of Judah to repent; He sent many prophets and other types of servants.)
  • Acts 7:51 (Stephen speaking to the Jewish Sanhedrin): “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (The term “stiff-necked” describes an ox or other type of work animal that defiantly refuses to bow its head in submission so that the head can be placed in a work yoke. Notice that Stephen told those Jews, “You ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit.”)
  • Acts 13:46: Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (This was the great turning point in the Christian movement as God’s primary emphasis in the spreading of the gospel was passed from the unbelieving Jews to the more open-minded Gentiles.)
  • Romans 10:21: But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people.” (Here Paul quotes Isaiah 65:2, with the imagery remaining the same.)

These passages prove that the grace (unmerited favor) God offers can be rejected. And, of course, there are many other passages that can be cited. 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the propitiation (the appeasement) for the sins of the whole world; and yet the whole world’s sins aren’t forgiven. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God isn’t willing that any should perish; and yet millions do just that. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved; and yet the vast majority of them die lost. In John 12:32, Jesus says that by way of His crucifixion He will draw all people to Himself; and yet only a relative few actually come to Him. How then can God’s saving grace possibly be described as irresistible?

Calvinists do interpretative gymnastics around this plain-as-day problem by making a very important distinction. Really, their entire notion of “Irresistible Grace” rests upon this distinction. The distinction is: Calvinism maintains that there are two separate categories of God’s call to salvation. First, there is a general, outward call that God extends to everyone who hears the gospel. This call can be rejected. (In fact, it always is.) But, second, there is a special, inward call that the Holy Spirit only extends to the elect. This call cannot be rejected as the Spirit grants to each of the elect the irresistible desire to place belief (faith) in Jesus as Savior and compels the person to act upon that desire.

Well, this claim that there are two different types of call to salvation, and that one type is irresistible for the elect, is certainly a key one in the whole debate concerning Calvinism. It goes without saying that a claim like that had better be verified by scripture. And so what passages do Calvinists use to support the claim? Here is a list of 20 of their favorites (all from the N.K.J.V.):

  1. John 1:12-13: But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  2. John 6:37,39: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out…This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
  3. John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
  4. John 6:65: And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
  5. John 15:16: “”You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”
  6. John 17:1-2: Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come, Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”
  7. Acts 13:48: Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
  8. Acts 16:14: Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
  9. Acts 18:9-10: Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”
  10. Romans 8:29-30: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
  11. Galatians 1:15: But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace…
  12. 1 Thessalonians 2:12: that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  13. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  14. 1 Timothy 6:12: Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
  15. 2 Timothy 1:8-9: …but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.
  16. Hebrews 3:1: Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
  17. Hebrews 9:15: And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
  18. 2 Peter 1:10-11: Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
  19. Jude, verse 1: Jude a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
  20. Revelation 17:14: These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.

When read through the lens of Calvinism, these passages do seem to make Calvinism’s case for “Irresistible Grace.” However, when read through a non-Calvinist lens, the ABSOLUTE MOST that can be said of the passages is that they might be taken to imply the existence of a different type of call to salvation. Let’s be clear: The passages certainly don’t come right out and teach a special, inner call that is only heard by the elect. Even more than that, there are other perfectly plausible interpretations for each passage. Here’s how a non-Calvinist would explain them:

  1. John 1:12-13: Calvinists make much of the fact that the children of God do not become so by “the will of the flesh” or by “the will of man.” But even non-Calvinists agree that no individual can will himself or herself to be saved. Certainly God is the only one who can impart salvation. Therefore, any individual’s salvation is “of God.” Actually, this passage can be used to refute Calvinism. Notice that verse 12 doesn’t say of Jesus: “But as many as He gave the right to become children of God, they receive Him and believe in His name.” (That’s what Calvinism teaches.) Instead, the verse says: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” The point is, the right to become the children of God comes only after the receiving/believing.
  2. John 6:37,39: This quote simply means that God, in eternity past, gave Jesus the elect. It says nothing concerning how the elect were chosen to be the elect.
  3. John 6:44: While it’s true that no one can come to Jesus unless God draws the person, Jesus Himself (God the Son) said that He would draw all people to Himself by way of His crucifixion (John 12:32).
  4. John 6:65: While it’s true that no one can come to Jesus unless God the Father grants it to be so, it seems clear that God the Father grants the right to everyone because He desires that everyone be saved (Isaiah 45:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  5. John 15:16: It can be argued that Jesus is speaking here specifically to His chosen 12. He sought them out, not the other way around. It can also be argued that His words have to do with their service as opposed to their salvation.
  6. John 17:1-2: There is no doubt that the elect were given to Jesus in eternity past. There is also no doubt that He is the one who gives them eternal life. But the passage doesn’t say anything about the elect receiving a special, inner call to salvation that those who aren’t elect don’t receive.
  7. Acts 13:48: This verse merely proves that each member of the elect has been appointed to eternal life. As was the case with John 6:37,39, it doesn’t explain how the elect became the elect.
  8. Acts 16:14: Yes, God opened Lydia’s heart so that she could heed Paul’s words, but the fact is that God has to open anybody’s heart before the person can get saved. As Romans 3:11 says, no one naturally seeks after God. God does this opening of the heart by way of the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin upon the person and urging the person to heed the gospel.
  9. Acts 18:9-10: Even if we assume that God was referring to citizens who hadn’t yet heard the gospel, the passage can be understood simply as evidence of God’s foreknowledge concerning the elect. The Bible is clear that God has known from eternity past the names of the elect (His people). That is not in dispute. The question, as always, is, how did the elect gain their status? This passage offer no answers to that question.
  10. Romans 8:29-30: The only thing this passage says in relation to God’s call to salvation is that the elect from eternity past are guaranteed to hear it. But we have every bit as much right to say that the call in question is the general call that goes out to the world rather than some special, inner call that goes out only to the elect. Also, the passage teaches that each member of the elect is someone whom God foreknew. But that might just mean that God, from eternity past, foreknew that the person would place saving belief (faith) in Jesus.
  11. Galatians 1:15: Paul being separated by God from his mother’s womb simply means that Paul, like the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), was set apart from the womb for a specific service to God. It says nothing about the basis upon which Paul was saved and separated for service. As for Paul being called through God’s grace, that can accurately be said of anyone.
  12. 1 Thessalonians 2:12: The argument can easily be made that God calls everyone into His kingdom and glory, even though the majority do not respond to the call.
  13. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: This passage can actually be used against Calvinism. I say that because here, for once, Paul actually takes the time to explain how those Christians were called. And how were they called? They were called by the gospel that Paul and his group had previously preached in Thessalonica. You see, that is far different from them being called by way of some special, inward, irresistible call that only the elect receive. To be called by the gospel is to hear the gospel and respond wisely to it.
  14. 1 Timothy 6:12: Here again the argument can be made that God calls everyone to eternal life, not just the elect.
  15. 2 Timothy 1:8-9: There is no doubt that the elect have been both saved and called. They were also granted grace in Jesus before time began. But this passage says nothing about the basis for the salvation (i.e. foreseen voluntary belief vs. instilled belief). And the call the passage speaks of could conceivably be the general call to salvation that God extends to everyone.
  16. Hebrews 3:1: Here the elect are described as “partakers of the heavenly calling,” but that could be taken to mean simply that they have heeded God’s general call to salvation — which would have to be classified as a “heavenly” calling — whereas others have not.
  17. Hebrews 9:15: Again, the calling in question could be the general call of salvation that goes out to everyone.
  18. 2 Peter 1:10-11: This passage really doesn’t give us any insights into the Christian’s calling and election. The primary meaning of the passage has to do with the Christian having the assurance of salvation.
  19. Jude, verse 1: No one denies that each member of the elect are called, sanctified, and preserved, but that doesn’t prove some kind of special, inner call only heard by them. A non-Calvinist would say that Jude is referring to people who heard God’s general call to salvation and responded to it. God, accordingly, having foreseen their voluntary response to the call, chose them as part of the elect in eternity past and sanctified and preserved them the way He did each member of the elect.
  20. Revelation 17:14: Here again, no one denies that each member of the elect can be described as “called, chosen, and faithful.” However, this is yet another verse that doesn’t speak to the issue of how the elect were chosen in eternity past. And as for them being called, God calls everyone to salvation, and that includes the elect. It’s just that only a low percentage respond to the call. But those whom God foresaw responding became His chosen/elected in eternity past.

What the Bible does teach is that everyone on planet earth has a legitimate chance to get saved. First, everyone is born with an inner conscience that points them to God. Romans 2:14-15 describes this as showing “the work of the law (God’s law) written in their hearts.” Second, everyone has the object lesson of creation that points them to the Creator. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1-6 even go so far as to teach that creation itself is profound enough evidence for God;s existence that all people are “without excuse” if they do not know Him. Third, Acts 14:17 says that God hasn’t left Himself without a witness, in that He has given rain and fruitful seasons. Fourth, John 1:9 says that Jesus Himself “gives light” to everyone who comes into the world.

What the Bible doesn’t teach is that there are two different types of the call to salvation. What Calvinism describes as the outward, general call is in actuality the only call mentioned in the Bible. This call is “a heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1) to “eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12) into God’s “kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). In this New Testament age, this call comes first and foremost through the hearing of the gospel message (2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 10:8-15).

Think about this: Calvinism would have us believe that God goes through the formality of extending a general call to salvation out to billions who have no chance of heeding it and getting saved. Why would He do such a thing? The Calvinist’s answer is that He does it to make sure that He has no blood on His hands (so to speak) when He sends all those people to hell. It’s as if God is saying to each doomed individual, “You’re about to bust hell wide open, but don’t blame Me. I called you to salvation, but you didn’t respond.”

The problem, of course, with this idea is that the Calvinist has to conveniently overlook the fact that Calvinism’s teaching about “Total Depravity” means that God’s general call goes out to people who are dead and can’t even hear it. You talk about a meaningless gesture! Is this the best that God can do in regards to Him justifying Himself sending millions to hell? Seriously, His universal call for sinners to repent and believe is meaningless if salvation is determined solely by Him apart from the free will of individuals.

I think about that story of the Roman centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Verse 9 of that passage tells us that Jesus marveled at the centurion and said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” If Calvinism is true, isn’t it odd that Jesus would have marveled at that man’s faith? After all, Calvinism claims that a person’s faith must be given by God. So, why would Jesus praise a man’s great faith if He knew that the fellow only had the faith because God had granted him an extraordinary measure of it?

Along the same lines, Jesus marveled at the unbelief of the citizens of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6). Again, that’s strange. What was He expecting when He went there? Didn’t He know ahead of time that those people hadn’t been chosen as part of the elect and therefore weren’t going to sense God’s special, inward, irresistible call to salvation?

In conclusion, let me say again that what Calvinism can’t explain away is that even a causal study of the Bible will show that scripture is filled with characters who patently reject God’s offer of salvation. Calvinism is therefore forced to justify its doctrine of “Irresistible Grace” by inventing a secondary, inner call to salvation that only goes out to the elect and is irresistible to them. As I’ve explained, though, it takes a lot of supposing and speculating to find that other type of call in scripture. It reminds me of how words such as “world,” “all,” and “everyone” have to be redefined in order for Calvinism to work. I dare say that if you gave Bibles to 100 people who knew absolutely nothing about the book, and said, “Read this,” not one of those 100 would end up a Calvinist. You see, it takes untold hours of study and the redefining of several simplistic words to be a good Calvinist.

In closing, let me say that nobody ever summed up the whole issue of the call to salvation any better than Jesus does in Matthew 22:14. There, He says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” That means that God’s call to salvation goes out to everybody, but only a low percentage respond to it. Those few are “the elect,” them having been chosen in eternity past to be “the elect.” And why were they chosen? It was because God in His foreknowledge saw them voluntarily responding to the call. That, when everything is said and done, is how God’s call to salvation works, and we really have no right to make it any more complicated or convoluted than that.

This entry was posted in Belief, Calvinism, Faith, Grace, Repentance, Salvation, Series: "Calvinism" and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can God’s Grace Be Resisted?

  1. Malcolm Woody says:

    Any component or characteristic of God is not greater than God Himself, therefore, since God can be rejected so can grace. Even before the fall, Satan and his minions rejected an irrefutable and undeniable God in the perfection of heaven. Only an all-powerful and all-loving God would ever create creatures of free will. He didn’t want a fish tank full of mindless creatures who couldn’t relate to Him, and to understand Him to an even higher degree, He entered the fish tank to show us the full measure of His love, grace, mercy, and truth. Good series. Very thought provoking. Talk to you in the morning at 10am for CV. ________________________________

    • russellmckinney says:

      That’s a great point about Satan and his angels rejecting God in heaven. I’d never thought about that in regards to this particular issue.

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