The Case for Irresistible Grace
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Mankind is born with a sinful nature. He is both sinful from the first day of life and chooses to sin as soon as he is able. Sin is both nature and choice to man. The original sin of man, the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, is imputed to all natural descendants of Adam–the human race. Because of this Fall, mankind is totally dead in sin (Rom 6:23).
Our natural inclination is to do evil. No one chooses to do good of their own accord. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that man is as evil as he can be all of the time. Sometimes, man does good. But the Fall has rendered man completely unable to will and do good. We are in bondage to sin, and there is only one way to free ourselves: knowing the Son by the mercy of God.
If one accepts the total bondage of the will to sin, so much so that man is unable to will and do good of his own accord, then the next point follows from it. God’s mercy is the only thing that can save us. God preserves a people for himself, for his glory. By his mercy, he chose sinners from all races, nations, peoples, and walks of life for heaven. No one understands this selection process, and the Bible doesn’t reveal what it is. We only know that it has nothing to do with the creature (see Rom 9, especially vv 13, 18).
Since mankind is totally depraved, and God’s solution to that was to unconditionally elect some to enjoy eternal life with him, it then follows that atonement was made for only those that are elect. The doctrines of grace now hinge on the effectual call of the Spirit to God’s elect.
Romans 8:29-30 states:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This is the Golden Chain of Redemption. It starts with foreknowing. Foreknowing what? Well, that’s a good question. The typical Calvinist response to that is that God knows us in the Biblical sense. His love is great for the elect, who he knew in advance from all eternity. That is what it means here to “foreknow”–to love deeply in advance.
But I’m not your typical Calvinist. I tend to believe that between autonomy and theonomy exists a balance. In other words, God knows ahead of time which people will love him and he acts accordingly to save them. This is closer to Molinism than Calvinism.
Those whom he predestined are conformed to the image of his Son. Notice that the Bible makes no bones about who is conformed to the image of the Son: it is those who are predestined.
Those same people are also called, and those same people are then justified. Finally, those same people will be glorified in heaven. Notice again that this is the same people each time, making a strong case for the Atonement being limited only to the elect. So-called Four-Point Calvinists teach that the Atonement is unlimited in its efficacy, which contradicts this Golden Chain. The ones who are predestined are the ones that are conformed, they are also called, justified, and finally glorified.
It is the calling that I will now examine. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (10.1)
This follows the Golden Chain perfectly. All of those whom God has predestined for life, he effectually calls in his time out of sin and death. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit–to effectually call the elect, and quicken their hearts to grace and salvation in Jesus. Not only that, but he removes their heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, so that they can understand the things of God.
This doesn’t destroy the concept of free will. People come freely to God, made willing by his grace. In his natural state, man will never choose communion with God (1 Cor 2:14). God makes man willing by quickening his heart to the things of God. Then man is able to choose God. In this new state, man wants to choose God. Man becomes a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). This means that regeneration precedes faith.
In the next post, I will detail Scriptural evidence for irresistible grace.