When the Council of Dordrecht or Dordt began on November 13, 1618 it sought to refute the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers. The council did so by specifically addressing five points Arminius’ protestors, or Remonstrants, proposed. These five points were that (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal or an unlimited atonement is taught in the Scriptures; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) God’s grace is resistible; and (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.
Previously, we briefly examined the doctrine of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today we examine the doctrine known as Irresistible Grace.
At the outset, it would seem that the phrase Irresistible Grace is obviously misleading because many people have resisted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and continue to do so. This is the case even with people who eventually repented of their sins and trusted Christ for their justification. I, along with others, prefer the title “effectual grace.”
Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, “The idea of irresistibility conjures up the idea that one cannot possibly offer any resistance to the grace of God. However, the history of the human race is the history of relentless resistance to the sweetness of the grace of God. Irresistible grace does not mean that God’s grace is incapable of being resisted. Indeed, we are capable of resisting God’s grace, and we do resist it. The idea is that God’s grace is so powerful that it has the capacity to overcome our natural resistance to it. It is not that the Holy Spirit drags people kicking and screaming to Christ against their wills. The Holy Spirit changes the inclination and disposition of our wills, so that whereas we were previously unwilling to embrace Christ, now we are willing, and more than willing. Indeed, we aren’t dragged to Christ, we run to Christ, and we embrace Him joyfully because the Spirit has changed our hearts. They are no longer hearts of stone that are impervious to the commands of God and to the invitations of the gospel. God melts the hardness of our hearts when He makes us new creatures. The Holy Spirit resurrects us from spiritual death, so that we come to Christ because we want to come to Christ. The reason we want to come to Christ is because God has already done a work of grace in our souls. Without that work, we would never have any desire to come to Christ.”
If you recall from our study of John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Notice the cause and effect structure of Jesus’ statement. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless the condition of the new birth or regeneration occurs first, a sinner cannot see the kingdom of God or come to Christ. To put it another way, regeneration precedes faith.
Not only does regeneration, or the new birth, precede one’s faith but it is also monergistic. In other words, regeneration is a work done by the Holy Spirit alone in the heart of sinful man. This is what the phrase “born of the Spirit” means (John 3:6-8). John 6:63 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is not help at all.”
Dr. Sproul states, “An erg is a unit of labor, a unit of work. The word energy comes from that idea. The prefix mono– means “one.” So monergism means “one working.” It means that the work of regeneration in the human heart is something that God does by His power alone—not by 50 percent His power and 50 percent man’s power, or even 99 percent His power and 1 percent man’s power. It is 100 percent the work of God. He, and He alone, has the power to change the disposition of the soul and the human heart to bring us to faith.
Irresistible grace is an effectual grace. It’s a grace that works. It’s a grace that accomplishes what God wants it to accomplish. Since fallen sinners are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-3), and since the sinner’s will is held captive by the lusts of the flesh the fallen sinner needs the freedom only God provides.
Dr. Sproul concludes, “In the final analysis, salvation must be something that God does in us and for us, not something that we in any way do for ourselves.”
Dr. Scott Clark adds, “We are so corrupt by nature that we are incapable of life or free choice apart from “the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit.” The natural knowledge and law of God only condemns us. Only God the Spirit “through the word or ministry of reconciliation” raises His elect to life. We believe because God has made us alive (and not the reverse), but the Spirit makes us alive by working through the administration of the Word; the external proclamation of the Gospel is sincere and the Gospel promise sincere. Those who refuse the Gospel are responsible for their choices, and the regeneration of the elect must be credited only to God’s sovereign grace. God’s sovereignty does not make us “stocks and blocks” because the Spirit works through the Word. It “spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed.”
Soli deo Gloria!