Tiptoe Through the TULIP: Irresistible Grace

I apologize to my readers (especially the one who asked me to do this) for the delay in writing this post. A combination of real life matters (ie., work) as well as real life events I had to attend (ie., a funeral) delayed me somewhat. For those who might be new to this series, see the first post here.

We are moving along with our tiptoeing through the TULIP (durr hurr hurr, me so clever), and we’ve reached the second-to-last letter: “I”, for Irresistible Grace. This phrase, also known as Efficacious or Effectual Grace, refers to the saving grace which God bestows upon an individual. Irresistible Grace refers to the grace God bestows on an individual that both calls them to the Gospel and regenerates them, thus permitting them to respond to the Gospel. This is why it is called irresistible, in that an individual cannot resist the grace once it has been given to them, and why it is likewise called effectual or efficacious, as every calling of God for salvific purposes is successful.

Irresistible Grace, like the other members of TULIP we’ve discussed before, often gets greatly misrepresented in non-Calvinist circles. Many seem to presume that Irresistible Grace means that God must do something to the equivalent of pointing a gun at a person and saying, “Believe in me or else.” Hence some will say that Irresistible Grace teaches that God “forces” people to believe, while others have said that Irresistible Grace teaches that God “drags people into the kingdom.” Some have gone so far as to call it “divine rape” – a cruel, irresponsible and utterly reprehensible label if there ever was one. To answer all these misrepresentations, I’ll quote a man who was far, far, far more knowledgeable than myself:

It is a common thing for opponents to represent this doctrine as implying that men are forced to believe and turn to God against their wills, or, that it reduces men to the level of machines in the matter of salvation. This is a misrepresentation. Calvinists hold no such opinion, and in fact the full statement of the doctrine excludes or contradicts it. The Westminster Confession, after stating that this efficacious grace which results in conversion is an exercise of omnipotence and cannot be defeated, adds, “Yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.” The power by which the work of regeneration is effected is not of an outward and compelling nature. Regeneration does no more violence to the soul than demonstration does to the intellect, or persuasion the heart. Man is not dealt with as if he were a stone or a log. Neither is he treated as a slave, and driven against his own will to seek salvation. Rather the mind is illuminated, and the entire range of conceptions with regard to God, self, and sin, is changed. God sends His Spirit and, in a way which shall forever rebound to the praise of His mercy and grace, sweetly constrains the person to yield. The regenerated man finds himself governed by new motives and desires, and things which were once hated are now loved and sought after. This change is not accomplished through any external compulsion but through a new principle of life which has been created within the soul and which seeks after the food which alone can satisfy it. [Loraine Boettner, Reformed Doctrine of Predestinationsource]

Irresistible Grace does not compel anyone against their will. However, let’s remember we established in our post regarding Total Depravity that the will of man is enslaved to sin. Man’s default condition is to reject God. If God were to simply give an empty call sans regeneration, all men would reject Him. Therefore, logically speaking, regeneration is required in order for the man to respond to God’s call, and the regeneration is part of God’s calling and beckoning to His elect.

Now that we’ve done some defining, let’s move on to the part of the post where I examine a section of scripture to discuss this topic further. For this topic, we will be turning to Christ’s words in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. [John 6:35-47]

This follows the account of Christ’s miracle with the five thousand fed, followed by his walking on water before the disciples, and will eventually become one of the greatest sermons in scripture regarding faith in God. Now the five thousand who had been fed, desiring to see more miracles, sailed to where Christ was and met him in the synagogues of Capernaum. It seems like Jesus has the chance to start the first megachurch, but then our Lord tells the people, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26). In other words, their faith was not sincere; it wasn’t true faith; it was shallow, empty faith that meant nothing. We see this further when the people show a desire to justify themselves, asking: ” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28) What is Christ’s response? What is the one work a person must do to be justified before God? Believe in Christ – sola fide (v. 29). The people are not yet satisfied, and so they ask Christ for signs that they might believe (v. 30-31), suggesting something like the bread that came down out of heaven in the Exodus account (v. 32).

At this point, Christ drops a bit of a bombshell – the Father has already sent them bread out of heaven, and it’s him! (v. 35) However, this isn’t the Eucharist, and that is made plain when Christ equates eating with coming to him, and drinking with believing in him: “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Christ is keeping the focus on himself, and especially belief targeted towards him. This belief in him the people do not have, as he says quite plainly in the next verse: “But I have said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe” (v. 36). Yet hadn’t these people called him rabbi? (v. 25) Hadn’t they sailed across an entire lake to find him and seek him out? (v. 24) How can Christ possibly say they don’t believe? How does he even know they don’t believe?

Christ then drops another bombshell: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37). What has our Lord just taught? All that the Father gives to the Son, all these people will come to him, and those who are given to him will never be cast out. In other words, those whom are drawn and called by the Father (and we’ll see more of this soon) will come to the Son, and these same individuals will never be cast out. There is a clear chain within this train of thought that is not broken. The reason Christ said the people didn’t believe was because he knew who it was the Father had given him, and it was those people who would come to believe in him.

Some people might jump in here and say, “Obviously the Father might give some to the Son, but after that they can reject the Son.” The problem with this argument is two-fold. First, it ignores what Christ himself says in verse 37: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” These people also forget that Christ says in the next verse that he came to do the will of the one who sent him (v. 38), and this is Father’s will, as defined by Christ himself: “That I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (v. 39). In other words, no one who is given to the Son will fall away, but will be raised up on the last day – in other words, they won’t reject the Son, and in fact will be kept secure until the day of resurrection (v. 40).

Now the people in Capernaum have problem understanding all this, as they’re harping on the fact that Christ said he was the bread from heaven (v. 41) – after all, didn’t he have family and friends that all the people knew of? So how could he come from heaven if (from their perspective) he had an earthly family? (v. 42) How can he be claiming what amounts to divinity? Jesus admonishes them for grumbling (v. 43), and then drops one of the biggest bombshells in the Bible:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. [v. 44]

Here we see the perfect tie between Total Depravity and Effectual Grace (hinted at earlier). No one can come to Christ – literally “No one has the power to come to Christ” in the original Greek. What then happens? They are drawn by the Father. This is not an empty, surface-level drawing, like a sign outside a door beckoning customers to come inside; rather, it is an effectual drawing – a spiritual drawing – that transforms the individual to follow God.

I recognize that many contend this, and argue in this manner: “I agree that no one can come without the drawing of the Father, but people can still reject the Son after the initial drawing.” This is similar to the popular concept of Prevenient Grace, which says that God takes totally depraved individual and gives them the ability to respond, either for or against, the gospel. However, we have a great issue here: the person making this argument has only read half a sentence, and we do anyone a great disfavor if we only recognize half a sentence and assume other teachings based on that. For you see, Christ goes on to explain what happens to this person drawn: he is raised up on the last day. Christ clearly teaches that no one can come unless the Father draws him, and it is him who will be raised up on the last day. In my previous post on John 6:44, I used the analogy of a murderer using the phrase “I’m gonna find him and kill him!” and then later telling the police that the two “hims” in that sentence were different. That would be an irrational assumption, and so too would it be to assume that the two “hims” in Christ’s statement refer to two completely different individuals. To cut up Christ’s statement and read other theologies into it is plain eisegesis.

Some have turned to verse 45, where Christ quotes Isaiah 54:13 with “and they will all be taught of God.” The argument, therefore, is that people will be taught of God and hence respond like the better students in the classroom. The problem is that right after the quotation Christ states: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Again – everyone within this category will come to him. Why is this? Well, the concept of “learning from God” in the Old Testament is of itself effectual in nature. The passages in Isaiah 54 feature actions given by God and Him alone in regards to the regeneration and rejuvenation of His people. The teaching of God to His children is not passive, but active, and involves a regeneration towards Him. As God said regarding the new covenant He was preparing: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). This is why everyone who has been taught of the Father – through regeneration – will come to the Son.

What have we learned here? Firstly, we’ve Total Inability reestablished. Secondly, we’ve been taught that man’s coming to God is the effectual work of God, and effectual it is indeed, for all drawn, called, or taught by the Father will come to the Son.

We will, God willing, continue on to the final petal in TULIP within the next week or so.

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