mē genoito

May it never be! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Ro 3:4)

Tiptoeing Through the TULIP: Irresistible Grace

Although the next letter in the acrostic after T should be U. It makes more systematic sense to skip to I for my next review on TULIP. The I in TULIP stand for irresistible grace. Just what is irresistible grace? Essentially irresistible grace has to do with how a person is regenerated. Regenerated in the sense that we are all spiritually dead as indicated in total depravity, and through the Holy Spirit we are brought to life spiritually. I should also note, as you will see, the reason why there are 5 points in Calvinian soteriology is because they are interconnected. For this reason Calvinists will say it doesn’t make sense to be a 3 points or 4 points or a 4½ points Calvinist.

What does Dr. Sproul say about regeneration?

This work of the Spirit is sometimes called quickening. (What is here called quickening or being made alive is what is elsewhere called rebirth or regeneration. The term regeneration, as the word suggests, indicates a “generating again.”) It is the new beginning of life that we are concerned with here, the beginning of spiritual life.1

Regeneration is the theological term used to describe rebirth. It refers to a new generating, a new genesis, a new beginning. It is more than “turning over a new leaf”; it marks the beginning of a new life in a radically renewed person. Peter speaks of believers “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” 1 Peter 1:23

Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit upon those who are spiritually dead (see Ephesians 2:1-10). The Spirit recreates the human heart, quickening it from spiritual death to spiritual life. Regenerate people are new creations. Where formerly they had no disposition, inclination, or desire for the things of God, now they are disposed and inclined toward God. In regeneration, God plants a desire for Himself in the human heart that otherwise would not be there.

Regeneration is not to be confused with the full experience of conversion. Just as birth is our initiation, our first entrance into life outside the womb, so our spiritual rebirth is the starting point of our spiritual life. It occurs by God’s divine initiative and is an act that is sovereign, immediate, and instantaneous. An awareness of our conversion may be gradual. Yet rebirth itself is instantaneous. No one can be partially reborn any more than a woman can be partially pregnant.2

So Calvinian soteriology progresses from a spiritually dead state, then through the grace and power of God, a person’s heart is changed and reborn spiritually. After regeneration this person is then able to exercise the free will of faith. The Bible then says that if a person has been regenerated then the calling of this person to have faith in God will be effective. This then is what Calvinists call irresistible grace or effectual calling. Once again Dr. Sproul has a great example of this effectual calling. I probably should have just kept my mouth shut and quoted his example, but this is my blog so I have to say something.

When I was a boy my mother used to stand at the window and call me into the house for dinner. Usually I came at the first summons, but not always. If I delayed, she would call a second time, usually with greater volume. Her first call was not always effective; it failed to gain the desired effect. Her second call usually was effective; I hurried into the house.

There is a call of God that is effective. When God called the world into being, the universe did not hesitate to comply with the command. God’s desired effect in creation came to pass. Likewise, when Jesus called the dead Lazarus from his grave, Lazarus responded with life.

There is also an effectual call of God in the life of the believer. It is a call that brings about its desired effect. Effectual calling is related to the power of God in regenerating the sinner from spiritual death. It is sometimes referred to as “irresistible grace.”

Effectual calling refers to a call of God that by His sovereign power and authority brings about His designed and ordained effect, or result. When Paul teaches that those whom He predestines, He calls, and those whom He calls, He justifies, the call to which he is referring is the effectual call of God.

The effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. It effects or works the inward change of the disposition, inclination, and desire of the soul. Before the inward effectual call of God is received, no person is inclined to come to Him. Everyone who is effectually called is now disposed to God and responds in faith. We see, then, that faith itself is a gift from God, having been given in the effectual call of the Holy Spirit.

The preaching of the gospel represents the outward call of God. This call is heard audibly by both the elect and the nonelect. Human beings have the ability to resist and refuse the outward call. He will not respond to the outward call in faith unless or until the outward call is accompanied by the effectual inward call of the Holy Spirit. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result. This sovereign work of grace is resistible in the sense that we can and do resist it in our fallen nature, but irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it.

Effectual calling refers to the creative power of God by which we are brought to spiritual life. The apostle Paul writes: And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:1-3)3

Let’s again look at the Canons of Dordt and see what it says.

But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains); but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who, as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son Article 10

How about some Scriptural references?

Ezekiel 36:26-27
26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Romans 8:30
30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Ephesians 1:7-12
7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
2 Timothy 1:8-12
Deuteronomy 30:6; Titus 3:4-7
The above Scriptural references are drawn from Sproul, R. C. (1996, c1992). Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House

John 6:37
37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

Romans 8:14
14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons[a] of God.

1 Peter 5:10
10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

John 3:3
10Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 1:13
13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 6:44
44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

John 15:16
16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit
The above Scriptural references are drawn from THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM by R. L. Dabney (1820-1898)

One Response to “Tiptoeing Through the TULIP: Irresistible Grace”

  • inunison says:

    Hi teleologist,

    The way I see Scripture’s description of salvation by grace is two pronged, in other words, in the order of salvation, justification and sanctification are two closely related facets of redeeming grace, but facets that must be clearly distinguished. This perspective understands that sinners do not naturally seek for God, but that He earnestly seeks for them to come into a redemptive relationship with Him. Such gracious seeking “creates” a proto-renewal which enables the convicted soul to respond to God’s redemptive offer. Justification by faith alone must be accompanied by sanctification by grace through faith. Saying that, I don’t think this view contradicts your post.

    Scripture (in addition to your ref):

    2 Peter 1:3-4
    Romans 8:1-4
    Romans 5:6-10

    Let me leave you with Stephen Neill’s elegant description of human freedom: “The characteristic dimension of human existence is freedom. On this narrow sand-bank between existence and non-existence, between coercion and chaos, God has withdrawn his hand so far as to make a space in which we can be really, though not unconditionally, free. In Jesus we see what a free man looks like”.

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