As a Calvinist, I don’t think grace is irresistible. Don’t get me wrong . . . I believe in all the “doctrines of Grace” that make one a certified Calvinist. All the doctrines presented by the ol’ TULIP acronym are fine and dandy. But the “I” for Irresistible Grace is unfortunate and creates more misconceptions than that memorable flower is worth.

Let me put it plainly: the saving grace that God gives to us is resistible . . . at least in theory.

Wait a minute. I suppose there is a context in which the word “irresistible” might work. Let me try:

I met my wife 19 years ago at a bar called the Dugout (She hates for me to tell this story . . . I, on the other hand, love it!). I was sitting at a table with all my buds when this new waitress walks up to take our order. Now, I was a regular at the Dugout. So much so, I think they still have a seat with my name on it. I knew all the waitresses (some better than I should have). But this night we had a new waitress who was working the bar. Once she caught my eye, it was over. I could not quit staring at her. It was like we were the only two people there. Now, of course, it was “drown night” and I had begun to go overboard with the five dollar all you can drink Milwaukee’s Best. But sober or intoxicated, I could not resist this gal. She was over-the-top, beyond all hopes, beyond all my dreams, and beyond any definition of beautiful I had ever known. She was perfect. I grabbed her as she walked by and the first words I said to her were “Before I get drunk, I want to tell you I love you.” Now, to tell you the truth, I was already drunk. But (thankfully) she was a bit naive. We ended up talking all night. It turned out that she loved Christ too. I was trying to get out of that lifestyle and she would be by my side over the next few years, as it happened. All of this is to say that Kristie was totally irresistible to me. I could not help but look at her. I could not help but love her. I could not help but think of her every moment. I could not help but grab her as she walked by. I could not help but ask her out. I could not help but marry her. And I cannot help but see her as irresistible today.

Sorry for the awkward bar story that may or may not have worked, but if we think of  the word “irresistible” in the way I think of my wife, the “Irresistible” in “Irresistible Grace” might work. You see, Kristie was compelling in every way. Sure, in theory, I could have chosen to stay silent that night. In theory, I could have kept from asking her out. In theory, whether drunk or sober, I could have resisted her. But in reality, I could not. I was overwhelmed to the point that my will was bound to choose according the realization of her beauty.

It is a lot like this with God. Outside of God’s grace, we are uncompelled by His love. We are unimpressed with the Gospel. Outside of God’s grace, we are driven only by our own selfish desires. However, in theory, outside of God’s grace, we could choose Him. In theory, we could recognize our sins and call on Him to save us. But in reality, we never would. In other words, the capability is always present. The will works. We have the ability to choose. We just are completely uncompelled. Augustine said that while we have the ability, we just lack the liberty. I am not sure how well that translates, but it does communicate the essence of what I am trying to say.

When we Calvinists talk about irresistible grace, we are not saying that we are forced into the kingdom against our will. We are not saying that we are dragged to Christ, kicking and screaming. We are not saying that we don’t have free will (a scary word that Calvinists need to be more comfortable using) to choose Him and, in theory, reject Him. What we are saying is that when God opens our heart to Him, it is totally compelling. When God regenerates our mind and will, we see God’s beauty for the first time and we are overwhelmed. We freely choose Him because it just fits, and for the first time, we have the ability to see that it fits.

The story of my wife breaks down due to the fact that there were others there that did not feel as compelled as I did. It is too subjective. However, just imagine if the world was filled only with men. All of these men would have the natural inclination toward the opposite sex rightly functioning. Yet, they have never seen a woman. They know that there is a drive and they want it to be satisfied, yet, they just don’t know how to fill this void. Imagine one day a woman shows up. Suddenly, men see for the first time the object of their need and desire. Every hope is realized right in front of their eyes. There is no doubt that this is the exact piece of the puzzle that their heart was missing. There are two questions that are relevant: 1) Could a man resist this woman? and 2) Would a man resist this woman? The answer to the first is “yes”. In theory, a man could say “Interesting, but I will pass.” But this would never happen. Because the answer to the second question is “No”. While a man could resist this woman, he never would. His drive and need have been realized and satisfied. While he has the ability to resist, his free will will always compel him to chose the woman . . . always.

For the Calvinist, God’s saving grace is very much the same. It is not that God simply fixes our will and leaves us hanging. He introduces Himself to us and His beauty is overwhelming. Yes, in theory, we have the ability to resist Him, but in reality we never would. He lets us know exactly what we need, and offers Himself as the only and perfect solution. We call upon Him every time. This is what the doctrine of irresistible grace is all about. It is grace that opens our eyes and compels us. It is compelling grace (probably a better name). Our choice of God is completely free, since it comes from one with a changed heart that has a sudden realization of who God is, and what He is offering.

Ironically, this is best expressed in a song by Charles Wesley (an Arminian) called And Can it Be:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Once the chains fall off, in theory, we could stay in the dungeon, but we never would. In theory, freedom is resistible. In actuality, it is irresistible.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    24 replies to "The Resistibleness of Irresistible Grace"

    • Dynan

      Back up! You quote Augustine but miss his context. The Holy Spirit is given to the child soul at birth. The Holy Spirit is given to the adult soul at puberty.(Remember Jesus being found in the Temple after Passover when He was 12.) At age 25 for Jewish women and 30 for Jewish men,
      they get their parent soul either at a marriage ceremony or their PHD.Recall that Jesus “lived” during His public life as a Pharisee should.

      Augustines context is that Jesus is your “Am”, the Father is your “Know” and the Holy Spirit is your “Will”, hopefully the love between the Father and the Son.

      God gives you a body to permit you to tame your emotions(His will!) C.S.Lewis discusses this better than Augustine in a short book called “The Abolition of Man”

    • Steve Martin

      Personally, I find His grace irresistible.

    • Kipp

      Excellent post, Michael. And a great articulation of the real meaning of “irresistible grace”! Kind of boils down to, “Yes, you still have the choice to be stupid; you just don’t want to be anymore.”

      I don’t remember if I ever told you this, but a former student of mine and I spent an afternoon reconciling the Arminian and Calvinist views of the doctrine of “limited atonement.” Our concluding statement was, “Jesus died to make salvation legitimately offered to all, and accomplished for the elect.” In retrospect it’s rather obvious. But I think the idea that Jesus had to die to even legitimately OFFER salvation was the breakthrough concept.

      So that’s two down, three to go!

    • Crux Theologorum time: Why some, but not others? Does God only love some? Is God lying when He inspired John to write, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17)? If grace is irresistible, why is it only so for a small segment of humanity, as it is written, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14)?
      It always, for the Calvinist, ends up with Limited Atonement. God intentionally saved only the Remnant, and only has love FOR the Remnant. The rest of humanity are just fuel for the Lake of Fire. God chose to let them burn, when He could have, with just a touch of grace, saved them from destruction. If we were discussing anyone OTHER than God, what would we call this, say, a fireman, life guard, or police officer?

    • Dee

      We do kick and scream against God right up until the time He breaks through our darkened minds. Once He breaks through He gives us the gift of faith. That gift is irresistible. Once we have the gift of faith we cannot resist His grace because we have already believed. If He chose us before the foundation of the world He certainly will not leave us to our own ability to choose or reject His grace. Since our election is ultimately for His glory there is no doubt that His plan will be accomplished and He will be glorified. If we had the ability to resist His grace then there is the possibility, be it ever so slight, that His plan could be thwarted.

    • Chris

      Mr. Campbell,
      Would you agree that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? Assuming you do, let me make a few points regarding the Arminian position.
      If God is omniscient, then He knows who will choose and who will reject Him before He even creates them, correct?
      It surely seems from my understanding of Scripture that the atonement of the cross was planned before the foundation of the world, indicating that God knew the rebellion of Adam before it happened…
      He still creates men knowing they will reject Him, right?
      He also knows exactly what would have to be tweaked in their circumstances, so that they would choose Him, correct?This could be situational/environmental or psychological etc. He could place additional, compassionate, Christ-like Christians in his path. He could send him better evangelists, and better apologists. Kind of like when Jesus said in Matthew 11 that if the works done in Chorazin and Bethsaida had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they (Tyre and Sidon) would have repented.. indicating that God knew exactly what it would take for those cities to repent, though God chose not to cause those things to happen. Then Jesus goes on to thank the Father for hiding the Gospel from certain people, in the immediate context…

      Point is, from the Arminian perspective, it seems that God creates people that He knows will reject Him and therefore suffer in hell eternally, yet He creates them anyway. And not only that, but He knows exactly what it would take to get them to repent, and not only does He know what it would take, He is capable of causing it to happen, yet He chooses not too. So He creates people, knowing that they will reject Him and He creates them anyway, and then refuses to make the changes necessary to cause them to repent.
      How is this not more abhorant than the God depicted by 5-point Calvinism?
      I haven’t truly sought all these things through, so forgive me if my conclusions don’t follow the premises, or if I am making false premises…

    • Here’s the thing: I am neither Arminian, nor Calvinist. They are innovators; I follow the Reformer – Dr. Luther! He followed the Fathers, the Councils, and the Word; none of which taught either synergy or TULIP.
      The Scriptures teach that God saves us, by Himself, for He needs no help. As it is written, for we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast.
      At the same time, God cannot be charged with evil, for the Scriptures teach us that those who believe not are condemned already, for they do not believe in the Only-Begotten Son of God. The bible nowhere teaches that God has chosen some to be condemned, for God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him, might be saved. If one is lost, it is because he has not believed in the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.
      Why some, but not others? Lutherans do not know the answer to that, for it is one of the secret things that belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29). We do not search for that which is hidden, but trust in that which has been revealed.

    • John B

      Seems odd that so many have rejected Him even though they have stood or will stand in His presence. Thinking of Lucifer, Adam, Israel, those in the Millennial Kingdom. Your analogy does break down, as you say, in that your wife was equally revealed to all in the bar room yet not all found her as irresistible as you did. God calls us all, but many resist. As Christ cried out, ” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing”. It is an old battle, but in your context we are saved before we put our faith in Christ. Our hearts are completely changed, so that we find Him irresistible. Also, if this scenario how do you avoid the charge of semi-pelagianism? Are we freely making a choice or not?

    • Dynan

      With respect to comment 7, we are making a free choice to choose Jesus or not to choose Jesus. Before we do that, we first think. Then we label. In the City of God by Augustine, our body creates the thought, our mind labels the thought to a word, then our will chooses. Our body is as Jesus, our mind is as the Father and our heart is where the Holy Spirit resides.

      I daily ask for knowledge of God’s will for me and the power(grace) to carry that out.

    • Kyle

      Thank you for defining what you mean. Often people have so many definitions of the five points and it’s hard to actually understand what people mean when they say they are calvinist. Im currently study the five points myself to see how biblically sound they are and this was a great help

    • Dave

      Grace is receiving something completely undeserved. As an example, I receive grace from my wife everyday, since I do not deserve her. By what mechanism God saves us we cannot know for that is getting into the mind of God Himself and as he reminded us, Isaiah 55:8; For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

      I am a reformed Presbyterian, but I don’t like these conversations about the mechanism of salvation that lead to nowhere because we do not have the mind of God. There is a reason Calvinists and Armenians cannot see eye to eye…because salvation by what mechanism is not completely clear, but it does not alter the fact that we are offered grace. Therefore, understanding the mechanism is not salvation dependent. The Bible does talk about the elect. The Bible also does talk about “whosoever”. It’s not a contradiction, but it is also about as clear as pre-trib/mid-trib and post-trib theology. As I heard recently and bears repeating…the Millennium is the “thousand-years of peace” we all like to fight about.
      Some like to say “Christ didn’t shed one more drop of blood than he had too.” That may sound cool, but break it down; how big a drop of Christ’s blood does it take to save a person? A normal drop? Half? One cell? Ridiculous? Wait this is your argument, not mine. Are there a billion drops of blood in a human body? See where this could go? The Credo House is trying to make God’s message understandable to skeptics, but then well-meaning Christians just hand them hand-grenades like this and dare them to pull the pin.
      Bottom line, one does not have to subscribe to Calvin or Wesley to become a Christian. As always, I reserve the right to be wrong.

    • C Michael Patton

      Well since Roger Olson said it was accurate I will have to beg to differ.

    • teleologist

      Maybe another analogy would be someone lost in the desert for days without water and someone comes along and offers that person a tall bottle of water. Can you refuse the water? Theoretically yes, but why would you. When God puts those paddles and resuscitates our spiritual life and we can breath once again the sweet fellowship of walking in the Garden in the cool of the day with Him why would you resist that? It would be as natural as breathing.

    • UberGenius

      In 1618-19 the 5 points of doctrinal dispute between Arminians and Calvinists were adjudicated at the Synod of Dordt and then canonized. The Canons of Dordt, Section 3 Human Corruption, Conversion & the way it occurs rejects the following statement as heresy

      “Section VIII. Who teach that God in regenerating man does not bring to bear that power of his omnipotence whereby he may powerfully and unfailingly bend man’s will to faith and conversion, but that even when God has accomplished all the works of grace which he uses for man’s conversion, man nevertheless can, and in actual fact often does, so resist God and the Spirit in their intent and will to regenerate him, that man completely thwarts his own rebirth; and, indeed, that it remains in his own power whether or not to be reborn.”

      The canon then responds to this heresy as follows,

      “For this does away with all effective functioning of God’s grace in our conversion and subjects the activity of Almighty God to the will of man; it is contrary to the apostles, who teach that we believe by virtue of the effective working of God’s mighty strength (Eph. 1:19), and that God fulfills the undeserved good will of his kindness and the work of faith in us with power (2 Thess. 1:11), and likewise that his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).”

      Here the authors seem to say that in fact if we don’t accept that God is “powerfully and unfailingly bending man’s will to faith and conversion” we “do away with the effective functioning of God’s grace.”

      On this Calvinist view Ephesians 2:8 seems to represent that “Faith” rather than “Salvation by Grace” is the gift of God. Clearly not the proper rendering of the passage. Further on Irresistible Grace what exactly is faith for? It seems to accomplish nothing.

      Seems like we are back to a discussion of libertarian free will as opposed to so-called (euphemistically and equivocally) compatibalistic free will.

    • UberGenius

      Chris stated above “And not only that, but He knows exactly what it would take to get them to repent, and not only does He know what it would take, He is capable of causing it to happen, yet He chooses not too. So He creates people, knowing that they will reject Him and He creates them anyway, and then refuses to make the changes necessary to cause them to repent.” representing a supposed problem with Arminianism.

      Although I am not an Arminian there is a common error in this statement. On libertarian free will it is not feasible for God to violate man’s free will. On this view God in fact does not actually want Adam to sin, or Christ to die for Adam’s sin (which would not have been necessary if Adam freely chose not to sin, etc.) for that matter. On this view God has limited his power to work inside the constraints of man’s free will, generally. He creates free will because God wants to spend eternity with individuals who freely chose him.

      On this view God is not responsible for sin. He is responsible for drawing men to him and they are responsible for receiving the gift of salvation.

      So saying God is Omnipotent does not enable him to produce married bachelors or square circles or force people to “freely” choose him.

      There is a third position that looks at God’s Soveignty and man’s free will, and God’s Omniscience called Molinism. For more see:

      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/lest-anyone-should-fall-a-middle-knowledge-perspective-on-perseverance

    • Robert Mullins

      Ah, good old compatibilism. So, Michael, let me get this right:

      1) God arbitrarily singles out individuals to elect (as I have noted before, there are no other choices; God’s selection of some for reprobation and others for salvation is either arbitrary or it is based on something God sees in the individual or his relation to other individuals.)

      2) And replaces their pre-existing overwhelming desire to hate/be apathetic towards God with the overwhelming desire to love him, and leaves the rest of humanity to go to eternal suffering.

      So, God – who is completely sovereign in Calvinist theology – has the capacity to elect anyone to freely, joyfully, respond to the gospel and be saved. And yet he arbitrarily chooses a handful of humanity to save in this manner and damns billions who have no capacity to respond – presumably for his ‘glory’. What kind of a deity is this? Is this just or reasonable? Appeals to mystery here amount to little more than a pious smoke-screen.

      I respect you, my friend, but I cannot accept your worldview, which reduces reality to a divine farce. How on earth can anyone continue to praise a god like this, knowing that he has intentionally chosen not to elect their relatives and instead damns them for something which they never had a real choice over? I’m glad you’re one of the elect, my friend – too bad for the rest of us.

    • David Mills

      Robert- You outlined how dificult it is for humans to climb inside God’s thoughts. I’m beginning to wonder if we even should continue to go there, since it is unnecessary for salvation. But let me point out, God chose Israel to be His people and to be an example of His presence on earth. We all know what happened after that. SO God chose them knowing they would reject him. How can we understand this? Not sure we can.

      So the question I want to pose is, why do we do this to ourselves?

      Bible scholars have articulated both sides of this conundrum ad-nausium. You could fill the halls of St Peters with all that has been written about this. To what end? Nothing is resolved.

      I ask again, why do this to ourselves? It does not affect evangelicalism, it does not affect salvation or discipleship. All it does is incite academic outrage on both sides, each side is nonplussed and unmoved, and has been that way for centuries. And we all agree that when we meet each other in heaven, God will set us straight.

      I think more than the mechanics of election (or free will), I think it’s more important to come to some agreement on eschatology, which actually does affect how we think and live our lives.

    • Chris

      David, why do we do this? Why do we examine and attempt to properly exegete what God has revealed about Himself?

      2 Tim 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
      There is a command to properly exegete and interpret the scriptures.

      Ephesians 4:3-6 “..diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
      As Paul states, we are to have unity, and then he defines the unity – unity in “one body” i.e. ecclesiology, “one spirit” i.e. pneumatology etc. We are to have our systematic theology hammered out and correct because there is only one correct interpretation. He tell us there is ONE and only ONE “baptism” i.e. soteriology. This implies that we can determine what that one correct soteriology is.

      “All it does is incite academic outrage on both sides”

      While that may be true, the sinfulness of man’s reactions does not negate our responsibility to obey the commands that we have rightly divide the Word.

    • Robert Mullins

      And people wonder why I’m an agnostic…

    • Dave Mills

      Chris-
      1. “We are to have our systematic theology hammered out and correct because there is only one correct interpretation.
      – Not if you can’t know it.
      – After 2000 years and many scholars smarter than me we are still at an impass as to how someone comes to know Christ.
      – People Still come to Christ whether we hammer it out or not.
      2. “the sinfulness of man’s reactions”
      – Is it a sin to hold an opposite view of yours?
      – More specifically, is it a sin to hold the Armenian view? Or is it just a sin to debate it. I’m confused by your statement.

    • Chris

      “Not if you can’t know it.”
      First, that’s an un-provern assertion, and unfortunately it does not negate the commands in scripture. To say that script cannot be rightly divided is an assault on the PERSPICUITY OF SCRIPTURE which is subsequently an assault on God Himself.

      “After 2000 years and many scholars smarter than me we are still at an impass as to how someone comes to know Christ.”
      Again, that’s an un-proven assertion, and one that I reject. Who is still at an impasse? Just because you may be does not mean we all are. Further more, what’s your point? We are still commanded to rightly divide the Word.

      “People Still come to Christ whether we hammer it out or not.”

      Again, what is your point? And what do you mean by “it”? If you are not separating different parts of the Word and saying that some must be made clear (the divinity of Jesus, trinitarian nature of God, etc?) and others don’t had ego be? We are still commanded to rightly divide the Word.
      Augustin was converted by reading Romans, so should we stop preaching the Word, just because “people come to Christ” whether or not we have correct doctrine?

      “Is it a sin to hold an opposite view of yours?”

      I was referring to what you said i.e. “academic outrage” which surely sounds like a sinful response to me.
      My point is simple, just because people get mad, or “outraged” i.e. sin, when theology is discussed, we are not thereby dismissed from our responsibility to righty divide the Word.
      I think part of the problem may be that you have a myopic view of what sin is. Sin is anything less than perfection, i.e. to miss the mark. So when you open your mouth and teach a doctrine that is not absolutely correct, it is sin, it is to fall short. It does not matter how sincerely you hold to the belief that it is correct, if it is in fact incorrect. This is exactly what James warns against – becoming teachers i.e. those who teach others about God and what He has revealed, because…

    • Dynan

      The entire message in a nutshell is found in the “Letter

      from James”, don’t talk about it, just worship God and work

      hard, as instructed in Genesis 3.

    • Margaret

      I think you are not getting the point, Chris. You just basically said the Armenians were sinful fools. The point was that they think the same way towards you.
      So that gives me pause. I’ve searched all the scriptures on both sides … and I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT.

      Could someone explain why these verses do NOT portray free will?

      “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
      And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
      Adam appears to have made a choice to follow Eve.

      “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
      Israel is given the choice of blessings if they continue to follow and worship Jehovah (God), or curses if they turn from Him to follow and worship other gods.

      “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him. And they said, We are witnesses!”
      Joshua says … I will serve God, what will you do?

      As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’
      And yet, as we read the Bible, we see that Israel did not turn from their wicked ways … they crucified their Lord.

      The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

      “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

      “….. the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time…

    • Theodore A. Jones

      “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” Rom. 2:13 The law he is referencing has been added. This fact is the grace of God and unless you have the faith to obey this law you’ll find out what a hell of a deal you’ve gotten yourself into.

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