A Discussion On Irresistible Grace

I’m going to continue my trend today where I post something that was a part of a former discussion that I had with someone else a good while back.  A friend of mine and I had an email  dialogue regarding the concept of irresistible grace.  The following is a response that I gave to some questions that he was asking about the subject (the response began to become somewhat lengthy [go figure], and so I ended up writing in Word and emailed it to him as an attachment):

                                                          Irresistible Grace

Three things I should say right off the bat. First, I believe that this is something (unlike the last topic we discussed) that is explicitly seen in Scripture. Second, I’ve never liked the term irresistible grace. To me it paints a picture of someone who is being dragged towards Christ, kicking and screaming, as if they didn’t want to get saved but we’re being forced to. That is not what this is. I prefer another term…one you may have heard of before: The effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. That being said, I can live with the term irresistible grace, as long as one takes into consideration what I just said above. Third, one needs to understand from the outset that what I believe about this point is tied to the other components of Reformed Theology I hold to. I believe that God decreed the plan of salvation in eternity past (John 6:37-39; John 17:24; Ephesians 3:11; Titus 1:2). I also believe that there was a specific order in which this plan was set forth. In other words in God’s plan there was man before the fall, the fall, and then man after the fall (the entire Bible). We know that before the fall, there was no need for redemption. The need for redemption did not come until after the fall of man (and so logically, when God was putting the plan together in eternity past, his choosing of both Christ as redeemer and those who would follow Christ came after the fall. This is what is called an infralapsarian view.

(The following was a footnote on Infralapsarianism:   [1]  While it’s true that Scripture does not explicitly lay out the order of God’s decrees, we know that everything about God is orderly.  He is not a God of chaos.  And so infralapsarianism is a position based on logic.  While putting the plan of
salvation together, God could only have decided to save people after the fall, because as has already been mentioned, there was no need for redemption before the fall.  Take this analogy for instance (which is, as all analogies are when talking about God, still not adequate).  Say you want to paint your living room.  You must formulate a plan to do it.  First you have to decide what color you want the room to be.  Then you need to go buy some primer, paint, paint rollers and brushes, drop cloths etc..  After you get home you still have some prep work to do before you can actually start painting.  These are all logical steps that have to be taken in pursuit of getting your living room painted.  Now, it wouldn’t make much sense to paint your living room, and then decide what color you want it to be.  And such was the case when God formulated his plan of salvation in eternity past.  To suggest that we can see order in everything that God does in Scripture (i.e. creation, his covenants with man, his strict rule of law in the Old Testament, his use of Old Testament events to point to Christ as Messiah, his sending John the Baptist as a forerunner to Christ, the process of salvation itself [i.e. justification, then sanctification, then glorification], How each person of the trinity would work this plan of salvation out [Eph. 3:3-14; Titus 3:4-6], etc.), and then suggest that he wouldn’t have maintained that same sense of order while formulating the plan of salvation makes absolutely no sense).

We’ve talked about this before…the idea that when God chose the elect, he didn’t choose those who would be saved and those who would be damned [double predestination, a view that those who truly hold to Arminianism believe]. He chose who would be saved from a world that was already damned). So when God composed this perfect and eternal plan in eternity past (it’s imperative, if one wants to adequately understand my position, that they grasp the idea that I believe God composed all of this in eternity past, not making it up as he went), he not only decreed how man would come back to him (Jesus [Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John 1:1-18; John 17:1-5; Col. 1:15-20; Col. 2:1-11]), he also chose who (the elect [Romans 8, specifically verses 18-30; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 6:37-39; John 17:20-26; 1 Peter 1:1-2), from the lost world, would come back to him. He chose the elect for his glory and good pleasure (2 Timothy 1:9; and see our entire discussion about unconditional election). There was absolutely nothing about any elect individual that made them worthy of salvation (see our entire discussion on unconditional election).
Now back to the fall: The fall infected the entire human race and corrupted it (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 5:12-14) to the point that not only does man have no desire to come to Christ when left in his own depravity, he can’t come to Christ in his sinful state (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:9-18). He is totally and utterly depraved. Because man cannot come to Christ on his own, something has to happen to man. That something is regeneration (John 3:5; Titus 3:5-6) which is a transformation that occurs immediately before salvation and is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit. And so the question is, what happens between point A: total depravity, and point B: regeneration and salvation? This is where irresistible grace or the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit comes into the picture.

I believe that Scripture is clear when it comes to the process of Salvation being initiated by God (John 6:44-46; John 16:7-11). It’s initiated when the Holy Spirit begins to draw the individual to Christ. I believe that this drawing is something that can take a while…weeks, months, maybe even years. Or it can be something that happens very quickly (for example, someone who goes to a weekend Christian conference of some sort who has never even considered Christ, and then by the end of the weekend their saved). I believe that once this process is initiated, it will come to fruition and culminate in the regeneration of the individual immediately preceding the decision to ask Christ to be their Lord and Savior (Acts 13:48; John 3:5-8; John 6:36-39; John 6:44-46; John 6:63; John 17:20-26; 2 Cor. 5:17). Interestingly, one of the strongest passages that supports irresistible grace is also a passage that makes a strong case for unconditional election. It’s a passage that few Reformed Theology opponents ever want to consider or examine.

John 17:20-26:
First the text:
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (ESV).

 I think that you’d agree that this is part of one of the most powerful prayers in all of Scripture.  The prayer, in its entirety, can be divided into three parts that compose all of chapter 17. It’s important to consider all three parts to get the full effect of what Christ is saying in verses 20-26 (the last section). In the first part of the prayer (vs. 1-5) Christ prays for himself. In the second part of the prayer (vs. 6-19) he prays for his disciples. Finally, in the third part of the prayer (20-26) he prays for future believers.

John 17:1-5 Christ Prays For Himself:
From the outset, we can see components of almost everything that has been discussed so far. Christ tells his Father, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” It’s difficult to even write about this without becoming emotional. Immediately we get a sense of just how unbelievably difficult this moment must have been. Christ says, “Father…”. I’m sure you’ve heard analysis about this use of “Father” before. The word transliterates as “Abba” in Aramaic. It is a very personal way of addressing a father. It is as if Christ was calling God the Father “dad.” Now, I don’t want to over emphasize this point, or get to caught up in this intimate term. At the same time I think there is legitimacy in at least addressing it. If nothing else, it lets the reader know right off the bat that this is a very intimate encounter between Father and Son. And then he says, “the hour has come…”. The connotation here is this: in that one simple phrase Christ is saying, “It’s time. This plan…this plan that has been set before the foundation of the world and this plan that has been seen in the Old Testament is now coming to a head. Everything that we have been about since eternity past is coming to a culmination. It’s time.” His reference about having authority over all flesh and being given the authority to give eternal life is just another indication that this has been the plan from the very beginning. And then we see it. Eternal life for whom? “To all whom you have given him.” The ESV translates this verse as accurately as it possibly could (I’m not saying that other translations haven’t, but none translate it any more accurately). The eternal life is for people. And more specifically to a people that have already been given to Christ.

Christ ends this section of the prayer explaining what this salvation (or eternal life) consists of, and then gives another reference that eludes to the eternal nature of this plan (i.e. “…having accomplished the work that you gave me to do”). And then comes one of the most heart breaking verses in all of Scripture. Christ asks his Father to, “glorify me in your own presence with the glory I had with you before the world existed.” How unbelievably awesome is that statement. It is my belief that when Christ is praying this, there are no witnesses. We know that the disciples that were with him were not only told to stay back, but then fell asleep. There have been some (even conservative theologians) who have suggested that one of the disciples must have heard this interaction since it’s recorded in Scripture. I understand the human desire to rationalize here (even from conservatives). However, I see nothing in this passage that would make believe that anyone was privy to this interaction besides the Father and the Son. I believe that this passage is one of the greatest testaments to the inerrancy of Scripture. As far as I can tell this was a painfully intimate and private interaction between the Father and the Son. And yet God saw fit to allow us to witness it in Scripture. What an awesome God we have.

John 17:6-19 Christ Prays For His Disciples:
The next section is dedicated to Christ’s prayer for the disciples. Jesus makes it clear that his Father gave them to him as well. All of this is in the past tense. The giving of them to Christ is yet another part of the eternal plan. What I find very humbling here is the extraordinary love and care and compassion that Christ has for his close followers. Before this, Scripture gives much indication that Jesus cared deeply for his disciples. But it’s here that we can see the fullness of this love and care. Through it all…the teachings, the time spent together, the rebukings…through it all, Christ has loved them, and protected them. And it’s breaking his heart that it’s time to leave them. And so he asks his Father to keep them.

John 17:20-26 Christ Prays For Future Believers:
And then we get to the passage at hand, the section where Christ prays for future believers. The references to election and irresistible grace are undeniable. The glory that Christ gives them is spoken of as if it has already been accomplished (The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one). In verse 24, Christ addresses these future believers as those, “whom you have given me.” Note again, the past tense here. These people who are going to believe have already been given to Christ. And then the reference to irresistible grace: “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Here, Christ distinguishes between the “world” from those whom the Father has given him. There is a clear distinction here. Christ states, “the world does not know” the Father. But these whom the Father has given to the Son, not only know that the Father sent the Son, but Christ himself has made known to them his Father’s name. Again, all of this in past tense. This is the ultimate “already/not yet” concept. They’ve already been given to Christ. Now all that remains is that they, at their appointed times, come to Him. This isn’t something that Christ is hoping. This is something that Christ knows will happen. Those whom the Father has given to Christ will come to him. It’s not a hope. It’s a certainty (The following is a footnote on this point:  [2]  Other verses that speak of irresistible grace are as follows:  Acts 13:48; John 6:38-39; John 6:44-46; John 6:65 (also supports election);  John chapter 10 has many references to both irresistible grace and election).

Now there are those that would construe all that I’ve said here to mean that I do not believe there is a need for missions. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Because we also know from Scripture that those who are going to come to know him will do so by hearing the Gospel preached (Romans 10:14-17). How humbling that notion is. God, in his infinite mercy and grace, has allowed us to take part in his perfect, eternal plan of Redemption.

So there you have it. I would say some things about eternal security, but I know you know the verses that support the view (John 10:27-30; Romans 8:37-39). I also know you hold to it. So I’ll just say this: If you adhere to a Reformed position then eternal security is the logical conclusion. Why? Because the fact that God is in absolute, sovereign control means that I’m not the one holding on to him. He’s holding on to me. And since salvation is all because of him, he will not lose any that the Father has given to him.