This post is part of my series Life as a Calvinist in the SBC.
A few days behind schedule, but here at long last is the fourth point from the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. The post for the final point has already been written and will be posted tomorrow at 6:30 am. After that, just a few more posts to tie up some loose ends, and this series will be history!
I once heard the story of a man who had faced a lifelong addiction to cigarettes. From time to time he would try to quit, but every attempt would result in quick failure. Then one day he changed his approach and began to pray earnestly for God to remove his taste for cigarettes. To his delight, God answered his prayer and what he once found irresistible he now found revolting. Whereas once he could not help but pick up a cigarette, now he could not make himself smoke one.
We hear stories such as these and rejoice at Godâ€™s mercy to remove sinners from their sins and temptations. Rarely will anyone say, â€œWhat? God changed this manâ€™s desires so that he hates what he once loved and thus compelled him away from cigarettes? What a violation of this manâ€™s free will!â€ Yet this is precisely the charge often leveled against Calvinists for their doctrine of irresistible grace.
Irresistible grace is another point which could do with a better name. It is possible for people to resist Godâ€™s grace, people resist every day! Also, this point does not teach that God drags sinners, kicking and screaming, against their will, to the throne of grace. Rather, this point speaks of effectual grace, the work of grace that God does in his elect which changes their wills, causes them to be born again, and fills them with faith. It is effectual because it is effective, bringing new life to the recipient. It is grace because we in no way deserve it.
In a nutshell, irresistible grace is the belief that God accomplishes salvation in all of his elect. There will be no unsaved elect at the last day; all those chosen by God will be saved. Their salvation will not come because they have completed something necessary for salvation but because Godâ€™s effectual grace has transformed them. As the song says:
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him seeking me.
It was not I that found O Savior true
No, I was found of thee!
Thou did reach forth thy hand and mine enfold
I walked and sank not on the storm vexed sea
Twas not so much that I on thee took hold
As thou, dear Lord, on me!
- Always Thou Lovest Me
The Universal Call of the Gospel
Some have mistaken the Reformed notion of predestination to imply that only the elect are offered salvation. This is not the case. Scripture is clear that God has issued a call to all people. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. The offer is given to everyone: come unto me.
Because Godâ€™s call is universal, the churchâ€™s call should also be universal. Believers are charged with spreading the gospel throughout the earth. We are to preach the gospel wherever we go, sharing the good news of Christ with all people.
This universal offer is a fair offer. It is for any who would believe, as Jesus tells us in John 3:16. Any who believe in the Son, any who come to him, any who seek his salvation, will receive eternal life. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and any who would gaze upon that serpent were saved (Numbers 21:9), so it is now: any who will look upon the Son will be saved. God will not turn away anyone who faithfully responds to this offer.
There will be many who appear to respond yet continue to hold back from full faith and commitment. Like the man at the wedding feast who had on no wedding garment, many will go through the motions of being part of Godâ€™s people but will have experienced no true change (Matthew 22:11-14). But everyone who would call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
This is where we hit the problem. The call has gone out to all the earth: a price has been paid, a cross has been carried, sin has been atoned for, now come to Christ! But when this offer is made to a world of people who are dead in their sins, spiritually blind, enemies of God, and lovers of evil, there will be no response to the gospel. Dead men cannot move. Dead men will not respond to the gospel.
Put another way, if Jesus stood before Lazarusâ€™ tomb and called out, â€œLazarus, come forth!â€ but then waited for Lazarusâ€™ corpse to decide whether or not to receive this call to life, he would still be standing before the tomb. Lazarus rose from the dead because Jesusâ€™ call for him to come was filled with resurrection power. Lazarus could no more ignore the words of Jesus than a cat can ignore the sound of a can opener.
Why the Call Goes Ignored
It ought to be noted that when people ignore the universal call to salvation, it is not because of a deficiency in the call but because of sin in the hearer. Every individual is responsible for how he answers this call to repent and be saved. Sin has made men dead and deaf so that, left to ourselves, we will not hear the call, but this is a problem we have brought on ourselves. We are guilty of this sin, we are guilty of this blindness and death.
Some would say that the Calvinistic notion is unjust because it means God offers something he knows man cannot do, as though man were a helpless victim. An analogy might be if I told my 4-year-old daughter to drive to the store and pick up some milk, then spanked her for not obeying. She is unable to drive, so it would be unjust of me to make such a request. But an analogy of that sort does not compare to the human situation. In our case, we have created our inability. We have cut off our ears and gouged out our eyes by our love of sin. In Adam, the human race fell into sin. Ever since Adam, we have continued our love affair with sin.
A better analogy would be of a man who cuts off his own arms then complains that he is unable to drive a car. He is unable, but he is responsible for his inability.
God created us with the capacity and moral freedom to obey or disobey. In Adam, we chose disobedience and in our sin we have made ourselves unable and unwilling to respond to any good from God. It is not Godâ€™s fault that we have made ourselves unable to respond to his call.
If our own self-imposed inability were not enough, we also have an enemy who wants to keep us from God. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 tells us of the global influence of Satan to blind people from the truth:
2 Corinthians 4:4-6
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (ESV)
So people reject the universal call, first, because of their own sin, and second, because of the blinding influence of Satan. But sin and Satan do not get the final word. In fact, the solution is contained in 2 Corinthians 4:6.
The Effectual Call of the Gospel
In addition to the universal call given to all people is the effectual call given only to the elect. This effectual call is the same as Godâ€™s irresistible or effectual grace: the means by which God penetrates our dead, blind hearts and gives us saving faith.
In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the effectual call is described this way: For God, who said, â€œLet light shine out of darkness,â€ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God, who can create light in darkness, has created light in the hearts of believers, giving us the knowledge of the glory of God, knowledge and glory we see most clearly in Jesus Christ. We would not open the door to let this light in. We would not seek the light of Christ. Dead in our sins and blinded by Satan, we would continue in ignorance until judgment day unless God shone this light into our hearts.
While some dispute terms such as Calvinist/non-Calvinist/Arminian/etc, there is a classic distinction we can make that does a good job of showing two basic camps: monergism and synergism.
Synergism is a view that God and man work together, a synergistic partnership in which God accomplishes everything necessary for salvation except for the last step. God offers salvation, then waits for our response (this is a little simplistic: most synergists would speak of the continued work of the Spirit to woo and convict, but such wooing and convicting remains a work the Spirit only takes so far: an offer made, to which we must take the initiative to respond). Man cooperates with God by exercising faith, a faith we form as we become convinced of the foulness of our sin and our need for a savior to pay our debt and make us righteous.
Monergism is the Reformed view. In monergism, God does everything necessary, from the work of the cross to the work of faith. There is nothing man can or will offer to salvation. If we must cooperate, we would never be saved. Instead, God takes us and changes us and fills us with faith and it is with the faith God gives us that we trust in Christ for salvation.
Calvinists do believe that man must respond to Christ, that we must receive him by faith, that we must exercise the will to pursue the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ. But Calvinists recognize that we would never generate such faith or movements of the will on our own: they must come from God. What we do in response to God, we only do because of God at work in us.
There are several passages that demonstrate this:
The common thread in each of these passages is God doing something for us that we could not do for ourselves: he willed our new birth; he caused us to be born again; he granted repentance; he authored and gave us our faith. These are not isolated passages but a repeated theme in the New Testament: that which we need for salvation, all the way down to new birth and faith, we receive from God and not from ourselves. Left to ourselves, we would never have faith. But God has not left his elect to themselves; he has caused new birth, given faith, and granted repentance to those whom he has chosen.
The classic Reformed formula is, Regeneration Precedes Faith. In other words, before we can have faith in Christ, we must be born again. A dead heart cannot believe in God. An enemy will not love that which he fights against. God must first change us, then he must give us faith.
1 John 5:1 is perhaps the clearest place to see the new birth coming before faith: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. John tells us that if you believe in Jesus, if you trust him by faith, then you have been born of God. Not that new birth follows faith, but faith is the evidence of new birth. Putting it in the form of a question: How do you know that you have been born of God? If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, you show that you have been born of God.
Following the new birth comes new faith. In the passages above I included Hebrews 12:2 and Ephesians 2:8. Both of these refer to faith as something that comes from God and is given to man. It does not originate from us, it originates from God who gives it to us as a gift of grace. In Ephesians 2:8, we are told we are saved by grace through faith, and this does not come from us but is a gift from God. The whole package is a gift: that God saves us by grace, and the faith with which we receive his grace.
This gift of God will accomplish what God intends. It will bring about the salvation of the elect. In the Arminian system, God initiates a salvation that is possible for everyone but certain for no one. God desires the salvation of everyone in the same way but fails in his desire when many reject him and remain in their sins. In the Calvinist system, there is a degree to which God desires the salvation of all but a more specific desire, will, and plan of God to accomplish the salvation of some. (For more on this, see Piperâ€™s writings on Two Wills in God. If time and motivation allows, I may add an additional post to this series on the Two Wills view. Piperâ€™s article gave me tremendous help and comfort when I was wrestling with the question of why God does not save everyone.)
One of my favorite verses is Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. This is Godâ€™s promise to finish what he started. He will see his work to completion. In the area of salvation, he does not begin the good work of salvation in all people and leave it in our hands; he finishes the work of salvation in those whom he is saving.
We see a similar picture in John 6. We said a lot about John 6 when talking about election; it also has a word for us about Godâ€™s effectual grace. Note the following: John 6:37, All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out and John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. There is a certainty in these verses: No one goes to the Son unless the Father first draws him, and everyone drawn to the Son by the Father will be received by the Son, never cast out, and will be raised to life on the last day. The Father must issue the effectual call for the elect if they are to believe in Jesus Christ. But all those who receive this call, this drawing, will respond to the gospel and will be saved. The call accomplishes its purpose.
We also see this in John 17:1-3:
17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (ESV)
The Son has been given authority over all people, authority to save all those whom the Father has given the Son. In John 17:6 Jesus shows us that while the Father has given him authority over all flesh, the Father has not given every person to the Son, but that out of the world the Father has given some to the Son. Those the Son has received will be given eternal life. Eternal life is described as that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This is eternal life because this is the means by which life in Christ is received: faith and trust in him. So the Father gives to the Son a certain number of people from among all the people of the world. The Son receives them and gives them the means by which they receive eternal life: faith in the one true God and the one true Son of God. The Son accomplishes his purpose among the elect.
The same picture is seen in Romans 8:29-30:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)
This has been called the golden chain of redemption. Those foreknown by God for salvation (as discussed before, this is not his knowledge of what men would do but his knowledge of what he would do with men) are predestined to be saved, will be called (the effectual calling), will be justified (made right with God), and will be glorified (experience the future glory of the presence of God in eternity). The assurance offered in Romans 8 is that God is the sovereign Lord of all creation, no challenge or suffering or struggle or enemy can overcome his work, and it is his plan to bring salvation to his elect. Nothing can pluck you from his hands. If he has chosen you, he will save you and he will lead you safely home. His grace is not weak or incomplete, it accomplishes all that it is intended to do.
Because this work of grace is fully in his hands, we are secure and will remain faithful until the day we are called home. In my next post, we will look at the Calvinist doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.