Can We Resist God's Grace?
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Short answer: YES!
Long answer: the same as the short answer.
I discussed Total Depravity, Conditional and Unconditional Election in my post titled "Is Unconditional Election Biblical?". Likewise, I discussed Unlimited and Limited Atonement in my blog titled "Did Jesus Limit His Atonement to the Elect?" This covers the first three points of Calvinism. The five points of Calvinism are:
Total Depravity - the unregenerate man is totally dead in sin to the extent that he has the inability to freely accept Jesus Christ.
Unconditional Election - God, by a sovereign, eternal decree, unconditionally elected a certain number of individuals to salvation.
Limited Atonement - Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, only made an atonement for individuals previously elected to salvation.
Irresistible Grace - God irresistibly overpowers the will of the elect sinner with His grace and regenerates him, granting him faith and repentance to believe on Jesus Christ.
Perseverance of the Saints - the elect who have been regenerated by God will persevere in the faith and ultimately die in a state of grace.
I hope you got my point up front. The doctrine of Irresistible Grace DOES NOT mean that sinful humans are unable to resist God's grace as some Christian belief systems, such as Arminianism, would have you believe in their rejection of Calvinism.
Arminianism defines Resistible Grace as follows: God’s call to be saved can be resisted and/or rejected. We can resist God’s pull toward salvation if we choose to.
In my blog on Limited Atonement, I briefly discussed the "passive or desired will of God" (what God desires but does not come to pass) and the "decreed or predetermined will of God." There are numerous passages throughout the scriptures that teach God's decreed will. Here are some examples.
Psalm 115:3 - "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases."
Psalm 135:6 - "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps."
Daniel 4:35 - “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
Irresistible Grace refers to the teaching from scripture that whatever God's decreed will is, it will inevitably come to pass, including the salvation of sinners who are spiritually dead and are, by nature "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The General Call
It's important to recognize that the "general call" of God and the "effectual calling" of God are at play when asking the question: who can resist God's grace. We see an example of the general call of God revealed in His creation.
Romans 1:18-20 - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."
As you read through Romans 1:21-32 you will see how men "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" even though "that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." God's revealing Himself in creation is clearly evident to everyone, yet we suppress the truth about "His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature."
The general call of God is also presented in the gospel. We are commanded in Mark 16:15 to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." If you are not saved, can you resist the gospel of Christ? Absolutely!
John 3:36 - “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Acts 18:5-6 - "But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
1st Corinthians 1:18 - "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
2nd Corinthians 4:3-4 - "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
The Effectual Calling
Contrary to the general call of God, which is preached to all creation in the gospel, the effectual calling of God is limited to the elect - those who God predestined, called, justified, and glorified according the His own purpose and grace (Romans 8:28-30, 2nd Timothy 1:9). I discussed, in great detail, the effectual calling of God in my blog on Unconditional Election.
Can someone who is effectually called by God resist that calling? Yes, but only for a limited period time. That person will eventually believe the gospel of Christ and be saved. We see a connection between this calling and coming to faith in Christ in John chapter 6:
John 6:37-40 - “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
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."
The decreed will of the Father is clear:
Jesus will lose none of those that the Father gave Him - those who are drawn to Jesus by the Father
Those that the Father gave Jesus will be raised up on the last day
Those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life
We also see a connection between this calling and faith in Christ in Ephesians chapter 2:
Ephesians 2:4-9 - "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."
This passage provides several key points:
God is rich in mercy; Ephesians 1:7 says, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."
God loves us with a great love (agapaō - sacrificial, a deep level of affection and intimacy); we see this in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, ..."
God made those who were spiritually dead (nekros - a condition of being lifeless) in transgressions alive together (syzōopoieō - to make someone supernaturally alive with along with someone or others) with Christ.
God raised us up with Him; Colossians 2:12 - "having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."
God seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus; Colossians 3:3-4 - "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory."
For by grace (charis - unmerited favor) you have been saved through faith (pistis - the act of believing, the assurance in the content of what is believed); Hebrews 11:1 - "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." and Romans 10:17 - "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
Jonah resisted the decreed will of God
What does Jonah have to do with Irresistible Grace? Absolutely nothing but at the same time everything when it comes to the consequences of disobeying the decreed will of God, and God's grace in overcoming resistance to His will. Jonah was commanded by God to "go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it" (Jonah 1:1-2). But what did Jonah do? He found a ship in Joppa so that he could flee to Tarshish, completely in the opposite direction of Nineveh (Jonah 1:3). His decision nearly caused the breakup of the ship that he was sailing on when the "Lord hurled a great wind on the sea" (Jonah 1:4). The frightened sailors learned that Jonah was fleeing from God. They earnestly prayed to the Lord asking that they not perish on account of Jonah's life. They acknowledged the sovereign will of God - "for You, O Lord, have done as You pleased." They threw Jonah in the sea. "The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:5-17). After three days of prayer while in the stomach of the fish, the "Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land" (Jonah 2:1-10).
Jonah 3:1-5 - "Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So, Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them."
God overcame Jonah's resistance to His will. The people of Nineveh believed the message that God proclaimed through Jonah. "God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10). God could have destroyed the ship that Jonah was on. There would have been no survivors. God could have also destroyed the city of Nineveh containing a population of over 120,000 people (Jonah 4:11). But He had compassion on Jonah, the sailors on that ship, and the people of the city of Nineveh!
The Apostle Paul
The greatest example of Irresistible Grace is illustrated in the conversion of Saul who zealously persecuted the church of Christ. We first see a young man named Saul who stood by watching the stoning of Stephen. Those witnessing this event "laid aside their robes at the feet" of Saul (Acts 7:58). Luke (author of Acts) records that Saul was in "hearty agreement" in putting Stephen to death. "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison" (Acts 8:1-3). While on the road to Damascus to bind and bring those who belonged to the Way back to Jerusalem, Saul had a blinding encounter with the Lord! Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:1-6).
The Lord told Ananias, a disciple at Damascus (Acts 9:10) that Saul "is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Saul was also known as Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul expands on his Acts 9 encounter with Jesus when testifying before King Agrippa.
Acts 26:14-18 - “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’"
God overpowered the will of Saul who was chosen by God to accomplish His will in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles throughout the known world at that time.
In answer to Resistible Grace
Irresistible Grace does not teach that people are forced to accept Christ and are dragged into heaven kicking and screaming. Nor does it teach that the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. I agree that God's general call to salvation through the gospel can be resisted. However, I respectfully disagree with the premise that God's effectual calling of sinners to salvation can be resisted. Both believers and unbelievers can resist God's grace. Just before being stoned, Stephen told his accusers “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did" (Acts 7:51). Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:30 to "not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptions."
Can an individual who is spiritually dead, whose mind is hostile to God, who does not have the capacity to seek God, and whose heart is full of evil, choose to come to faith in Christ by his own free will, without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit? You may disagree but the answer is no - it is impossible, just like it is impossible to expect someone lying dead in a coffin to respond to your invitation to get some lunch after the funeral. Only God could make someone alive who is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-8). Unless someone is "born again" (John 3:3, 7; 1st Peter 1:23), this individual's heart will resist the gospel. If this individual is elected by God to salvation, the Holy Spirit will regenerate this person's heart, thus overcoming their resistance to the gospel, resulting in saving faith in Christ. Regeneration and faith are so closely tied together that they become undistinguishable from one another. Without grace we cannot be saved through faith - "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8)!
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"
2nd Timothy 2:15
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.