Irresistible Grace: One Evangelical’s Perspective

In the last post we addressed my perspective on the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians regarding the sinfulness of mankind. Though both classical Arminians and Calvinists agree that mankind is morally depraved and will never come to saving faith apart from the drawing grace of God, there is yet a controversy in our day.

Modern Arminians do not hold to the classical Arminian position, at least not in practice. Many tend to imagine that given the right circumstances, a person might be persuaded to “make a decision” for Christ and “invite Jesus into his heart” by “sincerely” praying “the sinner’s prayer.” Those that practice this form of evangelism acknowledge that people are sinful, but do not acknowledge that apart from grace men are totally hostile to God.

The other reason for the present controversy is that Calvinism overstates its case by claiming that mankind is not only morally depraved, but also spiritually incapable. In the last post we alluded to the doctrine of total inability which teaches that man is spiritually dead in a literal sense. That is, part of the human make-up is broken, which makes fellowship with God impossible until God unilaterally gives life to their dead spirits. After the individual is regenerated he will then repent of his sin and trust in Christ, according to this doctrine.

I shared that from my perspective the classical Arminian position is the more biblical position. I believe that man is morally depraved and will never choose to come to Christ except when powerfully persuaded by divine grace. I did not go into depth defending my view; at present I am just introducing my perspective so that people know where I am coming from. God willing, I will defend my position more thoroughly in the future.

Monergism, Synergism & the Order of Salvation

Monergism and synergism are terms that are often mentioned in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. These terms describe how a person is converted by the grace of God. Arminians usually espouse synergism; they believe that when the drawing grace of God comes to the heart of an individual that person’s will is turned towards God. But they would not believe that this drawing influence towards repentance, faith and new life in Christ is so strong that it takes away the ability of the individual to resist that divine nudge.

Calvinists on the other hand hold to monergism; they believe God does a work in a person totally apart from the individual’s will. According to this teaching, God gives life to the sinner’s dead spirit before they are inclined towards Him. Then, as a result of the new life in their hearts, they then respond by repenting of sin and trusting in Christ.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in the need for personal conversion to Christ. They do not believe people are saved by being born into a Christian culture, by taking sacraments or by being a moral person. They believe that individuals must turn from sin and trust in Christ in order to be saved. But they believe the order of conversion, also known theologically as the order of salvation, is different. For the Arminian one is drawn by grace, repents of sin and trusts in Christ, is justified and is then indwelt by the Holy Spirit (i.e. regenerated, born again). The Calvinist believes a person is first made spiritually alive by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (i.e. regenerated, born again), repents of sin and trusts in Christ, and is then justified.

Not Without Grace

No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and has learned of the Father comes to Me.

-John 6:44-45

…there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks after God.

-Romans 3:11

As previously mentioned, I do not accept the popular modern view that given the right human intellectual, emotional and moral persuasion people can come to Christ. I believe with the classical Arminians and Calvinists that mankind is morally depraved, hostile to God and will never repent and believe without direct and powerful divine persuasion. I believe that Jesus taught that apart from the Father’s divine instruction to an individual’s soul, no one will come to Him for salvation. I do not believe that anyone seeks the living God in truth until God’s Spirit draws them.

Not Without Conquering Grace

All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me, and he who comes to Me I will never cast out.

-John 6:37

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And all who were ordained to eternal life believed.

-Acts 13:48

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turns it to any place He will.

-Proverbs 21:1

But because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, whom God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

-1 Corinthians 1:30

Though I accept the Arminian order of salvation, I do not accept their idea that a person will reject salvation when called by the Spirit of God. I believe that when God determines to persuade a heart, He is more than capable of doing so. He does not do this coercively, but He does do it overwhelmingly, powerfully and thoroughly! He does not manipulate souls into doing something that they do not wish to do, but He convinces them of what they must do.

The Spirit comes to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. He illuminates their hearts to see the sinfulness of their sin, causing them to despise themselves for having sinned against a good God. He further opens their hearts to understand that God is holy, and His just wrath abides upon them; they recognize that this is right and blame themselves for the danger they are in. With this they begin to search for a way of escape from both wrath and corruption. And in this divinely inspired pursuit for God and salvation He reveals to them the perfect Savior that delivers them from the power of sin and the wrath that is to come. They are not coerced against their will, but their will is persuaded to fly to the Savior for deliverance and cleansing.

Let me point out that this is not the same as Calvinistic irresistible grace, though the name is very fitting. The Calvinistic doctrine is primarily considered irresistible because it is monergistic, that is, the heart is first born again by a supernatural work, and then the will of the individual is brought to accept the Savior. Nevertheless, the name does fit nicely with my understanding since the beauty of the Savior becomes simply irresistible to the needy sinner. The sinner can resist in the sense that while under conviction, whether for a short time or through a long season of wrestling, the sinner can and does argue with the reality of the truth that God is pouring into his soul. But ultimately, as with Jacob, God wins the match, and the sinner falls at the feet of the Savior with relief, delight and gratitude.

Regeneration is the Pinnacle of Conversion

“Therefore, let all the house of Israel assuredly know that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When they heard this, they were stung in the heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

-Acts 2:36-38

When they heard these things, they were silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then God has granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life.”

-Acts 11:18

Yet to all who received Him, He gave the power to become sons of God, to those who believed in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

-John 1:12-13

And because you are sons, God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying, “Abba, Father!”

-Galatians 4:6

In Acts 2:36 we see that conviction grips the heart before one is led to conversion. And then in verse 38 repentance and faith (note they would not be baptized in Jesus’ name if they did not have faith in Him) come before the reception of the Holy Spirit. The order of salvation is abundantly clear throughout the New Testament. The Holy Spirit draws people to Christ through the conviction of sin, righteousness and judgement. They are then granted repentance unto life, by faith are given the right to be sons of God and then as God’s children the Spirit of adoption is poured out upon them. It is true that one can point to verses (i.e. Ephesians 2:4-5, John 3:3, Titus 3:4-6, etc.) that only mention regeneration and then claim that it is the first step in the conversion process. But the Scriptures inform us that regeneration can stand alone in such verses, not because it is first step in conversion, but because it is the pinnacle of conversion.

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